We don't hear many people these days aspiring to "be gentle." Being gentle is often seen as weak and impractical, especially in harsh and abrasive times. Furthermore, people don’t tend to associate “being Christian” with “being gentle.” And yet, gentleness is a deeply Christian virtue, a characteristic of “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17). The Apostle Paul frequently advised the early Christian to embody gentleness. Dr. Perry Glanzer from Baylor University joins Tim and Rick to discuss this lost and misunderstood virtue. Gentleness proves vital to de-escalate incivility, face the challenges in our times, and for cultivating well-formed convictions.
Perry Glanzer: Yeah, I think a timid usually means you're focused on what other people are going to think about you. And so as a result, you're scared. Versus I think when you're gentle, you're focused on the other person's flourishing. That's why I think Christ was gentle, especially with those in the margins.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. I'm Tim Muehlhoff, Professor of Communication at Biola University.
Rick Langer: And my name is Rick Langer. I'm also a professor at Biola University and also the director of the Office of Faith and Learning and together we're the co-directors, Tim and I, of the Winsome Conviction project.
Tim Muehlhoff: We love to bring on people that just provoke our thinking, and Dr. Glanzer is definitely one of those individuals. Perry started something, it's only been going on for a few months. It's called the Christ Animated Learning Blog, and it is a tremendous resource. To get the thoughts of scholars across many different disciplines, talking about what really motivates them. It's a unique blog. It's one of my all time favorites. I get a chance to respond a little bit from the communication perspective, but Perry, welcome to our podcast, and why don't you tell us a little bit about the heart and the idea behind the Christ Animated Learning Blog?
Perry Glanzer: You bet. Thanks. Grateful to be here. I've had this idea in the back of my head for quite some time, but it really came to the fore when I was talking to someone in a higher leadership at a university in the Midwest who was talking about really trying to help his faculty develop in the area of Christ animated learning. And he said he was having to do his own sort of research to find examples to help these scholars. And I thought, wow! As part of a Christian scholars review, we should be the ones providing this kind of resource and research. Being really sort of one shop stop for interdisciplinary conversations about faith and learning. As a result, through becoming the general editor and talking with my colleagues who were on board with it, and also just had some wonderful response from colleagues around the nation who give their time sacrificially to contribute to the blog. It's been a lot of fun and very successful so far.
Tim Muehlhoff: And it's covered an amazing amount of topics. I mean, everything from what does it mean to get rest? What does it mean to investigate sexual harassment claims in a way that is both Christ centered and also sympathetic to the individuals that are involved? We read one by you that we thought we've got to have Perry on this podcast. So you wrote an amazing blog about how a word has been disappearing from our vocabulary and that word is gentleness. So could you tell us just a little bit, set it up for us, one, why did you pick this topic and how did you go about investigating the disappearance of this word gentleness?
Perry Glanzer: It actually started from my research that I do in higher education and particularly in moral education. And what you notice if you go back in the 19th century, a lot of the admonitions of emphasis were upon being a gentlemen. In fact, even around the turn of the century, even people were critiquing athletics a hundred years ago back then for their professional emphasis. What they talked about is we need the attitude of the gentlemen. It really struck me as, I mean, it's unusual compared to today and I knew about it, but I just thought, huh, this has really disappeared. I wonder in other areas, has it disappeared?
Perry Glanzer: And part of it too is I've done research on, particularly states that require character education in K through 12 schools. And in their state laws, they list the virtues that they want to teach students. I did a study with a colleague about these laws and we came up there 64 different virtues that all the different states have listed there, and the most popular ones are respect and responsibility. There's some interesting missing ones. For example, forgiveness is only taught in Arizona. I don't know if Arizonians are going to be more forgiving here in about 10 years or what. That was kind of odd. But one of the major ones that's completely missing is gentleness. It wasn't even another list. And I thought, wow, we've really changed from going to emphasizing being a gentleman or even gentlewoman a hundred years ago to today it's not even emphasized at all.
Tim Muehlhoff: I found it interesting when you defined gentleness in your blog, you said that gentleness is the sensitivity and willingness to forego power for the sake or benefit of another. Gentleness is a caring, calm, humility that allows one to see others as God sees them. Boy, that's a great definition, and why do you suspect that that's kind of fallen off people's lists when they want to teach virtue?
Perry Glanzer: I think part of it is we are a society that's really focused on power and obtaining power, getting power. And so that's one of the reasons. I think another reason is part of the emphasis on the old gentlemen ideal, I mean, you see this in John Henry Newman's idea of the university where he talks about this was that there was this understanding that men had more power, especially physical power, but sometimes when you emphasize, well, we're all equal, then there's not as much emphasis on, well, you need to learn how to steward your power appropriately. And so that I think is part of it as well.
Rick Langer: Perry, when I was reading your article, I thought a little bit about some of the pushback Tim and I have gotten. We've spent a lot of time talking about gentleness and civility and openness to reason and the way we communicate our convictions, not that we want to dismantle convictions, but we want to be a little more thoughtful about how we convey them, and we've received some pushback. I have a quote from Benjamin Dumont. He wrote this in the late 1990s. There was a kind of a convention at Yale that was talking about civility. And he basically said, look, civility is just a tool for the leader class to keep their inferiors in line. It's a form of silence. And he concludes the article, which is a statement, when you're in an argument with a thug, there are things that are much more important than civility. So what do you think about that? Is Dumont right? Is that part of what's going on?
Perry Glanzer: I think he's completely wrong. I think about, especially if you are in a place, sometimes if you're in a place where you don't have power, gentleness is incredibly effective. I think about Martin Luther King or Gandhi, this sense of, I mean, then some of the obnoxiousness, the incivility of those people keeping you down becomes readily apparent to society when you respond in that way. And certainly with Jesus as Jesus examples as well. I mean, I think gentleness is great at diffusing tension and peacemaking.
Rick Langer: In that sense, it's actually a way to exercise power in a way as opposed to simply the acquiescence to the powerful around or above you?
Perry Glanzer: Yes. And I actually think it's true both with those who don't have as much power, for example the examples I gave with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. But also with those who do have power, for example, police often talk about with their interactions with criminals using what they call verbal judo. I mean, that's a good analogy in the sense that judo is seen as more defensive, but also you're trying to deescalate usually tensions when you use verbal judo instead of physical force. I think the best police officers know how to use that kind of verbal judo. And I think gentleness is part of the toolkit in verbal judo.
Tim Muehlhoff: Funny you should mention that, Perry, the verbal judo part. I've been teaching self-defense at domestic violence shelters here in Orange County on how to deescalate. I mean, when it becomes physical, it becomes physical. Then you have to defend yourself. Obviously, if a person grabs you, throws you to the ground, tries to choke you, then a physical response is warranted. But before we get to that part, is the deescalation of it. And you do a great job of mentioning Proverbs 15, a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. And boy, I think we have been so primed today by today's argument culture that our go-to response is I won't be walked on. And if you make fun of my president, I'll make fun of your candidate. If you do this, I'll do this. And the negative spirals that we're in, gentleness seems to be a weakness, not a strength. And I think as Christians, we wrestle with that tension.
Perry Glanzer: Yes, I think we do. I have found that even in another context too, like being a father, one of the things that has struck me, I really, I learned this from a couple of their colleagues who talked about they were firstborns and I wasn't, I was the second born, but they taught me in firstborns when their dad came back at them hard, they just snap back. But they said, when my dad came back gentle, sometimes maybe even crying or tearing up, it broke their hearts. It went through. And I found that really with my firstborn, when I'm going to respond harshly, he doesn't like it. But when I learn to respond in a gentle way, it's just much better in terms of parenting. For the most part, I mean, sometimes you do have to obviously be a little firmer, but yeah, I think it's very important in parenting or cultural conversations, teaching as well, when you get into arguments in the classroom.
Tim Muehlhoff: So Perry, my first blog for the Christ Animated Learning Blog was entitled Blessing for Insult in Today's Argument Culture, Seriously? And it was kind of an exploration of, are you telling me that in today's crazy argument culture that I'm supposed to, as Peter would advocate, we are to give a blessing for an insult? I mean, I think Christians today read that and they say, listen, we're at war right now. We need the prophetic voice today. We don't need to give a blessing for an insult, to offer gentleness when we're getting hit in so many different directions. I think even some of my colleagues are like, listen, we're past gentleness, we're past winsome, persuasion and conviction. We are in a prophetic battle. And we're the ones that are having a fight with two hands tied behind our back. What kind of our response to that anx that people feel today that we're not back when we're getting hit?
Perry Glanzer: Yeah, I think we need to tap in. I mean, we're made in the image of God and Christ is that image of God to us. And Christ, one of his main virtues is gentleness. And I think what was powerful about ... It came from a certain kind of confidence, that in a faith in God, that God would make, ultimately rising from the dead and also make all things just if there's a ... I think when we toss aside gentleness, we're losing faith. We are thinking, "Oh, I can't win by bearing the virtues that God has demonstrated, instead I have to use sort of worldly means." And it's a loss of faith, I think. And also too, I think we have maybe a misunderstanding on what winning is and also perhaps some patience. I mean, there's no guarantee of winning until the end. I mean, Christ is not always gentle and Revelations demonstrates Christ will not always be gentle.
Rick Langer: Yeah. An interesting thing you pointed out in your article that really struck me is you mentioned that many Christians, kind of our post Christian era are simply being timid, but they're not being gentle. And that struck me as a really interesting distinction between timidity and gentleness. And I just wonder if you could unpack that just a little bit more for our listeners.
Perry Glanzer: Yeah. Timid usually means you're focused on what other people are going to think about you. And so as a result, you're scared versus I think when you're gentle, you're focused on the other person's flourishing. That's why I think Christ was gentle, especially with those in the margins. I mean, Christ, I think varied. Obviously he was a little harsh with those in power, but those in the margins, he was particularly gentle. And I think when you're gentle that way, you're focused on the other person and they're flourishing. And that makes a big difference, I think.
Tim Muehlhoff: Perry, I'm jealous of you because you did your graduate education at USC and your mentor was Dallas Willard, correct?
Perry Glanzer: Correct. Yeah. One of them.
Tim Muehlhoff: We just did, it just got dropped, we did a new year's resolution podcast when it came to civility in our speech. And so one of mine was from Dallas Willard. Ortberg tells this story about Dallas Willard lecturing and a freshmen just really taken it to Dallas Willard, and Dallas not necessarily coming right back at him. And afterwards, Ortberg, said to Dallas Willard, "Dallas, you could have crushed this kid. He was a freshman." And Willard's response was, "I'm practicing the discipline of not always having to have the last word." And I thought, "Oh, that's so good." Because today's argument culture is everybody's trying to get the definitive last word.
Tim Muehlhoff: Can you talk just a little bit about Dallas Willard for our listeners who aren't necessarily aware of him? And then you mentioned one of his books, which I was not aware of, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, but tell us a little bit about Dallas Willard, and do you think he exhibited this trait of gentleness?
Perry Glanzer: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, interestingly, when I wrote my column and mentioned Dallas, I got an email back from really someone who's been a mentor to me in some ways, David Lyle Jeffrey's here at Baylor, a well-known English literature scholar of the Bible, but he says, great example, Dallas was the perfect model of Christian gentleness. And it's really true. I mean, I took a number of classes with him and saw that continually in his classes. It's great to see someone who was a philosopher at University of Southern California, expert in his field, but also someone who just modeled great Christian ethics and not just taught about it. I mean, I did take an ethics class from him, but he actually modeled it. Even the story goes, others could probably confirm this more, but Dallas was asked to be chair of the department. And I think part of that is his character because there's a lot of conflict going on at the time. And he came in and helped bring peacemaking through gentleness.
Tim Muehlhoff: How so? Unpack that for us a little bit. Like how does gentleness help resolve or lessen conflict?
Perry Glanzer: I think it goes back to what we mentioned earlier, it deescalates. A lot of times I see this with my students. I mean, one thing, as a teacher, you're looking at those student evaluations all the time. There's some things I am rated highly on, some of them, not as much, but one thing I am happy to be rate highly on is respect for students. And I think it really helps cultivate a wonderful atmosphere for learning. When you're gentle with your students, and you are, you're always going to have those students kind of come back at you and come back at you hard. I mean, I had that this past semester. Actually, I like it because it helps ... I mean, it makes some people uncomfortable, but it helps for intellectual dialogue. But in order to make learning flourish then, you have to be gentle.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.
Rick Langer: So Perry, we are recording this podcast on January 7th, the day after or the most, to me at least, bizarre moments in my memory of seeing the United States Capitol stormed by protesters, a woman was shot dead by U.S. Capitol police. We have talked in other contexts about, does gentleness work? And I'm assuming when someone is violently attacking you, the appropriate response isn't necessarily always gentle, but you may have to pull a weapon or you may have to do something like that. But in the level and magnitude and nature of the controversies we have now in the political realm, and it is spilling over into physical violence, what is the role for gentleness I guess in this present moment?
Perry Glanzer: To be honest, when I saw everything yesterday and read about it, the verse that came to mind is you reap what you sow. We have had leadership who did not sow gentleness, certainly in his conduct and his tweeting and things like that. That's what happens. No matter what side of the aisle you're on, you need to recognize that, that character makes an incredible difference. And when you demonstrate certain vices, we're going to reap that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Perry, you mentioned in your blog, I thought this was really well said. You said, as a result, we have lost a valuable fruit of the spirit that the church and society desperately need during these times. Then you say this, I thought this was so good. We cannot reap the fruit that we did not sow. Instead, as Hosea 8:7 reminds us, they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
Tim Muehlhoff: The problem with this as a solution to the argument culture is it's not a quick fix. Gentleness is a character development, you can't just say, "Oh, okay, well, I'm going to change my character this weekend and act out of that new character." This is going to be something that we're going to have to commit to as the church and as a nation, we're going to have to return to a form of gentle persuasion and disagreement with each other. I think it's pretty telling what you said that we've seen leadership. I know this would be controversial to our listeners, but we've seen leadership that has not been gentle in how they approach disagreements or critique, and maybe we have a reaped a whirlwind instead.
Perry Glanzer: Yeah, I agree. I mean, it is amazing how many times in scripture that character or virtue is associated with fruit and growing fruit from the tree. And like you said, it takes a long time and it takes careful cultivation. One of my neighbor's pear trees, actually, he moved away and there were some renters there. Well, the pear tree went wild after a year or two, just because there wasn't careful cultivation, and so there was no more fruit. There are no more pears. And the same thing, we've lost gentleness, and it's going to take time to replant those seeds and get that fruit back. And like you said, it takes practice.
Perry Glanzer: For me, learning from Miles. I remember I have a friend who's in the business world and he was in a tough position. He was hiring and firing people and dealing with conflict quite a bit, in terms of an HR side of things, but he, for one, he had a great sense of humor. And you guys have talked about that in your work, which I think is wonderful, and that really helps diffuse some of that tension. And then two, he just knew how to be gentle, but firm in delivering some tough news and in tough sorts of discussions. I mean, just to kind of piggyback on that, I've learned from that and it's taken me time as I seek to practice gentleness. I'll be honest, part of the reason I write about this is I need to work on it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, the humor part, Perry, is I think what we need to take a hard look at. So to give a preview for the Christ Animated Learning Blog, on January 21st, I've written a blog, taking a look at Chesterton and could Chesterton be Chesterton today? And could he use that humor that he had with George Bernard Shaw, a leading humanist thinker that he debated and had a friendship with for almost 35 years. I think we've got to find ways to bring humor. Rick, I think your point is, man, after yesterday is just to say, we got to reclaim humor and it's like, well, yeah, not about that event, but that needs to become a character quality that our nation and our church adopts is maybe some more Chesterton moments.
Rick Langer: I think what Perry said earlier is really I propose as well to say, look, this gentleness in essence, it's not a political strategy or a success strategy, it's a fruit of the spirit. It's just a thing we are not only commanded to cultivate, but the point is to the extent that spirit lives within our lives, we simply will exhibit that trait. And to the extent that we shut that down, we're in effect quenching the spirit. So whatever our political context is, at some point, we simply have to say, nonetheless, if I walk with Jesus and I'm filled with the spirit, gentleness will be what characterizes my life along with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. These are the things that just are emerged from being planted in the soil of Christ.
Tim Muehlhoff: And this applies to all of us. I mean, none of us get a free pass on this. Perry, you mentioned in your blog, this one horribly convicting section, so why put that in there? That was my original comment. But you write this, that Paul advises Christians in Ephesus, be completely humble and gentle, and he admonishes the Philippian church, let your gentleness be evident to all. And then he tells Colossian Christians to be clothed in gentleness. So sure seems like Paul is speaking to all Christians, not just select few Christian communicators or apologists.
Perry Glanzer: Oh, exactly. It'd be interesting if you can find people who are not Christians say, "Yeah, when I think of Christians, I think of general."
Rick Langer: Yeah. That's a sad testimony, right? I mean, it just as verbal as things that ought not be, and as you pointed out, I think that's not incompatible with being people of conviction. And this is one of the big things that we really want to convey is actually this whole project is about developing and holding well-formed convictions that still portray that we can convey with grace and exhibit the qualities that we see in Jesus. That's the actual goal. Conviction free isn't helpful.
Perry Glanzer: Yeah. I've been in situations where it's kind of an academic debate or somebody is ... I've had a colleague yelling at me one time and responding with jealous. It was really interesting how it doesn't necessarily ... I mean, hopefully I think it diffused the situation, but also other people come up to you and then respond in terms of either a Christian witness or just Christian character. Like, "Wow! That was really good. Thank you for that." What you're doing is not always trying to convince the other person with your gentleness, it might be convincing the other audience members.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good. Can we all think of, I mean, put us on the spot. Can we think of a speaker who is gentle yet obviously a convicted person?
Rick Langer: I think for me, one of the people that comes to my mind is Tim Keller. He's been ministering in a very difficult place. And by the way, you think about it, if there's one town that we do not associate with gentleness, it would be New York. I mean, it just has the reputation for brusqueness. And yet when I think of Christian pastors today, I can't help but stop and think, oh yeah, Tim Keller would be right at the top of my list of people who I think would model gentleness.
Rick Langer: I remember in particular when he had been, I think, invited to give the Kuyper lectures or Stone lectures at Princeton. He'd been invited to give these lectures there and then they suddenly change their mind because of some protest against his convictions on marriage or whatever it was. He gave the most gracious response in that context, kind of deescalating things and gave both the university and other people who were in favor of him coming, a gracious way to exit. I was really struck by that. He just seems to model that. And in many times being a spokesperson for things that are very, very difficult or finding himself in difficult situations.
Perry Glanzer: Yeah, I think that's a great example. I remember someone in his congregation one time when things were ... There are some protests going on and they stood up and kind of confronted him about something that he replied from the pulpit in a very gentle way.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's really good. Boy, Perry, thank you so much on many levels. Thank you for giving great leadership to the Christian Scholar's Review and the preeminent Christian periodicals journals. We get this at Biola. It's one of the gifts that's given to Biola professors and is just a gold mine, but also your creativity and vision for starting the Christ Animated Learning Blog. Make sure, Perry, as we wrap this up to tell people how they can find that and how they can even get alerts when a new one is launched.
Perry Glanzer: Sure. Thank you very much and appreciate your contribution to the blog as well. If people want to learn more about it, they can go to the Christian Scholar's review website and click on the blog. And on that blog page, there's a place you can click to receive daily updates or actually right now it's three times a week that you'd receive updates about the latest blog, but starting in January 18th, it's going to be once every day for five days a week that we're going to have blog postings.
Rick Langer: That's great. And we'll be sure to put that information on our website as well. And that of course leads me to remind you that our website is called winsomeconviction.com and you can also find their links to the podcast. And you can also subscribe to the Winsome Conviction podcast at whatever your favorite places to get your podcasts, Apple podcasts or Spotify, or wherever you find them, we're there and available. And we'd love to have you subscribe and continue to listen to them since we work so very hard to foster civility and convey winsome conviction in the argument culture in a time when that is often very, very hard to find. Thank you so much for joining us here on the Winsome Conviction podcast.