Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Losing Our Balance

I'm all for losing our "balance." That is to say, for some time now I have wanted to get rid of appeals to "balance" in theological discussions. Here are a couple reasons. (1) I have found that every person thinks of himself as balanced, so appeals to balance end up being appeals to "see things my way." (2) Appeals to balance regularly try to reduce issues to two simple opposites, both with equal claims to being correct. But this is almost never the case, so the appeal to balance actually obscures the very issues that we are discussing.

Last week I read an article by Graeme Goldsworthy, retired lecturer in Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Moore College in Sydney, Australia, and I was gratified to see his cogent statement on "balance." He put effectively into words what had bounced around in my brain for some time without ever being well-articulated. Goldsworthy wrote:

Just what does balanced mean here? An equal number of tomes, or of sermons, on each? Two great truths simply stated? I would suggest that balance is not a biblical word, nor a biblical idea, and it doesn't explain anything. Try balancing divine sovereignty in predestination with human responsibility, as some argue we must. Or try balancing the human nature of Jesus with his divine nature. They simply do not balance, but there is a biblical perspective on them that we must try to understand and express. So there is also a biblical perspective on the relationship of the being of God and the action of God. It is this relationship between them, not giving them equal time, that is the important issue.

Later in the article, Goldsworthy applied this insightfully to the debates in early Christianity regarding the doctrine of God and the person of Christ.

We can see the ravages of balance when we look at the Trinitarian and Christological heresies that led to so much systematic formulation in the early church. Balance suggests an interchangability that, in the end, produces modalism. The insight of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was that, in the matter of the two natures of Christ, balance does not suffice. It was the nature of heresy to try to balance the two natures.

Trying to be "balanced" is a good way to end up a heretic. It is much better to strive to be biblical.

(I'm not sure how to link directly to the article I cited, but you can find it by going to beginningwithmoses.org, clicking at the top of the page on bt articles, and then clicking on "Ontology and Biblical Theology" by Graeme Goldsworthy.)


Michael Riley said...

The word balance is, like the word biblicist, a persistent irritant to me. I completely agree with all you have written here, and I'll add to your post one further thought.

Balance, as it is used by most in our circles, is not always a uniquely personal term (although it might be reduced to that). If we supposed that each person has a community of people toward whom he will extend fellowship, the balanced person is the one who is not characterized by anything that would put him near the fringe of that fellowship community.

If I'm on the right track, balanced is not always synonymous with "what I think is right." (I think that there are some people who would suggest, for example, that a certain believer is more characterized by balance than they are themselves). This societal or communal understanding of balance, however, is no less relativistic than the personal understanding. If an entire community has drifted from the truth (and I think we both would agree that many whole communities of people have), a person pulling back toward truth will, of necessity, be considered radically unbalanced.

Thanks again for this post.

Jason Parker said...

Excellent thought, Mike. I agree that "balance" is often thought of in communal terms. Thanks for adding that!