Biblical Balance or Tension?

01 Aug

Over the past year or so, I have grown to prefer the word “tension” when discussing the Scriptures, doctrine, theology, etc. as opposed to balance.

This all returned to the front of my mind this morning as I read D. A. Carson’s latest article in Themelios: “The Beauty of Biblical Balance.”

I always look forward to the new issue of Themelios and Carson’s editorial never fails to challenge and stimulate.

I happily affirm this article and, as usual, found Carson’s thoughts to be helpful and refreshing.

I would only suggest changing the word “balance” for “tension.” I know, this is very pedantic, but I have my reasons. Let me try to explain…

When I think of balance I think of something like the Balance Beam in the Olympic Gymnastics competition. And when I think of trying to keep one’s balance on such a device I imagine, what often happens – overcompensation…

You know how it goes (both in life and in watching such competitions), when you are trying to keep your balance and begin to feel like you are falling to the left, you naturally react by pulling your body to the right. The problem is, we often overcompensate/overreact, and end up out of balance the other direction.

Now think about the various aspects of God’s Word we are seeking to “keep in balance”: teachings of Scripture (Carson’s point #1), or different Biblical emphases (Carson’s point #2), or Biblical Doctrines, or different aspects of the character/nature of God (Carson’s point #5).

We don’t want to overcompensate or overreact on any of these. I don’t want to pull away from an out-of-balance perspective/practice in one direction so hard so as to end up out-of-balance in the other direction.

Hence, for me I find it helpful to jettison the concept of Biblical/Theological balance completely and replace it with the concept of Biblical/Theological tension.

The best example I can think of here is a spider web.

As Carson so aptly points out there are a large number of themes, topics, principles, doctrines in Scripture which seem to compete with one another:

  • Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility
  • God’s Transcendence/Imminence
  • God’s love/wrath/justice/grace, etc.
  • Deity/Humanity of Christ
  • Our call to serve our families/communities/employers/church family, etc. all with only 24 hours in a day.

The list goes on as Carson demonstrates…

Perhaps it is a matter of the perspective one takes in looking this. I agree that the goal is for me to keep my balance as I navigate through life with all of this.

However, I don’t think the goal is to keep these doctrines/instructions/themes in balance, but rather to keep them in their proper, Biblically informed tensions so that I can stay balanced as I walk on the firm foundation which is formed.

Like a spider web (or similarly a trampoline), it only keeps its shape, and provides a firm, strong surface when each strand is kept in its proper tension. The web isn’t balanced, really, but in constant tension.

I think this also expresses how we often feel when navigating through life seeking to keep all of these Biblical truths in tension. Sure, at times, we feel out of balance, but even at the best of times when we feel like most things are in their proper place, we feel tense. We feel like we are being pulled in different directions with equal strength (whether it being the use of our time or pondering/teaching doctrines or the character/nature of God).

It seems to me that is what we strive for in this life. I don’t want to be constantly fighting for balance in life, theology, etc. I am very prone to overcompensate/overreact. I want to strive to keep these things in their proper, Biblically informed tension, so I can walk safely on a firm foundation.

Funny, I learned to use the vocabulary “tension” as opposed to “balance” from Carson: Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension.

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Posted by on 01/08/2012 in Teaching, Theology


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