Last weekend Ike and I were in North Carolina where he officiated the wedding of a friend. While there, we decided to attend a little church down the road for Sunday morning worship. The pastor’s sermon title was “Your Personal Worldview,” and the subject matter kind of ranged all over. However, one of his main take-home points was this: We live in a world that wants everything to be grey, but the truth of the Bible is black and white.
For this pastor, “black and white” equated with Gospel faithfulness, whereas “grey thinking” meant compromise.
On the one hand, I can see where he is coming from. One of the main attributes of post-modernism is the rejection of concrete “Truth with a capital T.” Post-modernism is deeply uncomfortable with any fact that would claim to be universal, and we see this mentality everywhere: There is no right model of family, marriage, sexual orientation, career choice, or general lifestyle. Whatever works for you, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, is acceptable.
Living in a culture of such great pluralism, it is easy to understand why the pastor came to the conclusion he did.
However, I still have to disagree with him. Not only do I think his assessment is incorrect, I think he’s got it backwards. In my opinion, sinful human nature is far more comfortable with the black and white than it is with the grey. Black and white is a default mode for most people, which is why we see this simplistic way of thinking in both conservative and liberal circles alike.
Conservative legalism is an easy target when it comes to accusations of narrow-minded, black and white thinking, but I think the tolerant left are just as guilty. When tolerance is god, then intolerance must be totally rejected. This is an increasingly common ideology in our country, and it is also a very black and white way of seeing the world.
Given the nature of our beings, this black and white default mode should not be surprising. We are finite beings created by an infinite God. We dwell in a Creation that reflects the many attributes of God, and we Christians try to reflect the infinite goodness of God. When a finite being attempts to embody an infinite being, the result can be messy. It’s like trying to zip up an over-packed suitcase–as soon as you stuff one side in, the other side pops out.
As we finite beings pursue and try to reflect the complex yet perfect character of God, there will be times when we reflect some aspects better than others. And in doing so, there will be a temptation to settle there. The aspect of God’s self or teaching that comes easiest to us is the aspect we are tempted to make much of. It can even become a hill to die on, a dividing line by which we measure and judge other Christians. It becomes a lens through which the world is measured in black and white terms.
It is because of this tendency that the whole of Scripture is so critical for each of us. The Word of God is full of paradoxes: Love and wrath, violence and pacifism, free will and divine sovereignty, judgment and mercy, social justice and evangelism, proposition and poetry. Some of these elements seem difficult if not impossible to reconcile on earth, but they all attest to who God is. If we let go of one, then we fail to obey Scripture as faithfully, or reflect God as fully.
That is not to say that there is no Truth, or that we cannot know Truth with any certainty. There is, and we can. However we are also imperfect human beings struggling to digest the magnitude of who God is, and we will do so imperfectly.
A professor of mine, who is Reformed in his theology, recently put it this way. He summarized the story of God into 4 chapters: Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Restoration. He then explained that most Christians gravitate toward one or two parts of the story. As a member of the Reformed camp, he felt that Reformed thinkers gravitate toward the depravity and redemption parts of the story, sometimes neglecting Creation or Restoration. On the other hand, some Christians are preoccupied with caring for Creation, while others focus so much on Restoration that they embrace an over-realized eschatology.
Blessedly, Scripture, when read as a whole and taken seriously as a whole, protects us from straying too far in one direction. As a result, the nature of Scripture requires us to live in a place that, at times, might appear a bit “grey.” As soon as we feel certain about a conviction, we must return to God’s Word and make sure we are being true to the scope of it. We need to hold our beliefs in tension with Scriptural teachings that are less comfortable to us, or seem less important.
The reality of our sinful nature demands this checking and re-checking.
Again, I am not arguing that there is no black and white truth, or that we cannot know it. However, this principle is itself a great opportunity to demonstrate the tension I just described. Scripture teaches that we are sinful, broken creatures whose capacities to know are inhibited. AND YET, we are blessed with the light of the Holy Spirit, so we are not without the hope of understanding.
When it comes to knowing truth, we must hold both of these teachings in tension with one another. The balance between them is totally harmonious in God, but requires us to engage in a humble dance as we seek to embody it. The truth of God is not blurry or grey, but our attempts at accessing it may sometimes be perceived as such. For this reason, defaulting to a black and white way of seeing the world is not necessarily a sign of theological correctness, but of theological imbalance, or even blindness.