The Doctrine of Niceness

Seth Brickley

We all see the signs as we drive by: “Love is love,” “Kindness is everything,” and “Hate has no home here.” These maxims on the side of the road represent the state religion of the US. You see it when you go to a big box store, walk on a university campus, watch an NFL game, or watch the news. The values of our society are placed before our eyes wherever we turn. At first, the focus on love sounds great. Scripture teaches that love is the greatest virtue (1 Corinthians 13:13), and that one important aspect of love is kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4). In the list of the fruits of the Spirit love and kindness are both listed (Galatians 5:22). So why would we ever consider such strong focus on love and kindness to be a problem?

“Love Rejoices in the Truth”

In the same chapter where love is stated as the greatest virtue, the apostle Paul writes a very important statement: “Love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). The “love is love,” “kindness is everything” mantra is fundamental to the leftist state religion, but it is not biblical Christianity. The Bible never values love at the expense of truth. Love and truth go together. To show kindness while neglecting truth is to be unloving. It is also true that tone is important. Scripture teaches that we are to, “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Warren Wiersbe once said, “Truth without love is brutality. Love without truth is immorality.” Most of the time our words should be kind as we speak the truth. Jesus was often kind (Mark 10:16), but he was not afraid to give strong rebukes at the appropriate times to the appropriate parties (Matthew 23). But what so often happens is that truth is pushed aside for the sake of love.

The sad reality is that elevating kindness above truth is not only a problem in secular society and among liberal denominations of Christianity, but it is also prevalent in mainstream American evangelicalism. If a person were to pick a random evangelical church on a Sunday, the odds are one will stumble upon a church that has been culturally influenced to over-prioritize love. Recently, I heard a pastor say that he and his congregation are fed up with the leadership of their denomination, and he is leading his church out of the movement. They are fed up with the liberal drift. He caught my attention when he said, “We are tired with this theology of niceness.” In other words, he’s tired that there’s been so much focus on kindness while careful attention to the truth is critically lacking.

A Theology of “Niceness”

In this unhealthy climate false teaching easily creeps in. This theology of niceness provides fertile ground for hostile teaching to sneak into the church. The desire becomes not to offend rather than carefully guarding the truth of God’s Word. This has been seen recently with the advancement of the Woke movement within American evangelicalism. Embracing Social Justice in many circles was justified because it was seen as kind. To reject it outright was seen as unloving. Within the Social Justice framework, those who are considered oppressed hold perspectives that are valued. As one in the oppressor class listens to the oppressed perspective, he is not allowed to offer correction. To do so is unloving.

But once again, we need to be reminded, “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). It is good for a Christian to listen to someone’s perspective, but the discerning Christian will always test what is being said with Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and the discerning Christian will examine to see if what is being said lines up with reality. But with the Social Justice movement to question a narrative is not allowed. Kindness is elevated above the truth.

It is not only Social Justice where the theology of niceness makes room for false teaching. It is any errant teaching that has a Christian veneer to it. To strongly oppose that God used evolutionary processes over millions of years to create life is frowned upon within many evangelical circles and seminaries. But a Christian who values truth understands that death cannot precede the fall and that God created everything good (Genesis 1:31). This leaves no room for millions of years of death, a doctrine that is anything but “nice.”

Every pastor is called to not only proclaim the truth of God’s Word but also to defend it (Titus 1:9). But when a pastor defends the Bible against dangerous teachings (for example, from Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or the New Perspective on Paul), that pastor will likely be labeled as divisive by his own evangelical peers. But adhering to the doctrine of niceness in judging teachers would place all of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles in the divisive and combative category. But faithful servants of God don’t elevate love above the truth; rather, they desire to, “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Evangelism and Niceness

The theology of niceness also rears its ugly head when it comes to evangelism. To take stands on hot-button issues is seen as the enemy of developing relationships with the unbelieving world. To be strong against secular causes is seen as making oneself appear too radical, and this burns bridges. So, a common view among Christians is to avoid controversy. Usually, this includes taking “softer,” “winsome” approaches to homosexuality and transgenderism. Let’s not talk about abortion. Let’s not challenge the immorality of our public schools. Let’s not talk about the reality of hell. The thinking is that if the “watching world” sees that we are not too extreme, but somewhat like them, maybe they’ll be won to Christ. 

But when does the Bible ever tell us to compromise when trying to lead people to saving faith in Christ? Once again, the biblical mandate is to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This includes proclaiming that homosexuality and transgenderism really are abominations before God (Leviticus 18:22). Abortion really is murder (Exodus 20:13). The public schools really have been overtaken by Satan’s agenda, and that hell is a great place of suffering where anyone who rejects Christ goes (Matthew 13:42). What Scripture teaches is that many will not see the message of the gospel as attractive, but some will (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The responsibility of the Christian is to faithfully communicate the gospel (Colossians 4:3-4), leaving the results to God, understanding that the Lord uses us as messengers of both life and judgment.

The doctrine of niceness that permeates so much of American evangelicalism is at odds with biblical Christianity. It is a friend to Satan’s agenda within the church. Christians need to comprehensively train themselves away from this thinking for the overall health of the body of Christ. It must be the aim of every disciple of Jesus to be kind, yes, but always holding firm to the full truth of God’s word. There should be a tough and tender character that reflects the Lord Jesus – the one who always loved and never compromised the truth.

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