SUMMARY. I have yet to find anyone who has given a more vivid word picture of the difference between either/or reductionistic thinking and both/and paradoxical thinking. If you ever find a copy of his book, Between Two Truths: Living with Biblical Tensions, nab it quick! UPDATE: This book has been reprinted – thank you, thank you, Wipf & Stock!
In the middle 1990s, I gave the following introduction and book excerpt for a newsletter to Christians involved in HIV/AIDS ministry work – certainly a ministry field filled with tensions of various kinds. The sentiments are still relevant, as my previous post on the Allelon summit at Seabeck demonstrates.
Sooner or later, involvement in HIV ministry brings new tensions into our lives. Seemingly opposite, irreconcilable priorities nag and nibble away at us. Things like doing personal ministry involvement “versus” getting involved with political action on HIV-related issues. Or it heightens the contrast between two realities we already know but sometimes try to submerge: we are both sinner and saint.
How do we resolve such conundrums?
What resources has God provided to live in the middle of these everyday situations that threaten at times to pull us apart?
Not all tensions are bad, says Klyne Snodgrass, who offers many helpful insights in his (unfortunately) out-of-print book, Between Two Truths: Living with Biblical Tensions (Zondervan, 1990). (UPDATE: This book has been reprinted by Wipf & Stock!) The following excerpt is from chapter 2, “A Framework for Tension,” in a section entitled, “Peaceful and Creative Tension.”
As C.F.D. Moule put it, the Christian faith is characterized by a “peaceful and creative tension.” The words, at first glance, do not seem to go together, but they accurately describe the New Testament message.
Tension in the Christian life is not like a tightrope where we must fear falling off either side. There would be no peace in that. A more appropriate image is a stringed instrument. Properly attached at the two right places, the instrument can be played. If a string is left loose, music cannot be produced. If stretched too tightly, the string will break.
Neither does such talk of tension in Christian living refer to anxiety, tenseness, or being destroyed by conflicting options. Nor is there reference to uncertainty, relatively, or straddling the fence. …
[In] the New Testament, the message of tension within the Christian faith is essentially a discussion of the grace of God. That is why the tension within the Christian faith is first of all peaceful. It is based on the grace of God that has been revealed in Christ. Here is the foundation for life.
Grace is never just pure gift, however; it is also a call to responsibility, and this is why the tension is creative.
Our peace has its own struggles. If grace tells us, “You are God’s child,” it also instructs us, “Now live like it.” We have for too long viewed faith as something we “got” at some point, but our relationship with God is a process of living with him. Therefore, the tensions we experience become the stage on which our faith is given creative expression. Working through our struggles and the complexities of life allows us to grow as individuals. …
[L]ife with Christ [isn’t] a simplistic existence. Those who think they can encompass or master life in Christ are in for a surprise. As one person put it, Jesus is an inspiring and disturbing presence. He inspires us and comforts us, but he also takes us apart and disturbs us. God accepts us as we are, which is a source of great comfort. But soon, if we are at all attentive, his presence becomes a convicting and transforming power forcing change, sometimes even painful change. As that change is effected, we know once again the comfort of grace, but the process is not over. Again and again God comforts and disturbs; comforts and disturbs. …
Accepting tension allows us to relax and accept life as it is. … Accepting tension will not remove the competing forces, but it does allow us to tell the truth about our lives. Christian maturity, then, requires that we live honestly with biblical tensions.
I’ve never found anyone who says it better about paradox. May we be doubly anchored and cinched up rightly tight so our “string” can “sing”!
P.S. Dear Zondervan Publishing, PLEASE reprint this masterwork! Re-Klyne because he rocks! UPDATE: This book has been reprinted – thank you, thank you, Wipf & Stock!