By: Akos Balogh

Christians are increasingly marginalised by a society growing suspicious of our views (especially our views on sexuality). In response, Christians should be ready to ‘lose well’, whenever we face such opposition.

That’s according to historian, author, and pastor John Dickson. He’s mentioned this posture publicly a number of times, including in a recent FaceBook post, and online interview. This ‘lose well’ attitude, Dickson argues, should be the attitude of anyone who worships the Christ who laid down His life for His enemies.

A Timely Conversation

Because of the growing suspicion Christians are facing from the wider culture, the conversation around how we should respond is an increasingly urgent one. And Dickson’s thoughtful voice is a welcome addition to this important conversation.

In this post, I’ll try and add to this conversation by sharing my thoughts on Dickson’s view (as I understand it). While there is much to commend to it, it also raises some questions in my mind – which I’ll be asking in the spirit of ‘iron sharpening iron’.

So let me begin with what I perceive to be the strengths of the ‘lose well’ posture:

Strengths of the ‘Losing Well’ Posture

1)      The ‘losing well’ attitude is a Christ-like attitude 

It’s a useful description of the radical and counter-cultural nature of the Christian life.

In his interview with Glenn Scrivener, Dickson points out:

If the gospel you’re trying to proclaim is God emptying Himself for the sake of enemies, what else would the right posture be, than at least being willing to lose well.’

Being ready to love our enemies – rather than take vengeance and hating them – is a key fruit of the gospel. It’s radical. It’s upside down. And it’s Christ-like. Passages like 1 Peter 3:9 affirm this posture:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.’

Christians should be ready – like Christ –  to ‘lose well’ – meaning blessing our opponents rather than taking vengeance. (And as Dickson points out, this should also apply to our behaviour on social media!)

2)   We can serve Christ – and others – without government, or societal support

After explaining  how Churches, Christian charities, and Christians should prepare for marginalisation by the wider culture, Dickson writes:

And, finally, Christians should recall that we do not need the power and patronage of government and society in order to advance the Christian faith and serve the good of the world.’

I couldn’t agree more. We need only look at the example of Jesus Christ, and the early church – and indeed the pre-Constantinian church. The gospel was proclaimed, and people were loved, without any tax breaks from the Roman government. Jesus’ great commission does not depend on government funding, nor government – or societal – permission.

In sum, I agree that the ‘lose well’ posture is one that Christians should be ready and willing to adopt, when circumstances require.

And yet, while there is much support around the ‘losing well’ attitude – particularly for people that are facing hostility and marginalisation, this view leaves me with some questions:

Questions Around the ‘Losing Well’ Position

1)  Is ‘losing well’ the only ‘posture’ for Christians under pressure? Or does scripture allow/encourage other postures?

For me, this is the key question. I agree that ‘losing well’ is an important posture for Christians in the face of opposition. But is it the only posture for us in such circumstances?

For example, the Apostle Paul wrote that being persecuted was central to following the crucified Messiah (e.g. Rom 8: 17), yet at times seemed willing to defend against persecution. This included using legal, political – and even military – means to reduce persecution.

Thus, in Acts 16:37-39, the apostle Paul demanded his rights as a Roman citizen be respected by the civil authorities. In Acts 23:12-31, Paul requested the protection of the Roman army when facing persecution.

In other words, Paul was sometimes willing to ‘push back’ in the face of persecution and opposition.

(Unless I’ve misunderstood, that doesn’t quite sound like the ‘losing well’ posture.)

Thus it seems that ‘losing well’ might be but one of many postures we may adopt toward our hostile culture:  a position of last resort, perhaps, when we’ve exhausted the other possibilities of cultural engagement? (Although for reasons of godly wisdom we may wish to ‘lose well’ before our backs our toward the wall.)

2)      What is our role in the public square? A privilege, a right, or a responsibility?

Regarding our place in the public square, Dickson writes:

Christian churches and organisations should remain cheerfully aware that their role in society is a privilege not a right. We should, therefore, be ever ready to lose well—and no longer receive an invitation to this dinner party (at which we were always only guests). ‘

I agree with Dickson to a point – we can’t force other people and institutions to have respect for us.

But I wonder if rather than seeing our place in the public square as either a ‘privilege’, or a ‘right’, our role in the public square is one of responsibility – being ambassadors for the King of Kings, whether or not our secular culture welcomes us?

This might well lead to other postures when we’re marginalised. Theologian Oliver O’Donovan writes about Christians showing ‘candour in the public realm’ – being willing to speak up publicly against injustice, and against cultural/governmental status quo.[1]

3)    What about Christians who did not  ‘lose well’, but kept speaking and acting in the public square?

If ‘losing well’ means staying out of the public square when we’re no longer invited, what do we make of Christians who kept on ‘forcing’ their way into the public square – by continuing to speak up boldly, and even protest?

Christians like the Martin Luther King Junior, and the African American church in the civil rights protests of the 1960’s, who didn’t simply accept the status quo of racist laws, but spoke up – and even engaged in peaceful protest?

Or Christians like Hungarian Reformed pastor Laszlo Tokes, whose peaceful protest against the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu ended up bringing down his oppressive regime?

Indeed, the Apostle’s response to persecution was not to stay out of the public square, but to jump right back in, and keep proclaiming the gospel (Acts 5:29) – ‘We must obey God, rather than men’. 

4)      What does ‘losing well’ look like when advocating for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised?

At our best, Christians advocate for the sake of others – whether the unborn, the elderly, or the religious freedoms of others (alongside our own). Even those of us pushing against SSM were doing so for the good of others – not just ourselves.

When advocating for others, however, we often experience opposition and pushback – such as calls for us to remove our Christian religion from the public square (e.g. whenever Christians speak up against abortion).  And so, what does the posture of ‘losing well’ look like when we’re advocating for others? Does ‘losing well’ well mean we stop advocating publicly – whether in word or deed?

Or does love for neighbour sometimes drive us to other postures in the public square – such as the more assertive postures  we saw above?

A Conversation That Won’t Go Away

I’m thankful for John Dickson’s insights around our place in modern Australia. It’s a conversation that won’t be going away anytime soon, and his thinking is much needed as our culture hurtles down the path of a post-Christian future.

Thus while ‘losing well’ is a posture Christians should think carefully about, it does raise questions that deserve further discussion.

[1] See for example Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways Of Judgment – The Bampton Lectures, 2003 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005). 137-138.

Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.

About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.