Provocation and Offense

This past January, I had the privilege of attending a lecture at Calvin College by author, speaker, and researcher Gabe Lyons. In his presentation, Lyons made an interesting assertion that has stimulated my thinking regarding cultural engagement.

Lyons asserted that Christians need to be provoked by culture, not offended. Far too often, according to Lyons, Christians are offended by what they see and experience in culture. And because of this offense, we often separate from society at large—living mainly in our own communities, making our own art, consuming our own media, and building our own institutions.

His challenge to all of us in attendance was to allow injustice, sin, immorality, and corruption to provoke us to action. His assertion was that the offense separates but provocation activates. Offense flees and subsequently leaves a vacuum, but provocation engages and enables redemption.

While I resonated deeply with Lyon’s call for Christians to live engaged and redemptive lives, I have to admit that this juxtaposition of provocation and offense initially sent me for a loop. As I listened to the lecture, I tried to remember another time when I had heard provocation cast in a positive light. I couldn’t think of any.

As a matter of fact, the first Scripture passage that came to mind regarding provocation was Ephesians 6:4: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (nkjv).

But is there any merit to what Lyons is saying? Does offense cause us to disengage from the culture around us? Is it possible that God wants us to be provoked rather than offended?

2 Responses to “Provocation and Offense”

  1. mrett says:

    I apologize from the onset for such a length reply, but I find your comments refreshingly objective and intriguing, and thank you for allowing me a venue to express some feelings I’ve been holding in for some time.

    I’ve been uncomfortable for a while now about the patented Christian response to the changing culture here in the US. It seems we’ve let politics dictate our response and not the Word of God. We’ve declared open season on anyone whose thoughts or opinions do not reflect the “party line,” even to the point of asserting that fellow Christians can’t be true believers if they don’t belong to “our” political party.

    We’ve become so easily offended that instead of praying for our “enemies,” we’ve discarded them. We’ll go half way around the world to minister to and convert natives in foreign lands, but ignore the obvious spiritual needs in our own communities. I like the stance one of our local Christian broadcasters took many years ago during the Clinton era when he said he chose to remain in the “other party” because that’s where he felt he could minister to those in the most need and affect significant change.

    I’m not a news hog, so maybe I missed it, but when have we been called on by our public Christian leaders to pray specifically for our President, not for the country and its on-going downward spiral, but specifically for our current president that his eyes be opened and his heart be committed to the Word of God that he professes to believe? Is he so different from those Christians we know and worship with from week to week, who wonder about their neighbors, co-workers, even friends who have ideals and practices that are not Judeo-Christian-centered? I believe there are a significant number of “us” who sit in the pews on any given Sunday morning wondering how to reconcile it all in a way that honors Christ and respects the individual. Allowing those differences to offend us to the point of segregating ourselves from the world and demonizing those who are different is one way to address the problem, but is it the right way? Would it be Jesus’ way?

    I listened to the president’s rationale for gay marriage the other week and heard a cry for help. In times past, our public Christian leaders made it a point to reach out to our national leaders, some of who were probably nominal Christians, much like our current president. They needed to hear and/or be reminded that God is the one we all ultimately serve and must answer to. They also needed to know that our nation’s spiritual leaders were supportively praying for them, not for their misguided agendas, but for God’s wisdom to rule rightly, and to hold them accountable to the faith they readily profess.

    Instead, those who have a national voice seemed to take the “offended” route and wrote about the president as though Christ died for everyone except him, making it easy to discard him and discount his apparent struggle to figure out how to be the president of an entire nation and not just a subset. We seem to be too busy and too focused on the politics of getting “our guy” elected, to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of the guy who has already been elected, who is in charge of the country we all claim we love.

    The responses to the president’s newfound declaration on gay marriage that I read and hear in the Christian media seem to take the easy, predictable route. But I wonder what would Jesus have written in his op-ed piece? Would he have chosen instead to be provoked into opening up or continuing the dialog about what it means to authentic in our Christianity during these changing times instead of taking offense and rationalizing he can’t be like “us,” so he must be a Muslim or a Kenyan or some other kind of outsider?

    Matthew 28:20 says we’ve been called to go into the world and teach those in the world to obey everything Jesus commanded. Are we teaching or condemning? If we withhold God’s truth from those we perceive as enemies, we’ve become more like Jonah than Jesus. Jesus was not offended by the lifestyles of prostitutes, tax collectors, or any other kind of heathen. But the Pharisees were. Jesus didn’t hesitate to go to the homes of those whose morals and practices were questionable in order to minister to them and show them God’s way without compromise. By associating with these “societal discards,” Jesus set himself up for ridicule and suspicion from the religious elite who self-servingly declared he was more like “them” than “us.”

    If we are sincere about following Jesus’ commission to go out into all the world and reach them for His Sake, then I do think we need to start questioning our visceral responses to those weighty issues in our culture, and determine for Christ’s sake, whether we should choose to be politically motivated or spiritually-minded, offended or provoked.

  2. Dennis Moles says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I think you hit the nail right on the head with your comment. It illustrates perfectly what I am thinking regarding the distinction between provocation and offense.
    I think that somehow many of us have bought into the line of thinking that genuine dialogue and honest engagement = agreement or sanction.
    I have been thinking a lot about what it means to live the Christ-life and how, as a follower of Jesus, I ought to engage our world so the the rule and reign of Christ is expanded.
    While I don’t think I have it down perfectly, I am pretty sure that the options of withdraw and retreat or bludgeon and destroy ought to be off the table for followers of Jesus.
    I think (and you allude to this) Jesus showed us a third way that we need to follow.

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