(Part 4) John Stott: Four Ways Christians Can Influence the World

[Part 4 of a longer article originally transcribed via John Stott (1921-2011)]

How are we going to see the power of truth at work? Persuasion by argument. Just as we need doctrinal apologists in evangelism to argue the truth of the gospel, so we need ethical apologists in social action to argue the truth and the goodness of the moral law of God. We need more Christian thinkers who will use their minds for Jesus Christ, who will speak and write and broadcast and televise in order to influence public opinion.

I’ll give you one quick example. You cannot force people to go to church by legislation. You can’t force them to rest on Sundays. Nor can we simply quote from the Bible as if that settles the matter. But we can put forward our best arguments. We can argue that, psychologically and physically, human beings need one day’s rest in seven, and that socially it’s good for families who are separated during the week to have a day together on Sunday. We can argue for legislation that protects workers from being compelled to work and encourages family life. In this example, we’re neither imposing our Christian views, nor leaving non-Christians alone in their own views, nor quoting the Bible dogmatically. We are simply using every argument—physical, psychological, sociological—in order to commend the wisdom and truth of biblical teaching. Why? Because we believe in the power of truth.

If you doubt the power of secular forms of argument to illuminate biblical truth, then consider an article appearing in the American magazine Seventeen in 1977 called “The Case against Living Together.” It’s an interview with Nancy Moore Clatworthy, a sociologist at The Ohio State University. For ten years, Clatworthy had been studying the phenomenon of unmarried couples living together. When she began, she was predisposed towards the custom. “Young people,” she said, “have told us it was quite wonderful.” And she said she believed them. It seemed to her to be a sensible arrangement, a useful step in courtship in which couples get to know one another. But her research, involving the testing of hundreds of couples, married and unmarried, led her to change her mind. And she concluded that living together was not doing the things the couples expected it to do, especially with girls. She found them uptight, fearful, looking past the rhetoric to the possible pain and agony.

If we are pessimists and think we are capable of doing nothing in society today, I venture to say that we are theologically extremely unbalanced, if not heretical and harmful. It’s ludicrous to say Christians can have no influence in society.

Clatworthy makes two points: In the areas of happiness, respect, and adjustment, “Couples who live together before they’re married have more problems than couples who marry first.” In every area, the couples who lived together before marriage disagreed more often than the couples who hadn’t. Living together, she concludes, doesn’t solve your problems.

Her second point was about commitment, the expectation a person has about the outcome of a relationship. Commitment is what makes marriage and living together work. But here’s the problem: “Knowing that something is temporary, like living together unmarried, affects the degree of commitment to it. So unmarried couples are less than wholehearted in working to sustain and protect their relationship. And, consequently, 75 percent of them break up. And especially the girls are badly hurt.” She concludes, “Statistically you are much better off marrying than living together, because for people who are in love, anything less than a full commitment is a cop-out.”

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