Jesus Outside The Lines:
A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides
by Scott Sauls
Have you offended any one lately? I ask this because it is an election year in the United States and politics is everywhere. If you have participated in political discussions it is likely you have taken sides on an issue and offended somebody – maybe even a family member or close friend. As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we relate to people who hold opinions that differ from our own, especially when the subjects of interest are emotionally charged? Scott Sauls, senior Pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale 2015) offers thoughtful guidance on how to keep our eyes on Jesus as we engage others in discussions about deeply felt and potentially polarizing matters.
Sauls states in the introduction that he wrote Jesus Outside The Lines because he was weary of taking sides on hot topics in the Christian church and in our culture. He asks, “Are you tired of the endless quest for something to be mad about? Are you tired of us against God, us against them, and us against ourselves?… The commitment to feeling 1) right and 2) wronged is a fairly common phenomenon. But is this a fruitful way for Christians in particular to engage in public conversations about the issues of the day? Jesus taught us a different way.”
Sauls divides Jesus Outside the Lines into two parts: Part One, “Jesus Outside the Lines of My Christian Tribe,” concerns the debates that exist between denominations or individual Christians. Part Two, “Jesus Outside the Lines of Christianity,” deals with the resentment that can occur between Christians and non-Christians when talking over controversial cultural topics.
In Part One the author begins by acknowledging the lack of tolerance that exists between some denominations in the Christian community. He expresses his sorrow at the inability of the Christian Church to be one, which was the desire of Jesus in his prayer in John 17. In the chapters that follow, Sauls identifies several major concerns which can come between churches or individual Christians. Some of them are “Red or Blue State?,” “For the Unborn or for the Poor?,” and “Personal Faith or Institutional Church?” Sauls includes some of his own personal struggles as a pastor when facing challenges from parishioners on these issues, and frankly states that there were times when he considered leaving his position as a pastor as a result of the ensuing clash.
Also in Part One Sauls points out some of the benefits of establishing open lines of communication with other Christian churches. He writes, “Christians from differing perspectives can learn and mature as they listen humbly and carefully to one another… As St. Augustine reputedly said, ‘In nonessentials, liberty.’ To this we might add, ‘In nonessentials, open-minded receptivity.’ We Christians must allow ourselves to be shaped by other believers. The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.”
In Part Two of Jesus Outside the Lines Sauls presents a helpful approach to speaking about controversial subjects with non-Christians which emulates Jesus’ heart for those who have not chosen to accept his call. Sauls asserts that Jesus has stated clearly in the scriptures that there are those who will draw close to him and follow his way, and there are those who will turn away from him to go their own way. Sauls then asks, “Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? Jesus tells us the answer is ‘yes.’ And he shows us the answer is yes [in the gospels].
The chapters in Part Two deal with subjects that are currently difficult topics between churches and the culture. Among them are “Chastity or Sexual Freedom?,” “Hypocrite or Work in Progress?,” “Accountability or Compassion?”
In the chapter “Hypocrite or Work in Progress?” Sauls says that when confronted with the accusation that all Christians are hypocrites, he admits that we Christians are indeed guilty of hypocrisy, then goes on to explain:
“Though we are all hypocrites, through Christ and with Christ and because of Christ we are never hopelessly and terminally stuck in hypocrisy. A central focus of the vision of Jesus is to save us from sin — and in the process to save us from ourselves. But in saving us from ourselves, Jesus also aims to transform us, over time, into his own likeness.
“I love how Anne Lamott said that it is okay to realize you’re very crazy and very damaged because all the best people are. I love this because it is in seeing and owning that we are crazy and damaged, it is in ‘crying uncle’ to our failed self-reformation projects, it is in recognizing that we are most certainly ‘unlike our Christ’ — that Christ begins to change us. It is when we become weary of our own failed efforts, that Jesus meets us with hope.”
Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls is an insightful, hope-filled book that offers Christians some options to rigidly taking a side and digging in ones heels during an argument. Using stories of Jesus’ interactions with individuals, Sauls directs us to think beyond typical knee-jerk answers to current conflicts, and presents compassionate, honest, Christ-like responses to prevalent church and cultural controversies.
I think Jesus Outside the Lines would be a great book to read during this Lenten season. Practicing Jesus’ “better way” of dealing with conflict could be a spiritual discipline worth taking up in the forty days before Easter — especially in an election year.
 Anne Lamott, “On Meaning, Hope, and Repair” (lecture presented at The Festival of Faith and Writing, Grand Rapids, MI, April 11, 2014)