Should Christians seek to be winsome in their interactions with the non-Christian world? That is becoming more and more of a debate, partially based around Tim Keller’s thoughts on this.
You can get caught up a bit on what Tim Keller says and how his critics have responded here.
First, we need to have some idea of what we mean by winsome. The Cambridge Dictionary defines winsome as: “charming and attractive in a simple way.”
In the context of how Christians interact with non-Christians, this usually means a way of communicating that seeks to present Christianity in an attractive manner, communicating respectfully, and avoiding unnecessary offence.
Some people have seen winsomeness as being at best ineffective and at worst, un-Christian.
The question I want to ask is this: What does the Bible say about how we interact? Are we to be harsh or winsome in our tone? A good place to start is Paul in Acts.
In Acts 17, we find Paul in Athens. We are told that he was offended by the idolatry he saw in Athens (Acts 17:16). But when it was time to communicate with the Athenians, he said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” (Acts 17:22) That’s being winsome.
When Paul brought his defence to Felix, he said: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.” (Acts 24:10) That’s being winsome.
When Paul spoke before Festus and Agrippa, he said: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.” (Acts 26:2-3) That’s being winsome.
The only time in Acts we see Paul not being winsome is in Acts 23:3. In this case, he responded with anger because he had been physically struck. Even so, he apologized for his tone once he realized that he was speaking about the high priest.
Paul knew that the gospel of Christ was offensive but he did not seek to add offence to it. Paul used a winsome tone to communicate his gospel so that he would have a wider audience in which to speak.
There is much that we can learn from Paul.
When I co-wrote the book Unmasking the Pagan Christ, one of the criticisms we received was that we were “too irenic” in our response to Tom Harpur. I took that as a complement.
Being winsome is not about being weak. I strongly believe that the Bible teaches us to be winsome (1 Peter 3:15). We need winsome Christians more now than ever.