One of the most alarming trends in contemporary evangelicalism is the seeming inability for Christian pastors/teachers/leaders to be able to hold biblical truths in tension. As a pastor-historian, I believe this is a symptom of our generation’s failure to know and learn from the past. Almost every theological error in the past or present has, at its core, been a failure to recognize and affirm tension in the biblical teaching on a particular issue. Our fallen tendency is to affirm one area of God’s truth over against another. Early Christians struggled with affirming both the full deity and full humanity of Christ, then the oneness of God’s nature and the three distinct divine persons as revealed in Scripture. The tensions between human and divine authorship of Scripture is a perennial issue, as is the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human freedom/responsibility. Every error seeks to affirm one of Scripture’s emphases to the downplaying of the other. When one reads the Bible honestly and carefully many questions should come to one’s mind:
- Is Jesus human or divine?
- Is God one or three?
- Was the Bible written by human authors or by God?
- Is God sovereign or are human beings free?
- Are we sanctified by faith or works?
- Is the kingdom of God future or present?
The answer to all of these questions is: YES! A careful reading of Scripture shows that Jesus is declared and demonstrated to be fully human and fully divine, that God is both one in His essence and exists eternally in three distinct persons, that Bible was written by human authors and that it has God as its author, that God is totally sovereign and that humans are completely free and responsible beings, that Christians are sanctified by their faith and works, that the kingdom of God is future and is here now. Deal with it!
As Bible-believing Christians, our responsibility is to affirm what Scripture says, even when it seems contradictory in our minds. Since all of Scripture is God-breathed and God cannot err or contradict Himself, there are no real contradictions in Scripture. Since this is true, we must find ways of talking about all these apparent contradictions without denying what Scripture clearly affirms. By the way, you don’t have to do this on your own. Christians have been working on this for nearly 2,000 years and have already worked through biblically faithful ways to talk about these matters.
May I suggest that we add a few words to our vocabulary? We need to learn (no, really learn) the meaning of the words paradox and mystery.
- A paradox is when two apparently contradictory things are, in fact, both true.
- Mystery is when something is difficult or impossible to explain.
No matter how much two teachings of Scripture may appear to be contradictory, they are not. They may be paradoxical, but they can never be contradictory. When biblical truth is properly understood it will not contradict another properly understood biblical truth. I believe that we should try our best to resolve as many tensions as possible by seeing how the biblical truths are harmonized in Scripture, but at the end of the day, whether we have been successful or not, we must affirm what the Scripture teaches. On some doctrines, we may honestly have to throw our hands in the air and acknowledge the mystery in Scripture’s teaching. But denial of one set of biblical truth in order to affirm another is never an option for the faithful student of Scripture.