Natural gifts such as persona charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organizational ability can impress and motivate people for a long time. Sometimes they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth. Sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily discriminates between a personal of spiritual depth and a person of raw talent. Like the wheat and the tares of Jesus’ parable, they can be difficult to distinguish. The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when in fact they are being manipulated by a dwarf.Â
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, p. 5, emphasis added.
I find these words frightening because I think they are true.
This quote expresses some of my recent thinking to an eery extent:
So if we find ethical, theological, and historical diversity in Scripture, we begin with the assumption that what the Bible intends for us to learn is not primarily concerned with textual unity or precise moral consistency as construed by modern ethicists, theologians, and historians. Rather, “The unity of the Bible is more subtle but at the same time deeper. It is a unity that should ultimately be sought in Christ himself, the living Word…”
Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, p. 139, quoting Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.
Of course, this leads to several important questions: How much theological or historical disharmony can be tolerated? How much unity should we require for fellowship or organizational structures? What do we do with ethics or theologies that oppose each other? Nonetheless, I think Noll and Enns are on to something important here.
> Since the atonement involves tremendous complexity and great mystery, **the best narratives will not be simplistic** (like movies were resolution comes through a car chase or gunfight). Neither will the best narratives be Manichean (where the good guys are all good and the bad guys are all bad). Nor will they be simply heroic (where protagonists triumph over obstacles through reliance on their own inner resources) or simply nihilistic (where the point is to enact the futility of human existence as in novels of Thomas Hardy like *Jude the Obscure* and *Tess of the D’Urbervilles*). Rather, **the best narratives will be morally complex**, as in fact the enduring tragedies, comedies, and novels — like *Oedipus Rex*, *King Lear*, *Paradise Lost*, and *Crime and Punishment* — regularly are. Such morally complex narratives are most satisfying because, in terms of atonement theology, **they are most true to life**.
Mark Noll, [Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind](http://www.amazon.com/dp/0802866379/?tag=mikehickcom-20), p. 71. Emphasis added.
> If, then, the **act of substitution** is a primordial human reality, the **seriousness of sin** is the essential human dilemma, the **divine initiative in salvation** is the basis for human hope, the **narrative movement of grace** is the primary shape for human knowledge, and the **complex nature of reality** is the inescapable challenge for human understandingÂ — then the **human study of the world should reflect these realities.**
Mark Noll, [Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind](http://www.amazon.com/dp/0802866379/?tag=mikehickcom-20), pp. 70-71, emphasis added.
By “complex nature of reality,” Noll refers to the multiplicity of the atonement. Who put Jesus on the cross? Judas? Pilate? The priests? God? Jesus himself? Yes — they all did. Does God love sinners or punish them? He does both. Was the cross the worst moment in human history or the best? It was both at the same time.
I want to know Christ â€” yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead. -Â Philippians 3:10-11 (TNIV)
I love the “somehow” in this translation.