A one-sided coin has the same face and back imprint and therefore always delivers the same result irrespective of who flips it. It can be a handy tool for getting the answer you want or yielding the outcome you seek while appearing impartial. This was the method of the villain Two-Face in Batman: The Dark Knight.
Bible study and Bible teaching can fall into a similar pattern. For a variety of reasons all of us can fall into reductionism wherein we reduce the Bible down to one or two truths (often pleasant) and ignore or minimize the reality or importance of other (often unpleasant or seemingly opposing) truths. It is difficult, for example, for modern Christians to reconcile the love of God with the anger of God. Hell is a particularly bothersome issue and one that many Christians ignore altogether. But at what cost do we ignore the hard truths of the Bible?
In the article, Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age, Tim Keller cautions about the unforeseen dangers of ignoring the hard realities of Scripture:
…neglecting the unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will bring about counter-intuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance to scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.
If an area is rid of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that the desirable plants and animals are lost—through overbreeding with a limited food supply. The nasty predator that was eliminated actually kept in balance the number of other animals and plants necessary to that particular ecosystem. In the same way, if we play down “bad” or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.
The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God’s grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. To preach the good news, we must preach the bad.
How do you break one-sided coin habits?
- Broad reading of the entire Bible is a good place to start when trying to weed out the theological one-sided coins in your thinking and teaching.
- Cross-generational theological and devotional reading is another good way to bring some “ecological balance” into your soul and biblical world view. C.S. Lewis used to advise students to never read two modern books back to back but rather form the habit of moving from “old” to “new”. He reasoned that culture is always swinging along the pendulum from apex to apex without resting in the middle. If you only read modern things, you’ll only encounter the questions modernity seeks to answer. But there are other questions to be asked and that have been asked.
- Finally, community with brothers and sisters in Christ who ask difficult questions of the Bible and of each other is very helpful in weeding out prejudices rooted in my own understanding rather than an accurate understanding of the Bible.
Beware the one-sided coins in your perception and proclamation of the biblical God. As I heard Tim Keller say in a sermon once, “If your God never has the right to offend you, it is probably because you have a ‘God’ you made up.”