A Real Balanced Man

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I am I am, I am I am 
I think I am, I think I am 
I'm glad I am 
I'm proud I am 
A real [balanced] man

Who is this person in the middle who carefully avoids extremes in his theologizing? It is all of us, or so we think. If you are a Pastor or theologian, you are likely a man of "balance". In fact, if you know any key words from Greek mythology, it is these: Scylla and Charybdis. There are those to the left, and there are those to the right. But you are in the middle. 

Richard Baxter, in his work, "The Saints Everlasting Rest", makes the point that we should "beware of extremes in the controverted points of Religion." If we are in the midst of controversy we should not avoid one error by falling into another. Baxter even says that he has offered the true understanding of justification by showing the extremes, "and the truth is in the middle." 

Now, many (e.g., John Owen) would dispute whether Baxter was in fact a "man in the middle". But, whatever your views on Baxter's claim, don't miss the point: Baxter viewed himself as a man who avoided extremes. 

In another example, the English Congregationalists in the seventeenth century believed that John Cotton's work on ecclesiology ("The Keys of the Kingdom") was "that very middle-way...between that which is called Brownisme and Presbyterianism" - that is, between too much power in the people versus too much power in the presbyters.  

The Presbyterians (and there were varieties of Presbyterians in England during the Puritan era) believed they were middle-men: avoiding the errors of Independency and Prelacy (Bishop-rule). The Bishops probably thought they were avoiding the extremes of Catholicism and Presbyterianism / Congregationalism. 

During the so-called antinomian-neonomian debates toward the end of the seventeenth century, Herman Witsius wrote a work in which he tried to reconcile opposing parties by putting forth a balanced treatise himself, titled: "Conciliatory, Or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Great Britain Under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians." Still, I suspect that some of the things that Witsius wrote in this work would still reflect an "imbalance" according to some.

Arminius himself was aiming for "balance" when he self-consciously modified the "extremes" of Reformed theology. Indeed, he wished to remain in the Reformed tradition, even suggesting that he could embrace the Heidelberg Catechism. He wanted correction, not obliteration, in the tradition to which he claimed to belong.

Now, I do not deny that there is a "middle-way" that may in reality be the truth. Nor do I deny that we should strive after truth and reject error. But we should at least acknowledge that the vast majority of people who involve themselves in theological controversy aim to be "balanced, middle-men", who carefully avoid "errors" on both sides. Theological polemicists often decide what the errors are and firmly place themselves in the "centre" as gate-keepers of orthodoxy. 

In one respect, the evidence of history should cause us to exercise a little humility in the way we do theology. Our "balance" may still be error (e.g., Arminius). We should acknowledge that we do not always perfectly avoid error; we are not always "balanced" or "even-handed".  

Even though I aim to be balanced, though never quite sure what that means anyway, there are areas in my theology where I may still be in error. The problem is: I currently don't know which points of my theology are in error. Baptizing covenant children? Rejecting Kline's view on merit? Singing words not found in the Psalter? Enemies and friends have pointed various errors to me, but I typically comfort myself with the fact that they are decidedly imbalanced themselves and obviously wrong. And so it goes... 

Still, as a Presbyterian, my "balance" should be kept in check not only by myself, but also by the people of God and the ministers I have vowed to remain in submission to. The best correctives usually come from the people who know us and love us, and can actually do something about our errors.

We should also remember that certain statements made by Christ do not appear to be very "balanced" at all. In fact, Christ was often extreme. Yet, in his extremity, he still avoided error. The truth doesn't always look "balanced". It sometimes looks radical and extreme. After all, Christ's words in Luke 14:26 do not represent the words of a "middle-way man", do they? The cleansing of the temple on two occasions seems not to be the "middle-way". And Paul's statements on homosexuality in Romans 1 need to die the death of a thousand qualifications in order to maintain "balance" in today's climate.  

So if you are one of these pastors or theologians who play the balance card, remember: you are not alone. And maybe your "balance" is actually unfaithfulness or error.

I wish there were easy answers to this problem. However, history shows that we're unlikely to find any solutions soon. But if we acknowledge that personal claims to be balanced actually mean very little - and sometimes they are nothing but self-aggrandizing statements - then at least we're on the honest path to where we can begin to have the (perfectly balanced) mind of Christ, rather than the mind of Aristotle.

Aristotle: "Virtue, then, is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency."

Christ: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matt. 5:24). 

We can never be too excessive in our love for Christ and his honor. Thus we are sometimes called to imbalance.

Pastor Mark Jones is left-handed, but right footed; he's English but also Canadian; he likes Country but also Classical music; he likes the PCA but also the OPC; and he quotes Nacho Libre too much of late; in every way he is perfectly imbalanced. 
Posted July 28, 2014 @ 8:01 AM by Mark Jones
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