We are prone to extremes. We have a penchant for an “either/or” mindset, especially when it comes to wrestling through something in the Bible or our theology. When we choose an “either/or” mindset instead of trying to find the precarious balance of a “both/and” mindset, our conclusions often leave out what the rest of the data says. Here are a few examples…
- The Kingdom of God – Now vs. Future: Is it already or not yet? It’s “both.” The Kingdom has already come with the advent of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14-15), but there is a future final consummation. An overemphasis on the “already now” often results in an optimistic triumphalism that doesn’t square with reality and experience. This leads many to disillusionment because tribulations still abound. Yet an overemphasis on the “future not yet” aspect of the kingdom may lead to defeatism and despair in the now of life, neglecting the reality that Jesus has accomplished victory over sin and death. The now and not yet must be held in tension.
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism: Does God choose me or do I choose Him? I understand all of the theological and philosophical tensions inherent within the argument, but somehow in the mystery of God it seems to be a bit of both. Some will say it can’t ultimately be a “both/and.” Some will site the law of non-contradiction… that two opposing answers can’t be both right at the same time. I respond with the reality of human finitude. We will not completely figure it out on this side and quite possibly not on the next side either (because we’ll still be finite). When I was preaching through Ephesians 1 (all of the fun “predestined, adoption” language), here’s what I said: “I have this uncanny ability to peacefully co-exist right in the middle of two opposing theological systems.” I have learned to peacefully exist in the tension. And my response at the mystery and tension (much like the Apostle Paul’s in Ephesians 1) is worship… fully enjoying the mystery of the God who has so lovingly and graciously included us in His huge plan of redemption.
- Jesus (the Gospels) vs. Paul: The kingdom or the cross? This seems to be a favorite in the emergent vs. emerging debates. The emergent folks favor the Gospels and the ethics of the kingdom. The emerging reformed crowd favors Paul’s epistles and focus on the cross (especially substitutionary atonement, propitiation, expiation, etc.). It’s both… the kingdom and the cross.
Bottom line… I don’t think I have to have the tensions resolved. It’s not intellectual laziness or apathy that leads me here. It’s a spiritual understanding that my finite, limited perspective will never be able to fully comprehend the unlimited vision and plan of the Ultimate God. So I’m learning to live in the tensions. I’m learning to balance the extremes.