Showcase: Let us praise Him!

  • This Passing Tide Under Your Wings: Praise the Father, by Chris Tomlin +

    Praise the Father, Praise the Son, by Chris Tomlin. O sov'reign God, O matchless King- the saints adore, the angels Read More
  • Never Cease to Praise: Let Everything That Has Breath +

    Matt Redman CHORUS: Let everything that, everything that, Everything that has breath praise the Lord. Let everything that, everything that, Read More
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Gavin OrtlundfIt's easy to lose your balance when you're standing on one foot. The strongest posture is one of balance between both feet: one of poise. Hence boxers putting so much care into their footwork.

In our intellectual and spiritual life also, we need poise. Interposed within the character of the gospel is an intricate balance of truth and grace, mercy and righteousness, glory and condescension, courage and caution, firmness and flexibility. Only Jesus is the perfect blend of all these qualities, summed up and bound together by love. Most of us tend to tilt one way or the other, depending on our temperament and circumstances and various other factors. In fact, we often lean into one error right while trying to avoid another—as Martin Luther put it, human reason is like a drunken man on horseback who, propped up on one side, will tumble over on the other.

The TGC ethos is, like that of the evangelical tradition it inherits and seeks to extend, one of balance and poise between opposing errors. Our Theological Vision for Ministry speaks of the rarity of a “full, integrative gospel balance.’ Just as evangelical identity was forged through a balanced tension between liberalism and fundamentalism, TGC identity is balanced between the twin dangers of withdrawal from, and accommodation to, our current cultural milieu. According to our Theological Vision for Ministry, the errors of compromise and retreat, though opposite from one another, both reflect a similar lack of trust in the gospel:

If we overcontextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we undercontextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own subculture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.

In our overall ministry ethos, most of us will be tempted toward overcontextualization on the one side or undercontextualization on the other. That means that faithfulness to the gospel requires self-awareness, balance, poise.

So what might it look to intentionally seek poise? Here are three reflections amid this ongoing conversation.

1. Sound theology is not the ultimate goal

If you’ve had to spend a significant amount of emotional energy opposing theological liberalism and cultural compromise in your life and/or ministry, and if your personal predilection is instinctively toward a conservative mindset, you will probably more naturally resonate with the conservative aspects of a TGC ethos.

Let me just mention one particular temptation those of us in this corner may be particularly liable to: equating doctrinal fidelity with spiritual vitality. This can be especially easy to do when we’ve had experiences in which we’ve observed the insidious effects of bad theology. In the midst of our genuine and noble reaction to the (real) problems we have seen, it is easy (like Luther’s drunken rider) to forget the goal of doctrinal fidelity, at the end of the day, is not “faith holding the line versus unfaith” but “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 6:5).

In fact, in I Corinthians 13:1–3 Paul says that without love, superlative gifting, knowledge, faith, and sacrifice are not only deficient: they are nothing. I think we often fail to think through the implications of this amazing assertion. We could paraphrase Paul’s point into our modern day setting like this:

If I oppose gender confusion with brilliant lucidity, vie against revisionist atonement theologies with all my might, and ruthlessly hold the line against biblical minimalism in my congregation, but have not love, I am nothing.

Or as Francis Schaeffer put it, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”

If we see doctrinal fidelity as the goal of our ministries, rather than an essential and noble means for the larger goal of the knowledge and kingdom of Christ, we are probably insufficiently sensitive to the dangers of under-contextualization. We are not well poised.

2. Our methods are part of our message

In the opposite direction, if our passion to reach the culture sometimes tempts us to soften or over-nuance the sharp edges of biblical teaching, or if we sometimes look down on those evangelicals who are more theologically tight as unenlightened and out of touch, we are equally in danger of a lack of poise. One of the great temptations for those of us in this corner may be becoming so eager to advance the gospel that we adopt strategies that are themselves inconsistent with the gospel.

I once heard a wise pastor (Mark Dever) say this, and I probably think about it every week (and some weeks every day!): what you win them with is what you win them to. Those of us who resonate more with the emphasis on contextualization and mission in the TGC ethos may in particular need to consider the danger here. Whenever we are tempted to evaluate kingdom advance through worldly metrics of judgment, whenever we find ourselves seeking human applause or utilizing human techniques despite proclaiming a gospel that is “not of human origin” (Gal. 1:11), we must remember that our message should determine our methods. And our message is a crucified, rejected, abandoned, cursed Messiah who, apart from the eyes of faith, looked like an utter failure.

As my brother Dane put it:

Whom does God use? The young, the outsider, the Gentile, the barren, the rejected, the crucified. How does God use them? Through their failure, their weakness, their seeming worthlessness, their unimpressiveness, their ignominy, their rejection on a cross. Had he lived today, Jesus Christ would have died with every last Twitter follower unfollowing him.

3. We all need each other

When we’re seeing our own hearts clearly, we may at times wonder how we can possibly be faithful to a balanced, gospel ethos. The truth is, in our own strength, we cannot. To function in that beautiful blend of loving outreach and holy distinctness, we need the Holy Spirit's moment-by-moment help. Schaeffer used to say that we can hold to truth in the flesh, and we can experience grace in the flesh, but to combine both truth and grace takes the Spirit. So with a TGC ethos: we need his constant help so that we don’t veer off track.

But the Holy Spirit has also given us another gift in the process: each other. One of the wonderful blessings of TGC is that it is large and diverse enough to hold together people who lean differently than we do within a broadly Reformed and classical evangelical framework. Within this framework, we need those Christians who lean in a different direction than we do to help us see our blind spots and grow in our weak areas, so that we can respond to the culture around with the delicate poise of both truth and grace. As my friend Collin Hansen puts it in his book Blind Spots: “If we can appreciate how God has gifted others, together we can accomplish great good against all odds in a way that makes much of our King.”

As we stand together, we stand in the strength and balance of poise.

Reflections to Consider

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  • Worry

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  • The Beauty of God

    Apocalyptic and the Beauty of God Isaiah 65. 17-25; Revelation 21.9-27 a sermon at Harvard Memorial Church, October 22 2006 Read More
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Audio & Video

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  • Healing Words From A Dialogue With God by Sylvia Gunter +

    ... Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to Read More
  • Fast Of Words - A Different Kind Of Fast by Sylvia Gunter +

    Isaiah 58:10b-12 Time and again God brings me to my knees over my heart attitude expressed out of my mouth. Read More
  • The power of words +

    Our words have the power to bless or curse, to influence for good or for bad. Read More
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Hidden Blessings

  • Paul’s Word to Police: Protect the Weak (an excerpt) +

    Below is an excerpt of an article from Christianity Today, by Esau McCaulley, Read More
  • Easter: transforming how we relate to others +

    As we prepare for Easter, let’s prayerfully consider some questions regarding John 17. Read More
  • Jesus as the cultivator of our heart +

    Day after day our heart experiences dozens and hundreds of interactions: with others, with news stories,  with our thoughts, or Read More
  • Sing to the Lord: Thinking about to praise God each day with songs from our hearts +

    One of the overriding themes throughout scripture is praising God regardless of our circumstances. Read More
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