Sunday, December 21, 2008

Three sides of balance

Philosophy usually involves deriving connections or making important distinctions. Bad philosophy is usually over simplifying things or trying to connect unrelated things. Hopefully this will be more of the former than the latter.

It has struck me that the church, in all her beauty, tends to find itself out of balance. Balance is a fun concept, because it presupposes that there is some sort of tension between two or more “poles”, and that it is very easy to teeter towards one or another.

One such area in the church I think is the balance between heart, mind, and action. A phrase that I’ve used a couple of times that I think gets at this is we need more churches with the heart of a charismatic, the mind of a reformed, and the action of an emergent. This is rather simple of a point, but I’ll still unpack it a bit.

A lot of good churches seem to be real strong at one of those three, but rather weak at the others. A really rare church might be strong in one, decent in another, but still weak in the third. I think it is a healthy and biblical goal to pursue a balanced strength in all three.

The heart of a charismatic is pretty straightforward. I naturally am a very reserved and introverted person, but I have experienced a lot of stretching and growth when in the presence of more charismatic corporate worship. There is a sense of passion, love, joy, and desire for God that is so thick and authentic it is almost palpable.

In the same way, the mind of a Reformed is often very developed and biblical. I have always been both humbled and impressed with the amount of biblical literacy in Reformed churches, and how deeply some of the average members can interact on theological discussions. More importantly, and uniquely, it seems that most people in the church have a strong sense of biblical literacy, and a well developed ability to think well within biblical categories.

The latter is an area I’ve experienced the least, but still cannot help but be impressed with and respect. The reality is that a lot of churches don’t “do” very much outside of their 2-3 services a week and a few small ministries. It is the younger, more emergent churches that seem to more often emphasize missional living. They often are the ones with a deep passionate heart for suffering, the poor, and social injustice in the world.

I need to qualify this last point some. I do not think that a majority of American churches have lost the call of the heart of evangelism or missions. In my limited experience, I haven’t seen evidence to this effect (although I have seen a few churches that invested more time and money into the church “experience” than these). What I am stressing is the deep heart ache for the suffering and injustice in the world. The Gospel isn’t just about spiritual salvation, but Jesus’ kingdom is about a holistic redemption of humanity: spirit and body. Further, the promised kingdom Jesus brought was inaugurated in the context of healing sickness and undoing injustice, both were two key areas of promise in the Old Testament. I think that there is a key aspect of living the Gospel is to have a real concern for these things, certainly Jesus did. Further, I do think many Christians (including myself) have fallen into the trap of thinking missions work is for the missionary, and evangelism is for the evangelist. Even though most of us know that these are both supposed to be regular aspects of every Christian’s daily life, at some sub-conscious level we’ve relegated these roles to the “professionals”.

These three absolutely must be the strength of the church, the biblical evidence should be clear enough. I don’t exactly see them as “in tension” with one another, nor can I think of a good structure to explain why these three seem to be opposed to one another, but in some way at some level I think they are.

Naturally having a lot of one and less of the others can lead to abuse. A lot of charisma and not a lot of action / mind can lead to very subjective notions of truth, to a “pick and choose” theology that has no internal coherence, and can also lead to some of the more sensationalized styles of worship where there is lots of visual/auditory production that has strong emotional impact, but very little substance.

If you know me at all, you know that I am very much not Reformed theologically. There are several strengths to it, but I don’t feel that they capture all of the biblical themes in a balanced way. The danger of only having a developed mind can result in a “dead” spirituality where there is lots of understanding, but little spiritual / practical benefit. It can also lead to a very detached theology, where one’s understanding of scripture and God only stimulates the mind and has no real relation to reality, nor does it really affect change in people. Another danger is that an singularly developed mind might try to impose “grids” of thought to bring exact definition to concepts in scripture that are less defined (such as the triunity of God and the relationship of sovereignty and responsibility).

Finally, only having a developed action can lead to good work without purpose. The social Gospel is a prime example of this. Doing the work of the Gospel as divorced from the Gospel is certainly not a good thing. Praxis is not an end in itself: action is how we can be beacons of light to the world, living the Gospel and seeking God’s kingdom. It is very easy to loose sight of this without the balance of the other two.

I’m not sure if there are other models that this triad can fit over, but in the end I think all churches need to always be undergoing the process of examining ourselves and pursuing growth and strength in all three of these. With a lot of things, balance can be difficult to achieve, but when it is found, not only can one be healthier, but fruitfulness and a more holistic outlook and self can be achieved. In both the corporate body and our individual lives we must certainly glorify God in the areas we are strong at, but I think we also glorify God by pursuing him and pursuing growth in those other areas we are week in.

1 comment:

Marcy said...

I like the examples you chose for each aspect. Good concept.