Wednesday, 29 October 2014


How does passionate over-emphasis work out in theology among the people of God? Whilst researching Moltmann a bit, I came across this article by Trevin Wax at the "Gospel Coalition", which I found interesting, check it out. Note this comment left at the bottom of Wax's article by a reader, identified as James Houghton, which at my time of writing has still not yet been responded to by Wax:
People often call for balance what I find interesting is that Jesus never did.
There are two issues here: Wax's unfortunate lack of clarity on his underlying point and definition of "balance", and unclear assumptions from Houghton's short comment, which I shall also respond to.

I really enjoyed Wax's article on my first read-through. However, I now realise that there is a subtle and perhaps unhelpful shift of emphasis away from what I understand in Stott's work on balance in the life of the Christian toward theological balance, which I think is actually a different point entirely. In turn, this unfortunately makes it less clear which of these two elements of "balance" James Houghton thinks is out of sync with the testimony of Jesus, or if indeed it was simply the mention of the word "balance" that connected with some personal bee in his bonnet.

Let us talk briefly about Jesus' "balance". He could certainly be very extreme: outrageous comments and stories against the religious leaders of his time, turning the tables, the dead can bury their own dead, "you" are my family if you do God's will, willing to die for sins while none of those sins were his, pretty much the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, the list just goes on and on. But was Jesus really saying that the dead should bury the dead? Was he even saying that the spiritually dead should bury the dead? Or was Jesus greatly saddened by death? Did he first weep at Lazarus' death before powerfully raising him (textually rhetorical!)? Could we not say that Jesus was drawing on ideals similar to our modern notion of balance when he said:
Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's (Mark 12:17
A couple of other Jesus and balance examples that come to mind: As NT Wright also points out, the house where the paralytic was lowered through the roof is quite plausibly Jesus' house. He was settled. Jesus also "balanced" his time between time with his heavenly father, his disciples and the crowds. And so on.

I also have in mind a relevant comment from Bart Ehrman, which I am certain everyone can agree on. He says that we are to remember that literally billions of events occur in every human being's life, including of course, Jesus (see here for article). He mentions this to help students ask good questions of the text, and identify the different kinds of questions that we can and should ask. But the point is that the vast majority of actions and sayings that took place in Jesus' life are unknown to us, we have just a tiny fraction in four rich flavours. As a Christian theologian, I hope and believe that the fraction we have is the most significant, but it does not exclude from my mind the possibility that, in addition to some of the examples noted above, Jesus could very easily have thought and even explicitly taught that there is balance to be had in Christian life (Stott) and in theology (Wax), but that the gospel writers did not remember it or chose to exclude it. This is an indisputable possibility, despite Houghton's objection.

As to my own conclusion, on this issue of balance in Christian discipleship, I have to respond that Stott's model seems very appealing, I agree with it and can identify with it. With regards to the church's theological balance through some degree of passionate extremes, which is a different point entirely, I think Wax (following Motlmann as he makes very clear) makes a very interesting point. It brings us back to the "unity in diversity" values we often hear, although Wax is clearly going further: if the church benefits through these sometimes extreme views, then we could even point to longer-term stability through some theological boat-rocking!

I do, however, want to throw a diplomatic line to Wax, and suggest, after all, an overarching idea that does gather in his discipleship balance point at the start of his article, and does also I think faithfully reflect the position of Jesus:

There is a rather paradoxical balance: a balance between balance and passionate extremes, or over-emphases. (The clue was in Wax's title: a DEGREE). This post is already too long, but it would be wonderful to explore more fully what this kind of balance could look like for me.

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