Tom Gilson

From Heat to Light: Transforming the Heat of Cultural Controversy Into the Light of Spiritual Growth

We’re in a new season in American Christianity, with unprecedented heat falling upon believers. With it I’m now announcing a new season of equipping here at Thinking Christian. I’m titling it From Heat to Light: Transforming the Heat of Cultural Controversy Into the Light of Spiritual Growth.

My first announcement on this went out in a podcast on Saturday, with plans to write this that day as a companion article. I feel I need to interject this part now, because plans change. Family members from back home call on the phone. It happens to us all, and on Saturday it happened to us. My wife, my son, his wife, and I drove a 680-mile round trip to visit my dad in the hospital. On Monday they sent him home for hospice care. Soon he will be where he’s been longing to be for several years now: at his real home, with our Lord and with his beloved wife, my mom.

It’s hard. I could go into it, but if you’ve been through it you don’t need me telling you about it, and if you haven’t, you probably still don’t need it. I just thank God for the great father my dad has been, and for the great family of siblings and extended connections I get to walk through this with, not to mention many friends, and especially God in Heaven.

Dad has told me many times over the past few years that he’s glad he won’t have to live through the changes coming on our country. Of course he still did, being shut out from visitors by COVID for most of a year. His point remains, though: He didn’t expect the coming years to be easy for American Christians, and neither do I.

Getting Equipped

It is a new season, an unfamiliar one to almost all of us, and we have got to get ourselves equipped for it. The most important equipping may be the most challenging: How to handle the hot topics in our culture. I believe God has placed me uniquely to offer something on this. It seems to me the way to bring light to this heat is through a carefully blended mix of:

  • Keeping Christ at the center, no matter what
  • Understanding the major conflicts coming our way, and how to give reasoned, biblical responses
  • Relational wisdom with other persons as we face questions, challenges, and potentially even hostility
  • Staying unified in community, and
  • Keeping Christ at the center, no matter what

Those are and will remain foundational Heat to Light equipping principles.

Why Understanding the Conflicts Is So Helpful

That second point, understanding the conflicts, is important in ways you may not expect. The obvious reason for it is so you will know what truths to affirm in some controversy, what question marks need exploring, and which errors to correct. You’ll want to know the best identified ways in which to correct them, too, just so you can engage them well.

There’s another benefit not everyone recognizes, though: The more you understand your own position, the calmer you can be in explaining it. I think it’s the difference between feeling confident and feeling pressured. It’s hard to relax when you’re not sure of your position. It’s hard to explain it in a reasonable manner if you don’t know your reasons.

Christ at the Center

We’ll go deeper on that, but not today. Today is the time to focus on Christ at the center. There is no spiritual growth, no transformation, no light without him. Apart from Jesus, there’s no point standing for much of anything. As the Easter holiday last weekend reminds us, Jesus loves us, and he is our only hope, our only life, our only truth, and the one true authority.

That tells us something about what direction to move when any controversy comes up: always toward Jesus. He and the Scriptures he inspired comprise the ultimate standard. We may grow in our knowledge and wisdom handling the Scriptures, but they will always remain the touchpoint that determines truth.

This is the standard I will follow in all Heat to Light equipping.

Christ the Example

It’s not just his truths, though. He also sets the standard in how to deal with other people, especially when they challenge us with a question or a dispute. He came in truth and grace (John 1:14, 18), and he practiced both in full measure. His grace was always truthful, and his truth was always filled with grace.

His heart was always to seek restoration. In the conflict situation he taught about in Matthew 18:15-17, the goal is to have “gained your brother.” In the opposite situation of Matthew 5:23-26, where you are the one who has committed the offense, the goal is reconciliation. When Paul talks about yet another kind of case, in Gal. 6:1, the goal is to restore the person.

When It Helps, and When It Doesn’t Seem To

I’ve seen this in action, as I share in the podcast. I believe it can happen, and when it does, it’s a glorious thing to be a part of.

At the same time I know it doesn’t always turn out that well, so my Heat to Light equipping will explore what to do when conflict remains heated no matter what we do. I’ve had that kind of experience, too. I’m thinking of individual persons as I write the following, but all of them could be multiplied many times over.

  • A staff member on a missions team I was leading who passively refused to fulfill her responsibilities.
  • Another staff member who refused to leave the mistress he had shacked up with.
  • The lesbian woman who shouted at me during a talk, “heterosexuality causes abortions!” and kept on yelling until she was escorted away.

Jesus, No Matter What

Still, having started with Jesus, I want to end with him. Why Jesus, anyway? Why make him the center, the goal, the standard, the authority?

Easter told the answer: Only he has ever conquered sin and death. That by itself makes him worth following no matter what, for he alone makes things right throughout all eternity.

Awesome as it is, that one fact by itself doesn’t begin to tell all of his greatness. No book could tell it all. The apostle John even admitted as much in John 20:25. I’m happy to share more with you, though, in the form of a preview chapter to my book Too Good to be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Revealed His Reality. It’s available free for new followers at Thinking Christian. So sign up here and download your free book preview!

More to Come

If you got the impression we have a lot to cover here, you’re right. There’s more to come: Blog posts, podcasts, a webinar May 4 for pastors, an online equipping course after that; and after that we’ll see what else may come. We need to do this. It’s that important. There’s too much hot dispute around us. We need to know how to transform it back into light again.

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