Friday, September 20, 2013

5 Tips to Balance

Below is from Five Tips for finding Your Theological Balance by Derek Rishmawy
If you asked me to name my theological pet peeves, right near the top would be what I call pendulum-swing theology. This process usually occurs when you grow up hearing one particular view of something, get sick of it, and then swing to the opposite extreme. For example, you grow up a hyper-Calvinist, something happens, and you swing to open theism. You see this swing a lot in atonement theology, too. Sometimes, when evangelicals who've grown up on a steady diet of penal substitutionary atonement discover Jesus actually did some other things, too—like defeat the powers, demonstrate God's love, and so forth—they end up chucking penal substitution altogether instead of carefully integrating each truth into a holistic doctrine of reconciliation. Martin Luther described the history of theology as a drunk man getting on his horse only to fall off the other side—and then repeating the process. This problem irks me.

So finding evenhanded treatments of just about any subject is one of my greatest delights. A sense for balance is one of the highest virtues a theologian can possess, while a lack of balance is a serious vice. In trinitarian theology, for example, focusing on God's oneness over his threeness, or vice versa, leads to either modalism or tritheism—neither of which works with the gospel. In fact, they both destroy it. In Christology, too, the Chalcedonian definition keeps us from tipping into an overemphasis on the Son's divinity or humanity to the exclusion and distortion of the other. Again, lose your balance, you lose the gospel. God is both immanent and transcendent; tip one way or the other and you end up with either a soggy pantheism or a cold deism—neither of which works well with the gospel. You see how this works?
So finding evenhanded treatments of just about any subject is one of my greatest delights. A sense for balance is one of the highest virtues a theologian can possess, while a lack of balance is a serious vice. In trinitarian theology, for example, focusing on God's oneness over his threeness, or vice versa, leads to either modalism or tritheism—neither of which works with the gospel. In fact, they both destroy it. In Christology, too, the Chalcedonian definition keeps us from tipping into an overemphasis on the Son's divinity or humanity to the exclusion and distortion of the other. Again, lose your balance, you lose the gospel. God is both immanent and transcendent; tip one way or the other and you end up with either a soggy pantheism or a cold deism—neither of which works well with the gospel. You see how this works?
That said, it's important to be balanced even with our love for balance in theology. Bruce Ware explains this point in his foreword to Rob Lister's excellent, balanced book on the doctrine of impassibility:
Theological balance, like physical balance, is normally a sign of health and well-being. The reason such balance is "normally" but not exclusively best is simply that, in some situations, imbalance is clearly required. So physically, balancing equally on both legs with sustained upright posture is normally best, yet if one wishes to dive into a swimming pool, one must embrace the imbalance of leaning altogether forward—a position that if done "normally" would result in endless bloody noses and skull fractures. (16)
In all sorts of areas, balance is good, but sometimes there's no balance to be had. Ware reminds us specifically of the Reformation solas. Christ is not one among many mediators, or else he isn't Savior. We aren't saved by God's grace and our merit. It can't be God's glory and ours. And, of course, as soon as we elevate other authorities alongside Scripture, we begin to lose sight of biblical proportion.
Indeed, there are times when balance is no virtue, but a gospel-destroying vice. The gospel requires a few headlong plunges. In other words, a true sense of balance will recognize that there are times for both/ands along with times for either/ors. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial to avoiding heresy and preserving the gospel.
More from this article in the next post.