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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Taking the baker's challenge

How would you go the extra mile in this day and age?

Taking the baker's challenge

(Nate Chute/Reuters/Landov)

“Dr. Clark,” one of his students asked philosopher Gordon H. Clark during class one day, “why do you always answer our questions with more questions?”

“Well,” he replied, “why not?”

Some years later, I asked him if he didn’t think that was a little harsh—and that a poor undergraduate might feel put down, or even silenced, by such a rejoinder.

“Have you ever counted,” Clark asked with a twinkle in his eye, “how many times Jesus answered questions with more questions?”

So if Jesus, the master teacher, considered it an appropriate part of His rhetorical style when dealing with His doubters and detractors, to set them back a bit with penetrating queries, might it not be a worthy exercise for us as His followers to study His technique? To be sure, He didn’t ask questions because He was looking for answers. Always, it was a measure not of Himself, but of those with whom He was conversing.

Indeed, here was the Creator of the heavens and the earth—the one who said of Himself, “I am the truth”—and He was again and again asking questions. But nothing superficial; always, you might say, He was promoting what we like to call “critical thinking.” 

Many more of us are likely to be challenged in the months and years just ahead to say what we think on this and related issues.

But first, a slightly different reminder how upside down Jesus sometimes could come across in His teaching style. Try, for example, His famous Sermon on the Mount instruction in Matthew 5: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

So I’ve been trying for the last several weeks to apply these unusual approaches to some of the public debates we’ve been watching so closely. Specifically, I’ve wondered how I might have replied if I had been the owner or manager of the little pizzeria in Indiana that became the center of a national firestorm over attitudes toward same-sex marriages. Even more specifically, I’ve wondered about the applicability of Jesus’ “tunic plus cloak” teaching to this situation. And I’ve wondered how to frame all that in the form of a penetrating question that would be seen not as an assault or an insult, but as a sincere invitation to join an important discussion.

I’m not criticizing the beleaguered folks in Indiana who in recent weeks had to make their responses in real time, with the TV news cameras rolling—and without the opportunity to think or rethink how their responses might sound in the public media. I am insisting, though, that the rest of us do have that opportunity. Many more of us are likely to be challenged in the months and years just ahead to say what we think on this and related issues. Will we be ready?

As an exercise I’m challenging you readers right here to imagine that you’re the manager of a bakery. Here comes a homosexual couple, asking you to provide a cake for their wedding a month from now. And here’s your assignment, which you can complete with either an email or a brief letter:

Part I should be your response to this couple in the form of a question. No smart-aleck put-downs, no insults. A question, like one Jesus might have asked, that clarifies matters. You might want to read the Gospels for an hour or two for some real-life reminders about how Jesus did it.

Part II should be a specific offer to the couple, conveying the spirit of Jesus’ “if he sues you for your cloak give him your tunic also” teaching. If you think Jesus’ teaching doesn’t apply here, say so.

Send your letter to Joel Belz/WORLD Magazine, P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, N.C. 28802. Send your email to jbelz@wng.org. I suggest that you do this sooner rather than later. My sense is that your opportunity to practice this art before you are asked to exercise it in a real-life setting may be shrinking more rapidly than you think.

Email jbelz@wng.org

Comments

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  •  Kim M's picture
    Kim M
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:29 pm

    Thank you for this thought-provoking column! We've been chewing over your "baker's challenge" for the last couple of weeks as time allows. Dinner time conversations have been rather lively and we've covered more ground than first meets the eye with this challenge. For example, one discussion led us to examine how Jesus mingled with sinners quite comfortably yet never aided them in sinning nor approved of their sin. Figuring out how to follow His example in cultural issues like this are not easy. You are right to admonish us to practice our response! I'm hoping this challenge will increase our fluency in a truly Biblical worldview so that Jesus and His great love for us will be evident in our responses to these cultural landmines.

  •  Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:29 pm

    That's beautiful Joel, I've been thinking the same thing.  What if Christians were known as the people who made the best cakes ever, even for people they disagreed with?  Joseph served Potiphar.  Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar, who wasn't known for virtue.  So when do we take a stand against sin?  When others are asking us to commit it.  Jesus was a friend to all sorts of sinners, but when he was asked to deny his deity, that is when he went to the cross.

  • Dale Murrish's picture
    Dale Murrish
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:29 pm

    Agree with Steve64 (great questions!) and will take up your challenge, Joel, if I have time. I have thought about this quite a bit. We have a good friend who is a professional photographer. He does not shoot weddings anymore. We've talked about how it would affect his business if he turned away a gay couple for conscience' sake. 

  •  Steve64's picture
    Steve64
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:29 pm

    My question: "Can a man bake a cake without both eggs and flour?  Would a cake made only with eggs truly be a cake, or could a cake be made from flour alone?  Does it not require both?"Going the extra mile: "Could I take a minute to tell you about a man who cared enough about both of you to die that you might live?"

  • ichthus7
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:29 pm

    This morning I learned that Madison, WI, passed a prohibition of discrimination against atheists.  So what if a Christian florist is asked to prepare floral arrangements for a funeral for God or a baker is asked to decorate a "God is Dead" cake?  Whoever said that legislating freedom costs freedom is right on!  And, legally mandating a person to undergo "diversity training" is tantamount to Communist brainwashing!  I am tanked up this morning!  I Peter 4:12-19.