A lot has been written in the past few years about how Christians can and should change the culture. I ought to know: I’ve written a good bit of it. That idea was at the heart of a book I wrote with John Stonestreet, “Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan To Change The World Through Everyday People.”
Our book is just the tip of the iceberg. I think of Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option,” or Russell Moore’s “Onward,” or Andy Crouch’s “Culture Making” as recent additions to this conversation. And the conversation is not new. Chuck Colson’s “How Now Shall We Live?” and Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Christ and Culture” and even Abraham Kuyper’s 1898 “Lectures on Calvinism” all deal with this topic. Indeed, this list could become a very long one.
Today, though, I remember a man who was not a “public intellectual,” an academic, or a ministry leader, but an entrepreneur and man of action. His little book had a big impact on many young Christians who were, and remain, concerned about how Christians should live and work in the world.
Bob Briner’s book “Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World” was an encouragement to many Christian writers, musicians, and artists when it came out in 1995. In some ways, it was an unlikely bestseller. Briner’s career was mostly spent outside the Christian media industry. He was a leading figure in professional sports management. He introduced National Basketball Association games to Chinese television and won an Emmy for producing a television show about tennis great Arthur Ashe. He made a fortune for himself and others with ProServ, a sports management company that revolutionized professional tennis.
But “Roaring Lambs” caught the attention of the Christian community, with its call to believers to use whichever gifts God has given them to be “salt and light” where they are. Now, the admonition to be “salt and light” is as old as the Bible itself. What Bob Briner offered was a blunt critique of the way evangelicalism was—and was not—getting this job done. “When Christians criticize, carp, and complain but offer no alternatives,” Briner wrote, “the world rolls its eyes, snickers, and moves on. It is really only when we offer a ‘more excellent way’ that we command or deserve much attention.” He went on to say why the snickers and eye-rolls were so destructive: “In many ways, the cause of Christ is hurt most, not when it is vigorously denounced and fought against, but when it is laughed at and not taken seriously.”
When Briner spoke of “roaring lambs,” he did not put an emphasis on either word. Being a lamb in this culture meant being gentle, not being mushy, passive, or compliant. “Don’t get me wrong,” Briner wrote. “There are times when following the call of God demands that we speak out loudly against flagrant evil. But if that’s all we do, particularly if most of our speaking out is only to each other, we are not being salt. The way to be salt is to replace evil with good, not just to sound off against the evil.”
Briner was also a great encourager of those who, however haltingly, were trying to put into practice the principles of his book. In 1993 I started a Christian newspaper in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Those were the early days of the Internet and e-mail, but Bob discovered our early, embarrassingly clunky website. Bob recognized that I was attempting to do, in my very inadequate way, what he was describing in “Roaring Lambs.” I started getting e-mails from him. We exchanged messages off and on for a couple of years, until one day he wrote that his health had deteriorated to the point that this would likely be the last time I would hear from him.
It was. On June 19, 1999, 18 years ago this week, Bob Briner died of abdominal cancer.
I have now, alas, lost those e-mails, but I do remember how encouraged I felt to have someone of his stature reading and commenting on my work. In the years since his death, I have run into literally scores of people with similar stories. Many of these people are in the Christian music industry. Some of the more thoughtful artists in that industry embraced Bob’s admonition to be a “roaring lamb.” In 2000, Steve Curtis Chapman, Charlie Peacock, Steve Taylor, Ashley Cleveland, Michael Tait, and others collaborated on an album dedicated to Briner. The album won a Dove Award and was nominated for two others. In 2003, Briner became the first person inducted into Indiana Wesleyan University’s Society of World Changers. Those inducted since Briner have included Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Ben Carson, and Hobby Lobby founder David Green.
In “Restoring All Things,” John Stonestreet and I talk about how the early church ran toward disasters and plagues in order to love and serve those who had been afflicted by those calamities. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that Christians should not hole up in ivory towers or isolated communities. Instead, we are to “come out into the tempest of the living.”
This message was Bob Briner’s, too: “What I’m calling for is a radically different way of thinking about our world. Instead of running from it, we need to rush into it. And instead of just hanging around the fringes of our culture, we need to be right smack dab in the middle of it.”
It is advice that we need now more than ever.
[Note: This article is adapted from one that originally ran in WORLD.]
Book cover image copyright Zondervan. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums.