That Necessary Both/And

Carolyn Arends:

I’ve been thinking about John and his girlfriend/wife a lot lately, especially when I read my Bible. Is it faith or works? I demand of the text, and the answer seems to be: “Yes.” Is God a God of revelation or of mystery? Is he as close as a whisper or beyond all things? Yes. Yes. Is the kingdom of heaven now or not yet? Should I be wise as a serpent or innocent as a dove? Should I fall headlong into grace or work out my salvation with fear and trembling? Yes. Yes. Yes.

A lifetime of evangelical thinking has primed me for either/or questions,breeding a deep distrust of both/and propositions. After all, one of the distinguishing features of Christianity is its insistence that there is one way to God. A wariness of pluralistic worldviews is completely warranted. But if I’m not careful, that insistence can mutate into creating artificial schisms that fly in the face of a God who desires to make us whole in radical ways.

When we fall for false dualities, we end up arguing over whether the gospel is concerned with ministering to the poor or proclaiming the Word. We believe our theology must emphasize either a free gift of grace or a call to holy living. In a myriad of areas, we polarize, dichotomize, and greatly minimize the life God has for us.

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  • Luke Allison

    The Scriptures are chock-full of paradoxes, tensions, and glorious uncertainties. Human nature seems to naturally gravitate towards a “pendulum” mentality. When tension and pendulums collide, confusion and strife usually are the natural results.

    And yet…that’s a necessary part of being a Body.

    The more we talk about this particular issue, the more we’ll understand all those other issues that get 1 million plus comments.

    Good stuff!

  • About 20 some years ago, I was introduced to the many both/ands of scripture through my old theology prof at Cornerstone U., Dr. Ronald Mayers in one of his books, “Evangelical perspectives: toward a Biblical balance.” It broadened my views on several different topics that you bring up. Anyway, great topic!

  • Thanks for posting this Scot. I’ve become more and more convinced that evangelicals need to better appreciate the “holy ambiguity” of much of scripture. It doesn’t mean there aren’t any either/or dichotomies in scripture. There certainly are. But they aren’t nearly as many as we’d like to believe in our various holy huddles. When we each speak ex cathedra about a particular issue of dispute (gee, why would it be disputable?) and demand an either/or understanding of a passage, far more often than not we’ve unbeknownst to ourselves erected an idol of our own making and called it “Scripture” with a capital S. While I’m not ready to swim the Tiber like Christian Smith, I am leaning towards swimming the Thames. And even though I have strong Anabaptist sympathies like you, nowadays, we’re all Anabaptist at least when it comes to church/state issues. So I guess you might call me a low church Anglican Anabaptist with strong Calvinistic and charismatic leanings. It’s a good thing Jesus likes mutts.

  • This reminds me of a phrase a friend and I coined a while back as I was trying to explain my theological leanings – restless theology. It’s the idea that when we attempt to speak of God and faith we can never rest in one place. We will always be pulled to another place ‘as well’ as we read another challenge in scripture or face another moral or ethical dilemma.
    We’d initially toyed with the idea of ‘bungee’ theology, but even bungee cords reach a state of static tension. ‘Restless’ theology acknowledges the tensions and their ever-shifting nature.
    It’s taken me a while but I am finally comfortable sitting in that ‘restless’ place where both/and can prevail.

  • TSG

    This reminds me of a phrase coined a while back called conjunctive faith.

  • Luke Allison

    “So I guess you might call me a low church Anglican Anabaptist with strong Calvinistic and charismatic leanings. It’s a good thing Jesus likes mutts.”

    I’m absolutely convinced that the Spirit led me to my husky/pit-bull mutt. So…proof.

    I don’t like labels, which makes me a walking stereotype right there.
    I’d probably call myself a Reformed Missional Charismatic with incurable Lutheran tendencies.

  • Amos Paul

    If something is held in tension, it means it’s tightly secure. Truth lies in tension.