Dealing with “tension”


John 1:6–7 (ESV) “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

Certain “tensions” occur in Scripture, which while uncomfortable, are nevertheless part and parcel of dealing with revealed truth.

In almost every case that I can think of, such tensions tend toward producing two diametrically opposed camps – who err either on one side of the issue or the other. Maintaining the revealed tension seems too great to bear for some. Some examples of these might be:

Was Jesus fully man OR fully God? If you require this question to be answered in precise antithetical (either/or) terms, you will end up either denying the deity of Christ, or His humanity. One must embrace the tension of a “both/and” dynamic in this case, or lose the glory of the revealed truth altogether.

Was the Scripture authored by men, or is it the product of the out-breathing of God?

Is God three, or is He one?

Now don’t get this wrong, in that there ARE many clear antitheses in Scripture. Evil is not both good and evil – it is evil. One must put their trust in Christ alone for salvation, or one cannot be saved. Scripture contains both absolute antithesis AND places of tension which must be maintained. The careful student of the Bible must inevitably wrestle with how to properly interpret both species of statements. A view of Scripture which allows for no true antitheses and sees everything as to be understood in a both/and dynamic, robs the Word of God asserting any real, absolute truth. Likewise, a view of Scripture which denies any tensions and interprets everything in a strict either/or construct, must inevitably err where a tension is required. Extremes will be the result.

Tension where it doesn’t belong, creates a destructive breaking point with continuity of thought –

While on the other hand, tension in the right place – produces more strength.

I would argue that the 2 verses cited above give us one more example of needing to keep our tensions in place, while not ignoring proper antitheses.

Whatever else we make of the Divine mysteries of election and predestination – this statement of intent still stands: John’s mission was to bear witness “that ALL might believe through him.”  We must allow this inspired tension to remain.

Has God sovereignly elected those who will in fact become heirs of salvation in Christ? Unquestionably. And yet, is John sent as a witness to all, with the intent that all might believe? Unquestionably. Is this contradictory, so that we must deny either this fact, or that of sovereign election? No. They both stand as is in God’s economy so that we might truly tell each and every one that it is God’s intent they believe and be saved. Yet so is it true that only the Elect WILL believe and be saved.

So be it. Let God stand above our ability to sort it out with our fallen logic.

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10 thoughts on “Dealing with “tension”

  1. These tensions are what I have wrestling through and acknowledging for some time. I have really come to a conclusion (somewhat) that compatabilism (sic) is probably the best and most scriptural way to explain these tensions. I am really seeing these tensions as I am doing a devotional study through Isaiah. Thanks for the help today!

  2. “*I would argue* that the 2 verses cited above give us one more example of needing to keep our tensions in place, while not ignoring proper antitheses.”

    And what would that argument look like? 🙂

  3. Don’t mess with me Askins – YOU answer it. HAHAHAHAHA.
    Seriously, I have not yet encountered a stated hermeneutical tool for sorting it out easily. Sounds like it would make a great doctoral thesis for some one. Although, I might say that utilizing a Biblical theology as a first grid, then straining it through a second grid of Systematic theology might be a start. Good to hear from you brother. You and yours are sorely missed. Though I heard your Mom is heading your way – what a blessing for all of you.

  4. God in His ultimate intent on teaching us His ways…chose to teach us with the most effective method of teaching…demonstration. He, therefore, uses things that are seen (physical) as examples of things that are not seen (spirutal). Most every created physical and spiritual force in existence involves ‘tension’ as a force for revelation…for understanding…for Good. But such ‘tension’ is only understood by those who desire it….by way of divine revelation ….by wisdom.

    Very good post. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

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  6. Ha ha ha. I’ve always gotta do the heavy lifting… 😉

    It seems to me that most exegetes don’t worry about whether tension is created between various passages; that’s the role of systematics (they might say), and when you begin attempting to correlate John’s doctrine with Paul’s you’re not really doing exegesis anymore.

    On the other hand, various strands of biblical theology attempt to be more thematic or literary or whatever else in relating broader “horizons” of Scripture, but still without attempting to be correlatively systematic in the way that produces the tensions you’ve described.

    So it seems the tensions you mentions (I am a poet) are the result of a desire for ultimate systematic coherence which can only be predicated upon omniscience; lacking that, we do have revelation from an omniscient God (which I would argue is a necessary precondition for knowledge of any kind). However, it is not comprehensive and, as you say, therein lies the tension.

    I’m no misologist, but it would appear that the resolutions of various apparent contradictions resides in a reasonable faith in God, rather than a reductionistic faith in our systematizing faculties.

    So we live with tension, which (if it is a biblical tension) ought to produce gospel intensity.

    I don’t think this answers all the questions, but it’s a start; for instance, if the Christian faith ultimately resolves in mysterious paradoxes for which we have no resolutions, what role is there for apologetics? Or what’s the point of systematization at all?

    What do you think?

  7. Oh, and we miss all of you tons as well. We pray for you often. And Mom is doing very well, she has her own place now and she starts at her new job next week. We’re all very excited for her. It’s been a long time coming. I’m sorry for not keeping in better contact. Love to all the Fergs from the Askins!

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