The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I believe that good, sound theology holds many seemingly contradictory truths in tension. The poster boy for this concept is the grace vs. works debate. In Christian circles at least, false teaching isn’t usually a “new” truth, but the natural consequence of letting go of biblical tension—camping in one of the extremes. Last week one of my commenters confessed that she straddles many of the entrenched theological camps littering the Christian landscape today. I suggested that perhaps her straddling was a sign of maturity.
This morning I thought of a few more tensions we ought to keep:
Process vs. finish line. For some people, it’s all about the journey and the growing we do along the way. For others, it’s about pragmatics: does it work? Is it bearing fruit? Making a difference in the real world? Biblically speaking, it’s both. We never quite arrive, so the journey is all we have; and yet, by their fruits ye shall know them.
Individuals vs. the group. For some, it’s all about individual relationships. For others, it’s about the health of the group as a whole. Relationship people need to realize there is something greater than the sum of the parts, that there are times when the health of the group is more important than the happiness of the individuals within it. Others need to realize that groups really are made up of individuals with their own set of needs, wants, and dreams.
Being vs. doing. Our culture vilifies doing, as though being is far more spiritual. Not a biblical distinction at all. Our model is a God who does who he says he is. When we don’t do what we say we are, it’s called hypocrisy. Try and tell me I’m not a pastor, it’s just what I do. True, our actions aren’t everything about us, and our flesh prompts us to do things that are no longer true of our new nature in Christ, but our actions are still mysteriously part of us. Drawing an artificial line between being and doing is the first step toward rejecting accountability and justifying hypocrisy. On the other hand, if I locate my identity solely in my actions, I’ll lose myself in endless doing.
Biblical vs. Christlike. This one is particularly bizarre, and I don’t grasp how it’s possible, but after over twenty years of ministry, I know it’s true: There is often an inverse relationship between how biblical we are and how Christlike we are. I can hear you muttering something about heresy, but let me explain. Those that focus most passionately on biblical precision in their theology tend to be some of the least Christlike people around. It’s as if they conclude, “As long as I’m right, it doesn’t matter how I treat people.” I’m not saying all theologians are pagans, I’m saying there’s something about leaning into this extreme that is toxic, just like it was for the teachers of the law in Christ’s day. On the other hand, people who tend to lean to the Christlike extreme tend to lose themselves in causes and kumbaya over time. We need to remember that the most important theology we hold is the theology we live out, that if it’s not changing me, I don’t actually get it. The most important measure of my theological correctness is my behaviour. And on the other extreme, we must remember that Christlikeness must be biblical to truly count, that Jesus was a man of the Book who cared about the power of words and nuance in scripture. After all, he wrote it.
What do you think? What other tensions do you think we should wrestle with?
I wonder if these tensions are the fuel for most of the arguments among Christians. We have long heated discussions, convinced that we are right and they are wrong when we’re really just fighting on different sides of a paradox like the faith vs. works debate.
Also, would you put the Jesus hates religion video into Biblical vs. Christlike category?
Good thoughts, I agree.
The video, I’m not sure. I just read “Beautiful Outlaw” by John Eldredge and he says that an unbiased person, reading the gospels for the first time, would come to the inevitable conclusion that religion is the enemy. I tend to agree. That’s not to say everything about religion is all bad, but few things ever are. At the most, I’d agree with James, who said, “Hey, if you have to be religious, be religious about helping people in need.” (my paraphrase). I would tend to ask, “What about religion helps people connect with God and live out his gospel?” I suppose it boils down to how one defines religion.