The Sound of Silence

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“Christian truth is about as welcome in today’s culture as a wet shaggy dog shaking himself at the Miss America Pageant.” That’s the opening sentence of Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,” in a brand new book titled, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, radio broadcaster and Founder of Key Life Network, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, host on the radio talk show, Steve Brown, Etc.”, Bible teacher, keynote speaker, author of over a dozen books, a former pastor, and, yes, even a former disk jockey. He is also a personal friend of mine, and I’ve written posts on a couple of his previous books (see here and here).

Steve’s wealth of knowledge and wonderful sense of humor never fails to amaze me with each book I’ve read that he has written and published. If you personally know Steve, you know he’s truly “one of a kind.” His latest book (linked above at Key Life and also available on Amazon.com at this link) is exceptionally timely given all of the rapid changes going on in our society today.

The book is specifically written with a Christian audience in mind; however, skeptics of Christianity might find it interesting to read, too. I want to back up just a bit from that sentence quoted above that opens Chapter 3 with the following from Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of Truth.” Steve writes:

There is the old joke about a businessman interviewing applicants for a position in his company. He asked each of them a simple question, “What is two plus two?” He got a variety of answers, including, “I don’t know, but I’m glad for the opportunity to discuss the issue,” and a lawyer who referenced case law where two plus two was proven to be four. The final applicant got up from this chair, closed the door and the blinds, sat back down, leaned over the desk, and then whispered, “What do you want it to be?”

He got the job.

So often today, truth is whatever “you want it to be.” Whatever you want it to be includes religion, gender, morals, marriage, race, and political truth. Not only that, but anybody who questions the freedom to make truth what one wants it to be is labeled intolerant, bigoted, or worse.

Have you ever had anyone say to you, when you have expressed a deeply held conviction or a truth that had changed your life, “I’m glad it’s true for you”? What? I do not know anything that makes me spit and cuss more than someone speaking that kind of drivel. Frankly, I do not want to fly with a pilot, be treated by a doctor, or have a mechanic work on my car, who is that cavalier about aeronautical, medical, or mechanical truth.

So here at the beginning, let me make two statements that are quite controversial to a whole lot of people: there is true truth, and the Christian faith is true truth.

First, believe it or not, there is truth, and that truth is true apart from my perception or anyone’s opinion. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” “True truth” (as my late friend and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer called it) is not adjustable. I may not know that truth, I may miss it, and I may be wrong about it. But truth is there, and it is there aside from what anybody believes about it. For instance, God is personal, or he is not; you are forgiven, or you are not; I am loved by God, or I am not…. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 2, pp. 13-14).

Now I don’t want to leave you hanging at this point–Steve does go on to write in Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of Truth,” that there are five truths that the book covers: (1) There really is a God; (2) God had not remained silent; (3) God’s love is unreasonable; (4) Christians aren’t called to be fixers; and (5) Truths 1-4 are the main thing (a brief explanation of those five points is covered in Chapter 2).

Returning to the sentence at the start of this blog post and it is also the first sentence in Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,”  Steve continues with the following:

Christian truth is about as welcome in today’s culture as a wet shaggy dog shaking himself at the Miss America Pageant. Truth does not matter, but intolerance does. If the subject is salvation, Christian truth suggests that there are those who are saved and those who are not. If the truth is about sin, than some things are right and others are wrong. If it is about hell and heaven, it means that one place is hot and the other place is not. If it is about forgiveness, then some are forgiven and others are not. Truth feels intolerant–and frankly, when I speak Christian truth, it sometimes feels that way to me.

Truth, by its very nature, divides and offends. That is what Jesus meant when he made the startling statement that he had not come to bring peace but to set children against parents and to create enemies of one’s own household (Matthew 10:35-36).

The presupposition of this book is that Christians are called to speak truth and, much of the time, to speak it to people who do not want to hear it. And they are constrained to do so. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Paul was saying that he could not keep quiet.

Jeremiah the prophet had the same experience, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). This is the normal experience of every Christian who knows the truth.

But with all of that being said, we Christians must be careful in what we say, how we say it, and even if we are to say it at all. Jesus cautioned that we should “not give dogs what is holy” nor “throw your pearls before pigs lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). The truth we have is precious, dangerous, and explosively powerful in the way it can heal or hurt.

There are times when silence really is golden….

Silence, for instance, is better than saying too much that would be confusing and unduly irritating. A young seminary student was once asked to preach in a small country church. There was a major snowstorm, and only one farmer showed up for the service. The young preacher asked the farmer what he should do. The farmer told him that when only one of his cows showed at meantime, he fed this cow.

The preacher–with only the one farmer in attendance–went through the entire service and preached the entire sermon. When the service was over, the student asked the farmer how he had done. “Son,” said the farmer, “when one cow shows, I feed him… but I don’t give him the whole load.”

It is often enough to say, “Jesus loves you, and I do, too.” Other people do not always need to know the differences between Reformed and Arminian theology, the intricacies of the biblical view of law and grace, the Christian disagreements about biblical interpretation, or a Christian critique of politics and culture.

I recently was asked to visit an older man who, after a lifetime of atheism, was thinking about the Christian faith. He had started asking questions, and had even attempted to read the Bible each morning. We spent most of the morning talking about his questions. None of them had to do with theology, hermeneutics, culture, or disagreements within the Christian church–not one. Answering questions that are not asked, defining issues that are not raised, and going places that are not presently important is offensive and a waste of time. It is better that Christians remain silent.

Silence is also appropriate when a Christian has not been given permission to speak. Christians should not shilly-shally about who they are, and should at least give an indication of what they believe. But more information requires permission, and that permission is often given in the questions that are asked. If there are not questions and if no interest is expressed, it is wise to remain silent.

My friend Jake Luhrs, the front man for the Grammy-nominated metal band August Burns Red, is a Christian. Jake wrote a devotional book,Mountains,” and in it he writes [on page 6]:

I never thought I’d write a book, let alone a devotional. To be honest, I didn’t think the day would come when I would share some of my proudest (and not so proud) moments with an audience who might even care to listen…. If you know anything about me you know that I don’t push “religion.” I don’t want to promote a religion. But I do want people to have the same relationship I have with Jesus. I want them to feel loved and understood. When they’re scared, I want them to see him as the ultimate source of love, hope, help, strength and forgiveness.

Why did Jake write his book? He did it because so many of his fans had questions. In fact, he formed a nonprofit community called HeartSupport that touches 70,000 people each month with counseling, help, and acceptance. He started that community and wrote the devotional book because so many people granted permission. Jake told me that when he was on tour, there were so many who wanted to know about his faith, but because of the tour and the necessity of moving quickly to the next city, he simply did not have the time to say what needed to be said and to answer the questions that had been asked.

Christians do not have to give others the whole load. When asked, Christians can say, “Yeah, I am a believer, and it’s the most important thing in my life. If you ever want to hear about it, just ask and I’ll tell you.” Or in my case as a religious professional, when I am asked what I do, I sometimes answer, “I tell people ‘who want to hear’ about Jesus.” Or perhaps when Christians think they have a message that will help someone in trouble, they can say, “If you want me to, I’ll be glad to share it with you.” Permission opens the door to speaking truth. If permission is not given, silence is good practice. Silence is also a wise practice when spoken truth is spoken for the wrong reasons. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 21-25).

Chapter 3 continues at this point with the topics of “Speaking truth from guilt” (i.e., as in feeling guilty about not speaking up), “Speaking truth to get power” (i.e., looking for power over others by being right), “Speaking truth from self-interest” (i.e., speaking with an agenda of self-interest), “Speaking truth from ignorance” (i.e., not being informed about the nature of the truth they speak), “Speaking truth to help God out” (i.e., God does not need anyone), and “Speaking truth with silence” (i.e., sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking).

Obviously, I have not even scratched the surface of all that is contained in this book, or even the two chapters mentioned above. Steve ended Chapter 3 with the following paragraphs written under the title  of “Speaking Truth with Silence”:

Sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking. There are some things Christians cannot say without words, but there are other matters that are only confused by words. My wife, who is a musician, has often said to me that music is the universal language. Sometimes it is best to remain silent and hear the language of music. Just so, sometimes it is best to speak the language of silence.

It is a cliché, but nevertheless there is some truth to believing that Christians are the only Bible unbelievers ever read. However, with due respect to that point of view, let me say that most of us sin so much, betray our principles so often, and fail so obviously in our Christian walk that the message is mixed and muddled.

But what if we remained silent by not defending ourselves? What if we remained silent when others are condemning those whose lifestyles, politics, or religious views are deemed unacceptable? What if we remained silent and refused to be the social, political, and religious critics of every opinion that wasn’t our own? What if we remained silent in the face of rejection? What if we refused to share the secrets we’ve been told or tell the stories we’ve overheard? What if we remain silent and overlook the foibles of others? What if we looked at the pain of our neighbor and just loved him or her, instead of trying to fix the unfixable? What if our response to confusion, fear, and guilt was simply, “I know”?

There is a powerful witness in that kind of silence. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 30-31).

As I mentioned above, the book contains so much more information then just the few quotes I’ve posted above. In fact, I still have the last ten chapters to read. But there was just something about Chapter 3, “The Sound of Silence,” that struck a chord with me as I read it. Maybe it will with you, too. Silence can be a powerful witness.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite to read more of Steve’s new book, Talk the Walk,” which can be purchased at Key Life and it is also available on Amazon.com at this link.

Ecclesiastes 3 opens with “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” and it includes a long list of items starting with “a time to be born and a time to die.” In verse 7 we find in the second half of that verse, “a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.” May we pray for wisdom…

To know when . . .

Is the right time . . .

To be silent . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Sound of Silence” by Pentatonix:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here