Now that I’m the Dean of Men at The Master’s College, I (1) rarely have time to blog and (2) preach back-to-back in chapel for the Dean’s Series at the beginning of every spring. This being my first spring semester, I recently finished my first Dean’s Series. Combining these realities leads me to think that maybe it would be worthwhile to blog through these two messages. I have no idea how many current TMC students drop by from time to time, but even if there aren’t many, perhaps this can stir up some helpful dialogue on a topic that I think is very significant for living life well as Christians in our world. This will likely be a lengthier series, because I’ll be working off of my own notes.
Just to add to the syllabus shock of the first couple weeks of school, I’ll start with a quiz:
- Where is the most biblical location for you to serve the Lord?
- Which does God call you to?
- What does God want you to value more?
- Which is more important?
- What does the world need to see from us?
You may find it difficult to answer these questions. You might lean one way or the other, but for the most part, it just doesn’t seem right to choose. How can we say conclusively that we please God more by staying here or by going abroad? (Our Christian subculture usually implies that God will like us more if we go abroad, but that thought makes us a bit uneasy.) How can we say that God wants wisdom from us more than risk, or risk more than wisdom? Where can we find a biblical scale upon which we can stack up truth against compassion to see which one matters more to God’s heart? How can we determine whether Christian fellowship in the name of Christ or evangelistic outreach in the name of Christ is “more important” than the other? And how can we make sense of the ever-growing discussion on how we remain relevant without sacrificing righteousness, how we engage our world without imitating it?
This little quiz exposes the fact that we normally think of these ideas as dichotomies. They seem mutually exclusive, incompatible, even contradictory. To choose one in any given instance is to deny the other, or at least the values of the other. If you stay in the U.S., you forsake the foreign field. If you act wisely, you’re not being radical enough. If you treat a suffering friend with silent compassion, you must be neglecting the truth (or at least the speaking of the truth). If you pursue relevance, you will be forced to compromise righteousness somehow.
Yes, you may lean one way or the other, and you may approach each of these pairs from a number of angles, but at the end of the day, can we really choose one and discard the other?
Yet we typically do pick one above the other. We often pendulum-swing depending on what we happen to be learning at the time (or what our culture happens to be emphasizing at the time). And as we swing, we easily shoot off to hurtful extremes or we become paralyzed in the dead middle, trying to understand which we’re supposed to do in any given moment. Should I speak truth or just hug this person? Should I take this risk or am I just being overambitious (and unwise)? Should I choose what I think is righteousness in this situation and thereby risk irrelevance (or worse, unpopularity)?
Like offense and defense, these values seem always opposed, never allowing the other to reach its goal unhindered.
Over the years, I’ve personally wrestled with a lot with seemingly contradictory theological themes and apparently paradoxical aspects of Christian living. And I assume that I’m not alone in this. This series is simply an effort to share some of what I’ve learned from Scripture and through experience.