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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Truth in Tension

Here's another dynamic that I think affects the shaping of our beliefs and practices on the theological journey. It is that grasping truth often means living with a challenging but creative tension of truth(s). I have often used an illustration when talking about this which I discovered from my friend Mark Lawrence originally came from Ern Baxter (though he may well have got it from someone else also). It's like a road with two ditches on either side; if we over-emphasise one aspect of truth at the expense of the other, then we end up in one of the ditches. In my last post I suggested that we don't let go of the need to listen to and honour apostolic and prophetic revelation; but it is also true that it is together that we have the mind of Christ and so we all get to take part in the conversation of pilgrims. It is not either/or, it is both/and. If we over-emphasise one at the expense of the other, then we end up in a ditch. And Ern Baxter apparently used to say that if you don't 'feel the tension' you are probably missing the truth; you may even be in one of the ditches.

I am not talking about some grey, boring, middle-of-the-road balanced position. It is about holding together two truths with equal force. I remember, as a teenager, cycling down a hill at quite a speed when I became aware of a wasp on my chest and desperately tried to brush it off with one hand while holding one side of the handle bar with the other hand. With my imbalanced grip, I ended up swerving to one side and fell off the bike into the path of on-coming bus - which thankfully stopped! I wasn't trying to ride in the middle of the road (I would get knocked down then) but I did need to get the equal pressure on each end of the handle bar to avoid swerving. Let me give you another example. I hear a lot about grace teaching at the moment (and enjoy most of it) and I reckon you can never be too extreme about grace - our faith is not about what we do for God but about what he has done/does for us. I don't in anyway try to qualify that. But I hold it together with the equal truth that for spiritual formation and growth, grace enables me to 'make every effort' and to 'train myself' (Phil.2:12-13; 1 Cor.9:23-27; 15:10; 1 Tim.4:7-8; 2 Pet.1:5 ) - otherwise I end up in the ditch of passivity. Awareness of the ditches does not mean that it is like walking a tight rope, constantly afraid of falling. Definitely not. The road between the ditches is broad and one on which we can hop, skip, jump, cycle(!) and dance (more on this in next post). It is not about tightrope walking but about holding truths together so that we can enjoy the road without falling into either ditch.

Kevin Gerald preaches a great message on what he calls dumb dichotomies, the tendency among many Christians to insist on either/or, rather than both/and. This refusal to hold two truths in tension, to insist on dumb dichotomies, is perhaps the most common reason for unnecessary and unhelpful dispute and division between Christians. We have to learn to live with these tough but productive tensions.

Remember: if you are not feeling the tension, then you are probably missing the truth.


  1. I love this Trev. we can't get anywhere if we can't tolerate that people are on different parts of the road. better still, let's enjoy the different perspectives that different positions give.

    1. Absolutely. In my next post I want to suggest that we dance and make music along the road, and that requires difference and diversity as well as harmony and synchronicity. Again, it's both/and.