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Sep 27, 2005


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Glen Hallead

This serves as a great reminder to me of the tension in my own life between the "poles" of law/obedience and grace/forgiveness and the need to keep them in balance. Keep up the good commentary. Always a joy to read.

Rev. Glen Hallead, Coordinator
Christian Volunteers in Thailand
PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker


Doesn't your idea of polarity management break down if the polarity is between revealed truth and falsehood? As Christians, do we not believe that that Jesus Christ is the Truth?

I have just discovered your blog, and really appreciate your thoughts.

Dave, Presbyterian Elder

Michael Kruse

Thank you Glen. Blessings on you and your family in Thailand.

Michael Kruse

I agree Dave. Polarity management does not answer every problem (thus my qualifier of "not all") Still, most heresies seem to be attachment to one pole of a polarity while excluding the other.

Jesus is fully human but not divine.
One God but no trinity.
God is loving to the exclusion of holiness.
God is holy to the exclusion of love.

The answer for over attachment to one pole is not rigid attachment to the other pole.

**ascends soapbox**

We have a long history of division over personal piety and social justice in our church culture. Social justice folks see the emphasis on personal piety as an expression of fundamentalist who sat quietly by while a host of justice issues went unaddressed, and were even aided and abetted by pious folks. Personal piety folks see social justice emphasis as a distant concern that too often leads to “liberal” agendas and cultural accommodation that undercut the foundations of civil society. Each sees only the virtues of their own pole and the potential negatives of the other pole. In reality, my read of scripture is that you can’t have piety without social justice and you can’t achieve social justice without piety.

I believe that scripture is the revealed word of God. However, I believe it is not an instruction manual or a collection of propositions for building a systematic theology. It is revealed documentary evidence of God’s work in the world. The initial revelation was to particular people in a particular context. Our context is ever changing which means grasping the original context of the revealed Word and applying that to our present context is a never ending project. (Fortunately, we have the author along with us for the ride.) I reject a pole that sees only revelation without context and its opposite that sees only context without true revelation. Revelation and context are a polarity to be managed.

**steps off soapbox**

I really think polarities, which many times are paradoxes, are more common than we think.

Denis Hancock

I like your matrix. It provides a useful way in which to visualize the sources of division.

Many of the potential axes are continuums, and I have a gut feeling that very few people are at the edges. If one could look at the distribution, say, horizontally, I suspect it would resemble a bell-shaped curve. And this would probably hold true however you chose to slice it.

Michael Kruse

I suspect something of a bell shaped curve if you look at a polarity over time but I suspect that if you could measure a polarity at any given moment you would see the curve skew one way and at a latter point skew the other. I think most polarities seek an equilibrium.

As helpful as this matrix is, I think that the reality is that there are countless polarities push and pulling with an impact on each other all at the same time. Equilibrium is a theoretical possibility but I doubt it is ever fully realized. I see the polarity matrix as useful tool to get a handle on an massively complex and dynamic reality.

Also, thinking in terms of polarity management shows why an action taken at one time may be right, while an opposite action may be appropriate later. That is part of the dynamic of embracing two poles.

will spotts

I think this is a helpful framework to view many of the issues with which we are dealing.

I come to a couple of problems that this does not address.

One has been mentioned -- specifically those issues that are revealed truth, and therefore not really negotiable.

(Personally I find there to be relatively few of these, but they are very important, and they tend to get overlooked or minimized in pushes to find balance -- i.e. there is an assumption that the truth will be in the middle. This might be correct in many disputes. It fails on revealed truth. It also fails when someone grasps that that assumption is operative. Then people begin to think incrementally -- one pole wants things to stay the same. The other wants a radical change. They reach a compromise. The compromise then becomes the pole wanting to stay the same, and so the agenda can progress.)

Another issue I see is when one pole or the other advocates something that is unjust. You rightly mention (in your illustration) the tendency of the personal piety uberalles crowd to ignore injustices that they have the power to address. However, many times, "social justice" or "justice" is code language for a marxist philosophy or liberation theology that is anything but just -- in any true sense of the word. Here we could manage this by agreeing to disagree and working as individuals, led by our consciences . . . IF THE CHURCH does not take a stand on the particular "justice" issue in dispute. However, this whole matrix/framework falls apart when the church takes a stand that violates the consciences of sometimes the majority of its members.

Michael Kruse

You bring up one point I did not mention in my post that I feel is critical. The is the idea that the truth is in the middle. Or said another way, we need to stay away from the poles.

Actually, I believe the truth is in a passionate embrace of both poles at the same time. I love Romans 12 where Paul says if you have the gift of teaching, TEACH! If you have the gift of service, SERVE! etc. I think we shold each boldly embrace the gifts and passions we have but always within the context of being part of the body Christ. To use the breathing analogy the goal is not to inhale and exhale to the minimal degree possible. I want to be able to inhale and exhale vigorously! Therefore, if I inhale for the body of Chirst I need to do so boldly, but all the time realizing the polarity of breathing and the gift the exhaler brings to the body.

will spotts

good point.

Denis Hancock

I share the concerns of those who feel that revealed Truth is not to be negotiated away.

There are issues that do represent poles that may be right or wrong depending on other circumstances.

I chair my congregation's Mission Committee and we submitted a fairly extravagant budget for next year. The Finance Committee took our 6% increase request and whittled it down to a 3% increase. Mission Committee attracts the "spendthrifts" while the fiscal conservatives gravitate toward Finance Committee. Who is right? Mission, of course. Well, maybe we were a bit unrealistic, but there is no harm in asking.

When the current building loan is paid off, maybe we can get Mission increased.

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