All the knowledge in the world with no tact is worthless. A little knowledge with a lot of tact can change the world.

“Handling” people. That is one of the hardest things to learn about in life. How to “handle” our spouse. How to “handle” our moody boss. How to “handle” a person at church who has a “less than stellar” personality. I don’t often “handle” people well. It takes a lot of time, patience, and empathy. It takes all of those things that don’t come naturally to me. I like to act rashly, without having to organize a “plan of attack.” I am going through this right now with my teenage daughter. If ever two people clashed, it is me and her. I think it is because we are so much alike. Either way, most of the time I get frustrated, irritable, and say things that can do nothing other than make our relationship more difficult.

I am under the impression that we Christians do not “handle” people well. We often substitute knowledge for prudence, tact, and wisdom. We think that if we have the right answers, this covers a multitude of sins. We think knowledge and correct information somehow run on autopilot and have the power to persuade in and of themselves.

If you are in the world of theological discussion, multiply this imprudence by ten. And if you are on the internet, you can multiply that by ten.

Here are some things that qualify as the opposite of tact:

  • Rashness
  • Having to be right about everything
  • Being unnecessarily offensive
  • Failing to show respect to people as God’s image bearers
  • Lack of graciousness in speech
  • Misrepresenting your opponent
  • Never giving the benefit of the doubt
  • Correcting people you have never encouraged
  • Always saying what’s on your mind
  • “Hit-and-run” comments on the internet

Tact requires sensitivity. Tact requires thoughtfulness. Tact requires patience.

What does tactless Christianity look like? I think of the Calvinist who called the Arminian a liar (oh yeah, that is going to change his mind!). I think of the Arminian who called the Calvinist God “the God of Calvinism” (could he be any more unnecessarily offensive?). I think of the anti-homosexual who holds up a sign that says, “God hates fags” (does he really think that is going to change anyone?). I think of the husband who tells his wife to submit because the Bible says so (yeah, and who said it was his job to make her?). I think of the blogger who writes all day about a person he believes is wrong, yet has no relationship with the person otherwise (what makes that blogger think he has an audience with this person?). I think of the husband who tells the truth when his wife asks, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Tactless. Imprudent. Rash. Stupid. These are all in the same domain about which I am speaking.

Humor me as we take a cue from Satan. It was said that the Prince of Darkness was more shrewd than any other animal.

Gen 3:1
Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”

This word “shrewd” is my focus. The NAB uses “cunning.” The NJB uses “subtle.” The NLT and NET use “shrewd.” However, most other translations use the word “crafty.” Crafty . . . have you ever been called crafty? Have you ever been called cunning? Probably not in a good way. But my proposal to you is that were we more like Satan here, we might be more effective and productive in our relationships – and even glorify God to a greater degree. I know, I know, there is nothing in this passage which tells us to act like Satan. However, I think the way he approaches Eve, sly though he may have been, was thoughtful and, in a very real sense, wise. He was not rash. He thought about the best approach. He was tactful. He always is. That is why he presents himself in a very attractive manner to us (2 Cor. 11:14). Of all the bad things we can say about the dragon of old, he certainly knows what he is doing.

But more importantly for my argument, the word used for Satan’s shrewdness is the same word used in Proverbs 13:16:

“Every shrewd person acts with knowledge, but a fool displays his folly.”

We are to be shrewd, cunning, and crafty. We are to have tact. If we don’t, we are fools. This positive look at craftiness can be found in many other passages, especially in the Proverbs (Prov. 12:23; Prov. 14:18; Prov. 27:12). And we cannot forget that really odd parable where the guy gets fired, and quickly goes and settles his master’s debts at a fraction of the price in order to make sure he has friends on the outside (Luke 16:1-9). Jesus praises the man for being crafty, tactful, and shrewd.

Luke 16:8
And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.

The idea is that we don’t think deeply. We are not calculated. We don’t know how to “handle” people.

I love the example of Paul before King Agrippa in Acts 26. He knew how to “handle” him. Agrippa was an unbeliever. He was not someone who Paul looked up to for spiritual things. But Paul assessed the situation, respected his position before Agrippa, and went out of his way to show Agrippa respect. He even buttered Agrippa up a bit by calling him an “expert” (Acts 26:2). At one point he used some rhetorical tact to put thoughts in Agrippa’s mind (Acts 26:27). Paul was thoughtful and cunning. His knowledge did not outrun his tact.

It is so hard to watch tactless Christianity. It is so hard to be a tactless Christian. When prudence is lacking, we might as well put Wite-Out across our day, for all our aspirations are ruined without it. Tactlessness is foolish, easy, counterproductive, sinful, unloving, arrogant, and natural. It takes a lot of work to stop and think. It takes wisdom to learn how to “handle” people. But efficacy demands it.

Though craftiness is often used for evil purposes by those who don’t love God, we are encouraged to use it for good. Let us try to be more like Satan here.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    20 replies to "Tactless Christianity"

    • theoldadam

      Of that, I repent. ( a lot)

    • z

      @Larry Easton, “Christians are no worse than worldlings….” True, and it is definitely worth emphasizing this because a lot of people enjoy pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians. That said, the temptation is to give up and not even try to improve, or to rationalize our behavior, or to say “Well, I’m not sanctified yet, nothing I can do about it”. And many of us are terrible at identifying the stupid things we do, so being confronted with our behavior and being made to think about our actions is one of the ways God brings his grace to us. (And even though I pointed out your comment, I’m certainly not accusing you of these things, just to be clear.)

    • Irene

      EXCELLENT post!

      Does Matthew 10:16 use a similar word?

    • R David

      Why does it seem, in present day Christianity, that the Reformed camp (specifically the neo-Reformed) are the worst about this?

    • Irene

      Here are a few more relevant verses, all from Sirach 20. (Not your Scripture, I know, but Luther still said it was good reading, right?)

      v. 1 There is a reproof which is not timely; and there is a man who keeps silent but is wise.

      v. 6 There is one who keeps silent because he has no answer, while another keeps silent because he knows when to speak.

      v.7 A wise man will be silent until the right moment, but a braggart and fool goes beyond the right moment.

      v. 20 A proverb from a fool’s lips will be rejected, for he does not tell it at its proper time.

    • It is not often, but indeed sometimes I must disagree with our dear brother Michael here somewhat. Noting his last sentence! 🙂 There is simply no model for us with Satan! As close as our Lord would come here was His statement: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)

      And btw, I think of the great John the Baptist here, no man was more humble, and yet no man was more fierce for God’s truth! Today his rebuke of Herod’s sin and Herodias too, his brother Philip’s wife, seems so forgotten, but they cost John his life! WE have so few true John the Baptist types today! One thinks however of people like old A.W. Pink, certainly not any perfection here, but he was always ready to stand for what he believed was the essence of God’s Word & Truth! And God used this man, too!

      “That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” (Phil. 2: 15-16)

      Btw, label me neo-Reformed! 😉

    • R David

      Fr. Robert-

      I have seen your tone here and find it very beneficial to the threads. I am certainly not criticizing the theology. As a neo-Reformed though, would you agree there is a abundance of “tactless Christianity” coming from that camp?

    • Lisa Robinson

      I agree with Fr Robert about the last sentence. But the thrust of what’s written here cannot be said enough.

      “Correcting people you have never encouraged” Ouch and amen

    • C Michael Patton

      Maybe using satan as an example was not very tactful? Grrrr

    • JFDU

      “Please allow me to introduce myself
      I’m a man of wealth and taste

      I’ve been around for a long, long year
      Stole many a mans soul and faith

      And I was round when Jesus Christ
      Had his moment of doubt and pain

      Made damn sure that pilate
      Washed his hands and sealed his fate

      Pleased to meet you
      Hope you guess my name….”

    • @R. David: Well there has been “tactless” Christianity among all Christians groups sadly, and in every generation. The nature of Reformed Theology is always somewhat “confessional”, and they love in-fighting at times, but they are generally after the truth of God. I have noted of late the fight that John Frame has brought with his book: The Escondido Theology, etc. This book in fact took some courage to write and print! Note even Gary DeMar wrote the Forward. (And though I am Reformed, I generally don’t follow DeMar. Note, I am Historic Pre-Mill), but I like John Frame. Just a few points. 🙂

    • anonymous

      “Maybe using satan as an example was not very tactful? Grrrr”

      agreeing with you. JESUS provides endless study of tactfulness.

      He (Satan) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44b

      The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

    • Ken Mafli

      It seems that we as Christians constantly loose sight of Who we represent. To paraphrase Paul – why not be wronged rather than besmirch the Name of Christ.

    • Tina

      Well, hello conviction. Nice to meet you again.

      So many times I either act this way or really really want to act this way. That always being right thing is kind of a killer that looks like a fuzzy panda bear. Acting tactlessly is more about how we feel with little regard for others. It’s about what we want to express rather than engaging in real relationships with others. Rather than offer my opinion right away, I’ve learned a few questions to ask that help me to focus on the person I’m speaking with:

      How do you feel about that?
      What do you think your reaction should be?
      What do you think God/the Bible would tell you about this situation?

      Very basic, but sometimes quite effective.

      Also, I was always under the impression that it was not Satan in the garden, but just the serpent. The language does imply (as far as I’m aware) that Satan possessed the serpent, it’s just tradition that we believe it was so. Discussion? More references please? Thanks.

    • Sylvia

      Finally someone who gets it! Excellent Post, Michael. This positivity Churchianity is drowning out the message of Christ. When we have “Preachers” who don’t like to be called that and opening their “Worship” services with AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” as its introduction, then I think it’s gone too far! Blending in with the Culture at Church is making Church irrelevant. Why would someone come to seek anything in a Church acting the same way as any other place? Aren’t we to stand out in the World? If the message of Christ is not at Church, then what’s the point of it?

    • Sylvia

      Sorry. wrong blog post.

    • Tio Papo

      Recently had to use lots of patience dealing with atheists, so much hate for God they show and for us too…! A good exercise for me….Good post except for the word “stupid”…still shocks me to read it on a theological discussion, but it could be an ethnic thing!

    • […] C. Michael Patton on Tactless Christianity.  All of Patton’s stuff is worth reading but this is very important for fellow bloggers and […]

    • […] C. Michael Patton on Tactless Christianity.  All of Patton’s stuff is worth reading but this is very important for fellow bloggers and […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.