by Barry Corey
As the president of a leading Christian university, you have a lot on your plate. What led you to carve time out of your schedule to write a book on kindness?
I’ve been distressed in recent years by so many Jesus followers who are more interested in picking a fight than making a friend. Someone told me recently that we never lead our enemies to follow Jesus, but we do lead our friends.Christians have been quick to bypass kindness and prefer to begin a shouting match, or they just talk among themselves about how awful the other side is. We have ranted before we’ve related, deeming the latter too soft on sin. Christians – and I’ve seen this especially in American Christians in recent years – have employed the strategy of winning the combative way, and it’s not working.The “culture wars” have done little to change our society, and we’ve lost many if not all of these wars. As a result, the church too often is marginalized and mocked, and increasingly people are viewing the Bible as just as intolerable as our aggressive tactics. It’s time for a new way of living lives of radical kindness, not to be accepted but to be faithful. I’m willing to bet that if Christians leaned more into kindness and understood more its revolutionary power, the world would see a side of us that would cause many skeptical and irate folks on the other side to take notice. Our radical gestures of kindness may be rejected. They may be received. But they will not be forgotten.
I wrote this book because I believe it’s time to rediscover the hidden power of kindness.I wrote this book out of frustration that those who represent the gospel are often caustic and harsh, picking fights with those whose views are hostile to theirs. In other words, Christians are often starting with unkindness. Unkindness has little effect beyond marshaling other Christians to admire our toughness and raising our own profile. This has gotten us nowhere in the cause of the gospel—our Christian call to be redemptive voices to that which is broken.
I wrote this book as an alternative to the voices of barbwire-wrapped Christians who are picking fights from pulpits, blogs, talk shows, town meetings or political platforms. I also wrote this book to demonstrate that kindness is not anemic or without conviction. Rather, it has the power to influence others, revealing the truth and grace of the Christian faith far more than the insecurity of confrontational posturing.
I wrote this book for me, the ordinary guy who grew up wanting to live a life of meaning without meanness. I wrote this book for people like me who have discovered kindness as the antidote to struggles with fear and insecurity: the fear that we’ve fooled people into thinking we’re special and the insecurity that rears its head in our own pride. I wrote this book to recover in my own life the revolutionary way Jesus called us to live.
I wrote this book for people like me who have discovered kindness as the antidote to struggles with fear and insecurity.
I wrote this book because as a university president, I care about how the rising generation lives out the way of Jesus in an increasingly polarized and mean-spirited culture. I think kindness as Jesus lived it presents the highest hope for a renewal of Christian civility, a renewal needed now more than ever.
One of the key ideas of the book is that the Christian virtue of kindness should look like having a “firm center and soft edges.” Can you explain what you mean by this?
In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one way or the other, toward the extremes of soft centers or hard edges. By hard edges I mean we can be so determined to stand for truth that grace is lost. And by soft edges I mean we can be so careful to not offend our neighbor that truth is lost. I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges. This book is an attempt to explain what this means – not so much to define as to describe, as I’ve seen it in different people from different settings.As my friend Bryan Loritts wrote me when I told him I was writing this book, “We’ve tried legalism, and that has proven inept and unattractive. Some are trying a warped form of love that renders us saltless. The only thing that works is a life that embodies grace and truth lived out in relationship with others.” I call that kindness—a life with a firm center and soft edges.
What are some ways in which kindness can change our life and the lives of others?
I don’t know if we should pay a lot of attention to how kindness can change others’ lives, though I know it can. I point out in the book that kindness is far more about being faithful than being thanked. As Christians, kindness should shape us and define us, whether or not it is warmly received by others. Living to be received focuses on how others respond to my kindness. This is out of my control. Not only that, but living to be received ultimately inflates my ego. Living radical kindness is different. It decreases the ego because it’s kindness that is not awaiting a thank-you. Living the way of kindness should not be measured by how people perceive me. Living the way of kindness calls us to a posture of humility, and humility is most authentically lived when I accept that my kindness will sometimes be rejected. Kindness focuses on how I open myself for others to receive me, whether they choose to or not.
Our increasingly shrill sounds in the public square are not strengthening our witness but weakening it. Bullhorns and fist shaking—mustering armies and using war-waging rhetoric—are far less effective than the way of kindness, treating those with whom we disagree with charity and civility. That doesn’t mean we don’t stand courageously for what we deem right, true, and just. But kindness is not incompatible with courage. Kindness embodies courage, although courage does not always embody kindness.
You make a point in the book of clarifying that kindness is not the same thing as “niceness,” that “niceness” is NOT a Christian value. Can you explain the difference between being kind and being “nice?”
By kindness, I’m not talking about when you buy a stranger coffee or when you bring in your neighbor’s trash cans or when you tell someone they have food in their teeth. These are nice random acts. But kindness is not a random act. It’s a radical life. Kindness is not limited to grandmothers or Boy Scouts. Never mistake kindness for niceness. Kindness is all over the Bible, plentiful in both Testaments. But you won’t find niceness in the Bible once—nor the word nice, for that matter. Kindness is fierce, brave and daring. It’s fearless and selfless, never to be mistaken for niceness. They’re not the same and never were. Kindness is neither timid nor frail. Niceness is kindness minus conviction. I think we should scrub “nice” from our vocabulary. We need to stop telling children to be nice and instead tell them to be kind, and then tell them the difference.
The virtue of kindness is rooted in Scripture, forged on sound Christian theology and modeled over the centuries by followers of Jesus. Since the early church, disciples have walked the risky and sometimes dangerous road of kindness. Kindness is a radical way of living biblically. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit on Paul’s short list in Galatians 5. It’s not a duty or an act. It’s an imperative. It’s the natural outcome of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We exhale kindness after we inhale what’s been breathed into us by the Spirit. Kindness radiates when we’re earnest about living the way of Christ, the way of the Spirit. Kindness displays the wonder of Christ’s love through us.
Niceness may be pleasant, but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. Niceness trims its sails to prevailing cultural winds and wanders aimlessly, standing for nothing and there by falling for everything. Kindness is certainly not aggression, but it’s also not niceness. Niceness is cosmetic. It’s bland. Niceness is keeping an employee in the job, knowing he’s no longer the right fit therefore failing him and the company because you don’t have the courage to do the kind thing. Kindness calls you to tell him he’s not the person for the position and then dignify him in the transition.
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Biola University President Barry H. Corey’s first book, Love Kindness, urges Christians to reclaim the virtue of kindness. Get your copy here: www.lovekindnessbook.com.