A recent Christianity Today article critiqued various prominent leaders—in a typically irenic fashion—for a possible tendency towards imbalance. Whether or not that criticism sticks (and this criticism itself probably needs to be carefully critiqued), it is no doubt true that contemporary evangelical culture loves to run to extremes. Every second Thursday we hear about a new fad, a new fashion, a new bandwagon we’re supposed to jump on. The reason for this tendency to run to extremes is not simply the immaturity that Paul addresses in Ephesians 4:11-14. It’s also a natural byproduct of the industrial-Christian-teaching complex: to be heard you must shout louder than the other guy. To shout louder than the other guy you must be more extreme, or at least notably different, and that means we tend to run to extremes.
The solution is not to pull back from high-octane commitment or passion. We need more of that, not less. The solution is to wed such commitment unashamedly, and deliberately, to the Bible. The more we carefully exegete the Bible, carefully explain it, resolutely and lovingly listen to the Bible, the more we will find we do not know. This will give us the grace of humility. And humble people are rarely shrill people. To bow before the sovereign Lord of the universe—the one for whom the distance between Earth and Mars is infinitely small compared to his infinite majesty—will lead to nuance. When we see the Lord high and lifted up, we bow low and confess sins.
Humility and confession do not lead to lack of passion—they lead to more passion and commitment. But that passion and commitment is now sustainable, because it is wedded to the plough of the Bible. The functional centrality of the gospel, and of the Scriptures that teach that gospel, guard us against running off after every wind of doctrine that blows through what remains of Western Christendom.
This is especially important when we come to think of passion. The danger is that we make our passion subjective, what we feel. But our passions must be primarily orientated around the objective, and the feelings will emerge from there like sparks from the anvil. The Psalms of Ascent (much forgotten, greatly important) can help put us back on a Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress-like path to joy. This joy, passion, and radical commitment will not lack nuance or credibility, because it takes in the pain and pathos of life and nails it to the cross.
Aristotle had a helpful phrase: the golden mean. The task of this next generation is not to get really, really excited about God, and then run off into any number of extremes. The task of this generation is to get really, really excited about the biblical God, and therefore develop a radical balance.