Separating what should be held in tension and the problems of language

Chelsea appear to be slipping out of the title race, so its time for more of those theological musings.
[oops – classic example of leaving the stadium (or BBC live text commentary) too soon]

I’ve been beginning to think about what the gospel is recently (post to come on that), but my feeling is (especially after church this morning) that in trying to make the gospel easily understood we perhaps condense it down too much and make it less than the glorious message of the kingdom that it is.

This has come out of lots of debate – some of it over at transfarmer about speaking the good news (what we seem to like to call evangelism) and living the good news (justice/social action etc). As we try to understand the wondrous complexity of the mission of God it often seems that we spend too much time trying to separate and systemise things that should be held in tension. Could it be we need to step back and understand how we think? Much of our way of thinking and desire to separate, categorise and neatly explain everything comes from Greek and Roman thought, so introducing problems as we come to the Bible and what for a large part is Hebrew thought. The Jews/Hebrews seemed to have no problem holding things in tension, not seeing them as mutually exclusive. Indeed they seemed to have a much more holistic view of life – that which we separate out as body, mind, soul, spirit. This is helpful in the whole mission debate if we are to understand something incredibly holistic, where things are held and lived together in creative tension. The importance of properly holding things in tension was reinforced recently when I was reading Tom’s Wright’s fantastic (and short) Judas and the Gospel of Jesus. He speaks a lot of dualism and Gnosticism, as I read I was frightened by how much dualism has crept into the church today as often the sacred and secular, spiritual and material, body and spirit are wrongly separated.

fs.jpgIt perhaps is also indicative of the paucity of the English language that uses one word for things which have 3, 4 or more words all with different nuances in other languages. This is obvious in Spanish let alone Greek and Hebrew. We really do get ourselves into trouble with language at times, not in the sense of excessive swearing but in the ambiguity of so much of our language and the different nuances the same word can have with different people depending on your background, experience etc. How are we to work with that – do we simply use the words we like or prefer with abandon, mopping up the wreckage afterwards, or do we think carefully about how our language may be understood or misunderstood, and explain carefully to create clarity?


4 thoughts on “Separating what should be held in tension and the problems of language”

  1. I think complexity of meaning adds a richness to our understanding and interpretation of things. I also think we see it both in the dialectical theology talked about by Barth and taken from Kierkegaard… the gift of paradox which requires faith to fill in the gaps.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. absolutely, I was confusing myself by thinking about two slightly different things (one about using language deliberately that we know will be misunderstood, and the other using (theological) language that communicates the richness), and forgot to add how in a dumbed down
    culture we need that richness. As Eugene says – metaphors that teach us of transcendence.

  3. i recently learned that the word ‘eschatology’ roughly means ‘finding words to describe the end of things’. i like that…and i think i need to find more words to describe these things…because so often i’m not sure what i really think about some stuff.

    i must struggle and wrestle to find those words…

    nice post.

  4. Thank you for this post. I stumbled upon your blog by accident and stayed to read some of your posts. This one spoke to me in particular. I too have noticed a disturbing amount of dualism creeping into churches. Often it comes disguised and is accepted as truth to the detriment of the church. Thanks again for the post.

    Atlanta, GA

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