by Rick Love
I love twitter. It forces me to be concise. It is a great discipline to weigh one’s words carefully and express oneself precisely.
The sound byte helps us wade through the torrent of data bombarding us. It aids us in finding the right info in a glut of information. But sound byte theology has its limitations…
Over the last few weeks I have been in numerous conversations with people who responded to my teaching with a repetitive refrain: “But what about this verse?” they asked. I believe that we live “by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” So I think it is important to engage one another over what the Bible teaches. I want to know about those other verses (in case I haven’t thought about them).
But I get tired of “my verse is better than your verse” kind of thinking. In every one of my recent discussions, the verse they shared complemented or supplemented what I taught. But they acted as if their favorite verse somehow overruled what I taught. Their verse negated my verse. (Or so they thought).
As a peacemaker, I am concerned that certain theological sound bytes and either/or thinking actually undermine the Bible’s clear teaching about peacemaking. Let me show you how three important biblical truths are often used to trump three other important biblical truths.
1. The Great Commission Trumps the Great Commandments.
In the name of the Great Commission, too many Christians downplay the great commandments. We feel that our only job is to share the gospel, and we somehow forget three hugely important truths.
First, the Great Commission says we are to teach others “to obey all that Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19). Following Jesus involves obeying his commands, chief of which is the call to love.
Second, the Great Commission includes imitating Jesus: “As the father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus preached the gospel (of the kingdom). So must we. But he also demonstrated God’s love to people who were unloved in Jewish society: women, lepers, adulterers, demonized, tax collectors and Samaritans, just to name a few.
Third, Jesus taught and modeled both exclusive truth claims and inclusive love aims. The strong “both-and” nature of this radical Jesus unnerves many people. The majority of evangelicals contend for Jesus’ exclusive truth claims but somehow miss or minimize Jesus’ inclusive love aims.
The Great Commission does NOT trump the Great Commandments. We must believe and obey both!
2. Total Depravity Trumps Common Grace
The Bible repeatedly mentions the pervasive impact of sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Humanity is “totally depraved” as theologians say – “totally” in the sense that every aspect of life has been marred; not in the sense that we are as bad as we could be.
But there are other verses that speak about the good things that unbelievers experience and can do. This is referred to as “common grace.” God’s common grace means that…
All people enjoy the blessings of the physical world
All people have the ability to do good
All people have a general knowledge of God or a sense of the divine
All people are culture-makers
Embracing common grace is revolutionary. It helps followers of Jesus see things differently. We see the image of God in others, we discern the footprints of God in culture, we build bridges and respect others, and we partner with others for human flourishing.
Total depravity does NOT trump common grace. We must believe and obey both!
3. End Times Theology Trumps Social Ethics
The Bible is full of statements about future darkness and persecution, and it makes important statements about the end times. The books of Daniel and Revelation reveal the future return of Christ in rich symbolism and mind-boggling imagery. Our coming King will judge an evil world and will heal a broken creation.
Many Bible scholars weave together complex prophetic schemes about the end times, especially from Daniel and Revelation. They speak as though they understand all the details, they believe their interpretation describes what is going on in our world today, and they seek to make these prophetic systems central to our faith.
But these “end times experts” break the basic rules of biblical interpretation. You are supposed to interpret the unclear texts in light of the clear texts. The clear texts are not found in Daniel and Revelation but in the Sermon on the Mount – in the teaching of Jesus. We need to focus on following Jesus, loving our neighbors, and making disciples.
So this “end times” focus actually distorts our discipleship. This doomsday message about the future paralyzes our present engagement with a broken world, as it produces a siege mentality and an attitude of hostility. It leads to fear and becomes an excuse not to obey Jesus in the present.
End times theology does NOT trump social ethics. We must believe and obey both!
Sound bytes may communicate truth in a pithy way. But beware. Your Scripture may not be better than my Scripture. They’re probably both true!