Responding to hot topics with grace and truth

Over the next few weeks in the blog, Andrew and I will be tackling hot topics because we believe, as Christians, we do a disservice to society, to fellow Christians, to the young, old and in-between when we ignore issues. It can make Christians come across like we are in our own bubble, either arrogant or ignorant. Furthermore, it is not preparing youth or others to be in the real world, with a robust faith, for real life, with all its complexities and issues.

Now, I recognize I’ll be trudging into difficult territory and could get myself into trouble, with my employer, my family, my friends, my ministry, the church…
So why trudge into difficult topics?
Here’s my hope as we tackle tough topics the next few weeks:
• we will model what it looks like for Christians to engage controversial topics and culture with grace
• we will encourage Christians to talk to each other and those they consider “outside” their camp
• we will start building bridges across divides we have put up inside and outside the church

Tackling these hot topics is:
NOT about pontificating our view and waving fingers from the pulpit
NOT about putting up walls, divisions and barriers.

Tackling hot topics is about:
tearing down walls, divisions and barriers
getting out of your regular camp and getting to know other camps
learning to walk the ways of Jesus in an upside down world.
connecting with new neighbourhoods, pockets of society, and learning
trusting Jesus is big enough to handle all the complexity of our world

Jesus came full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).
We, Jesus’ followers, really can be full of both grace and truth. We are empowered by Jesus to live in this world, not be taken out of this world, by the filling of His Spirit of grace and truth.
I believe, we really can both embrace others and call one another to more in Christ.
Jesus did.
One case in point is the women caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Jesus stood up for her, clearly cared for her, loved her, silenced her bullies and with the foundation of such an embrace, invited her to leave her sin and find a new way. Jesus typically spent way longer on the first part of the conversation, showing love, acceptance and understanding than on the second part about leaving sin. The exception was with the Pharisees, the religious people that thought they already had everything all figured out. There, Jesus leapt to bold statements, pointing out the error of their ways. In the example of the women caught in adultery, we often want to leap to the second part of the conversation when we’ve barely introduced ourselves, and certainly not showed true welcome and hospitality. With this woman, Jesus spent most of the time showing that He was for her, not there to condemn her. Only when the crowd disappeared, did He invite her to leave her life of sin. He made this one statement when she already knew and felt his care and acceptance of her. How about you and me? Are we making sure people know of our care and acceptance, and of God’s care and acceptance through us, first and foremost? How do we engage hot topics both inside and outside the church with both grace and truth as Jesus did?

As we get started on this series of hot topic blogs over the next few weeks, I realize, I really need some guidelines for myself.
If you’re going to wade into these topics in your church or neighbourhood you need guidelines for this too.

1. Seek to understand – Try to understand the issue from all sides. Bring an attitude of discovery and curiosity to the topic and try to understand why people are on different sides of the controversy. Listening and showing respect goes a long way. Learn where and why Christians – born-again, Bible believing Christians – can be on all different side of the controversy. Before you respond, empathize. I think we worry if we empathize, if we show understanding for another “side”, people will assume we are believing that “side” fully. To empathize is to treat people as loved creations of God. We can empathize deeply with someone, their struggle, how they have been treated by the church, without even ever coming to agreement or disagreement on whatever the “issue” might be. Show and model empathy.

2. Teachability – Admit you don’t have it all figured out. Show humility. Be open to the idea that your conclusions might be faulty.

3. Examine your assumptions – Be careful not to assume where people or your congregation land on a certain issue. Most of our congregations have great diversity on issues and we must remember that in your congregation there will be people who are affected personally by any given issue. Furthermore, do not make leaps for people. Our minds can go from “if you believe this…” to “you must also believe that…” very quickly. That is unfair. Christians are terrible for this, people cross one theological “t” and then we assume we know what they believe about every issue because based on that “t” we’ve put them in a certain camp. Judgment destroys relationship. Judgment destroy further meaningful conversation.

4. Repent – Acknowledge where Christianity has gotten it wrong or been hurtful on the issue. Even if you disagree with someone or a group’s behaviour we, as Christians, have a lot to apologize for in terms of how Christians have treated people or people groups.

5. Create the environment – Create the right environment to talk about controversial issues. Know your audience and pick the right time, place, and environment to talk about these difficult issues. Most issues are better talked about one-on-one or wrestled with in small groups. If we talk about hot topics from the platform on Sunday it should be to provide permission to talk about the issues further and we should provide a setting for people to ask questions, challenge, and re-examine Scripture on the topic.

6. Attitude matters – If someone disagrees with you they are not a bad person, they simply disagree. In terms of our attitude we need to remember to show care for human beings over and above any issue or disagreement. We also must remember we are not to hold non-Christians to Christian standards. If our attitude is to learn and help others come to greater understanding of an issue, rather than converting people to our point of view, everyone will go away richer, regardless of who “wins”.

7. Fruit of the Spirit test – Do your conversations and presentation of the issue pass through the grid of the fruits of the spirit? As you’re engaging on this topic are you able to do it with God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?

8. Trust God to bring up truth – I have found God absolutely faithful to bring up Himself and His ways in conversations. As I enter into meaningful conversation with people or groups of people (e.g. a youth group), as we build trust and acceptance, God, in His timing, brings up the deeper issues, on both sides (!) and brings truth into the light. He is the faithful one, full of grace and truth.

There are no shortage of hot topics in the church. Let’s not pretend they are not there and not happening. Let’s engage with grace and truth. Let’s keep these guidelines in mind as we engage together around hot topics the next few weeks.

Help me out, will the guidelines I’ve laid out help? What would you tweak? What would you add?




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  3. Joe MacVicar · April 17, 2016

    Always very interesting reads Renee. Keep up the good work!


  4. westheadcsi · April 1, 2016

    I am very much in agreement with tackling hot topics and applaud your decision to do so. I had a few thoughts while I was reading and please forgive if I ask something which should be obvious to me!
    1. Which group of people are the “target” for these blogs? Is it your goal to educate the parents of youth that you are currently teaching or the youth themselves or interested onlookers or all three?
    2. Before writing a blog, for example, about LGBT Christians, could you talk to someone in this group to get their perspective so that any suggestions given are grounded in actual experience?
    3. After making suggestions could you offer test examples to see how your suggestions might actually work? For example, if we are mandated to love how should a 13 yr old in a youth group respond if the new kid in her youth group tells her privately that she has 2 fathers at home rather than a dad/mom scenario? Is she to report that to her leader? Should she tell her mom or dad? The pastor? What should she expect from the adults in her church around this scenario?
    Again I want to say that I am encouraged by your decision to challenge us to not pretend and to act in that difficult balance of grace and truth. May the Holy Spirit truly empower you as you write!


    • Renée Embree · April 1, 2016

      Thanks so much for your great feedback and questions!
      1. Our primary audience is leaders – leaders in churches, youth groups, camps and Christian organizations. Especially in tackling these tough topics we’re trying to equip leaders to handle these things better, so that they are more ready to talk with students, parents, congregants etc. You are right – we should make that clearer, that our audience is leaders.
      2. Great, excellent suggestion! For these blogs we aren’t trying to do a huge study on each topic, we’ve got some working groups at CABC working more deeply on some of the hot topics of today (LGBTQ, doctor assisted death, response to the TRC…). These blogs are to get people started in the right direction. Deeper responses and tools to help will be produced by these working groups.
      3. Good suggestion! We’ll see what we can incorporate in our short blogs. That certainly is something to include when we do workshops on this topic and we’ve tried to do that when we lead workshops.
      Thanks so much for your encouragement and prayers as we try to tackle these topics together with grace and truth!


  5. Ron Higgins · March 31, 2016

    This sounds like an interesting challenge for us all, Renee. To balance truth, empathy & grace is often difficult. Today there r many “truths” & hate is often hidden in the cloak of love. I wish u all God’s blessing & hope to follow your leadership with great interest.


    • Renée Embree · April 1, 2016

      Thank you Ron. Appreciate your engagement, interest and support. Blessings!


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