In life, extremism often ends in a multitude of problems. I find the same is true when the Gospel is presented.
A large spectrum exists in terms of the way pastors, churches, and even denominations choose to present the message of the Bible. On one extreme end of the spectrum, there is a focus on humankind’s sinfulness. Folks here seem to harp on our depravity and inclination for wrong-doing. The overriding and consistent message of Christianity at this end of the spectrum is quite negative; as humans, we are naturally evil. Often folks leave such churches feeling beaten up.
Without a doubt, the essence of that message is true. So, what is the problem? Well, difficulties arise because: 1) some people never leave this place, and 2) while the message is true, it is not the whole truth.
At the other extreme end of the spectrum we find a Jesus resembling a big loving teddy bear. “I’m OK, you’re OK,” is the mantra. Christianity is presented as a Kumbaya love-fest where God’s laws are treated as obsolete and laughable; acceptance and tolerance of anything rules the day.
Yet, it is true that Jesus commanded us to love one another. And it is true that Christ fulfilled the laws, and that – upon repentance – we should all feel accepted and worthy to stand before Him. Great. But, what if a person is really not “OK”? Does constantly telling that person he or she is okay help him or her move toward in honesty and truth toward a better relationship with God?
I believe the Christian life is a dynamic movement along this spectrum. It is a dance that requires us to live in a tension, in a balance between these two extremes. The danger of the extremism is not the message itself, but the inability to move from that place to find and experience the complete Biblical understanding of who we are before the Almighty; it is like trying to play a song knowing only one musical note.
To be sure, there are times when I need to be reminded of my sinfulness. Likewise, there times when I need to be reminded of God’s awesome love for me, and that His love does not depend on how good I am; I need to remember that I was made in His image and that He will never forsake me.
We all need to hear both these messages. They are good messages. They are true messages. But neither is the whole story. To live solely at one end is both unhealthy and at odds with the entirety of the Bible.
The art of the Christian life is to live in the balance.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.