“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”
Maybe these words of Emily Dickinson make a similar point to the Apostle Peter’s words:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
We are urged to be disciples who are “always prepared to give the reason for the hope” that we have in trusting in Jesus. In short, we should always be ready to be witnesses of the love and hope that Christ offers to all. But Peter warns that we must do this “with gentleness and respect.”
“Amazing Anagrams!” was the title of an e-mail message I once received. “Evangelist” was one of the featured anagrams. Can you rearrange the letters of the word “Evangelist” to form an anagram? (Go on. Stop reading for a few seconds, and try to form the anagram!)
According to the email, the “amazing anagram” formed from the letters of the word “Evangelist” was “Evil’s Agent”.
How can an evangelist be an agent of evil? This joke (if one can call it a joke) arises out of a perverse (but popular?) perception of Christian evangelists as people who pressurise or manipulate victims into making decisions or giving away money without responsible thought and care. This perception of Christian evangelists will not go away unless we learn the importance of bearing witness “with gentleness and respect”.
Or as Emily Dickinson puts it, we must learn to “tell all the truth, but tell it slant”. Why? Because “The truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind”.1
This is especially important to recognise in today’s secular and pluralistic world. It’s not just what we say, but how we say it.
We believe that the truth of Jesus is good news for the world. But we must learn to bear witness to that truth “with gentleness and respect”. For without gentleness and respect, the truth we proclaim will be rejected as arrogant and evil.
May the God who loves us all help us “tell all the truth” of His great love, and to “tell it slant”.
1 Emily Dickinson, The Laurel Poetry Series: Emily Dickinson, Poem 103, ed. Richard Wilbur (New York: Dell, 1960), page 107.
Picture by Victor Tongdee/Bigstock.com
The Rev Dr Gordon Wong –was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years, and was a lecturer at Trinity Theological College from 1995 until he was elected President.