Clash of Values or Facets of Light?

Finding myself increasingly perturbed over this seeming conflict of “winsomeness” versus “truth”, which has numerous modes of manifesting itself, I have come to present a sort of syncretism to you, the reader. ( ‘Syncretism’ is coming into play quite a bit lately, isn’t it? when to and when not to syncretize…that is the question!).

The first controversy I have applied this to, in my personal understanding, is the variance between Barnabas and Paul concerning Mark. Who was right? They both were, for they represented two sides to the callings of believers and leadership. One was to the greater scope of taking the gospel to the world, the other of the specialized calling of ministering to a precious individual, establishing them in their faith. The outcome proved the importance of faithfully fulfilling both sides… even if it leads to a temporary diversion of path and goals.

Today, it is looking at this “winsome” rivalry to the “hard truth” position. Representative in history are the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd.
These contemporary preachers were cut of the same cloth in the times and context of their Christian faith, but in their ministries the two seem most to reflect those other predecessors named: Paul and Barnabas. Jonathan Edwards, like Paul, had the broader ministry and is the better known. He was trained in scholarly studies and left a body of work, including the work which we may read of David Brainerd’s life and diary. So the two were joined in their endeavors as were Paul and Barnabas, but their callings took them to very different expressions of the truth of the gospel which they knew and embraced.

If you have ever read Edwards most famous and mentioned sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” you know that this fire and brimstone teaching is the “hard truth” side of the gospel. It has fallen out of favor in today’s Christian world and you can hear a barrage of voices decrying any sort of ” harsh” use of truth and condemning such as speak it as “hitting” or somehow abusing the hearers. I think it is time to recognize that this preaching of this facet of truth led to a mighty revival, now called “The Great Awakening” ; and recounting and digesting its lessons would take more than one simple post in a blog. It is time, though, to understand that there is a season for using this facet as truth as well as a season for using the other, seeker-friendly, “winsomeness” of the gospel.

That form might be well represented by David Brainerd’s example and preaching. Although he preached much the same message to begin with, as the revival among First Nation peoples began to take place in his ministry, you can see how what most impressed upon the hearts of the Native Americans was this view of a loving and compassionate Savior:

“When I insisted on the compassion and care of the Lord Jesus Christ for those that were lost, who thought themselves undone, and could find no way of escape, this melted them down the more and aggravated their distress that they could not find and come to so kind a savior” entry of August 10, 1745, in David Brainerd’s Diary

When I first read this particular book, due to my interest in Early American history and in the history of revivals, in particular, what impressed me about the contrast of these two types of preaching was that they both resulted in a passioned and lasting response of faith . It was more a matter of the hearer, and where their hearts were most open to receiving the message, (or what, perhaps is more exact, was their need as created by their culture) which molded their responsiveness to either “winsomeness” or “hard truth”.

I believe the jaded and calloused white, English based culture of the time required a hard hitting of personal culpability and the sure and severe judgment that awaited those who lived their lifetimes ignoring so great and marvelous a salvation. My personal opinion of how the Native cultures responded more to the kindness and compassionate forgiveness of the Great Creator God through Christ had more to do with their own strong and morally severe view of dealing with right and wrong, and the way in which the sensitive inner parts of culture centered on those things which inspired love and devotion. They took for granted that there should be swift and sure judgment for wrongs done, but an idea of kindness and forgiveness -completely unearned, cut to their very hearts. I’m sure this is is a truncated, highly summarized view, but it is the different places where we as people become inured that make the resistance to the gospel. It truly is “good news” and no one in their right minds wants to reject good news, but we often do. And this is part of why I think we do.

I present this view to you, in the hope that there may be a sort of “cease and desist” on the part of Christians choosing to defend their own favored way of giving forth the truth. There are many gifts and callings in the Church, and there are many more circumstances and needs of persons in the harvest field of the world. It is before the Master that the servant stands or falls, and criticism of those who are too soft and worldly, or alternatively too harsh and unyielding, if based upon what we think presenting the gospel and style of delivery ought to be, is a self-defeating view.

Long time ago in my experience, there was an observation made: don’t pretend that you are the Holy Spirit, don’t try to do His job for Him. God knows the heart, He also knows what He wants to say through His servants and to whom He wants to say the message. The matter of importance is always whether we preach Christ. Christ Jesus embodied all of God’s expression, and we know it was one of both fathomless grace and mercy and severity of justice and judgment. Both are embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Why do we feel this need to advocate the one over the other? They are facets of the same Truth, which we cannot fully begin to understand without their mutual expressions. If we veer to the right or the left too far we become unbalanced and cannot stand… and this is the danger for us, now. We do not define the truth, the Truth must define us, and we must allow it to do so according the nature it has, not the one we would give it.

I will end this now, but you can see that last statement is really just a beginning for so many, many issues we face.

crossposted @ Intellectuelle