My friend Ben is good about reminding me that we don’t need to acknowledge every caveat about every issue every time we address it. That’s good advice for a recovering academic, but it also requires awareness on our parts that momentum sometimes comes at the cost of clarity. After all, if you want to create momentum among a group, the simplest way to do that is to simplify everything to a sound byte. The problem is that these sound bytes rarely hold up under any kind of scrutiny, so we must always leave room for exploration of those sound bytes trusting that the fuller measure of God’s truth will be revealed via conversation.
Most of our errors and offenses result from our insistence upon profound half-truths. Grace is free (yeah, but it ain’t cheap)! God hates the sin but loves the sinner (yeah, but his love far outweighs his hate)! You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian (yeah, but show me one solitary Christian anywhere in the New Testament)!
In each of these examples we see, first, the appealing cliché so common among contemporary western evangelicals, followed by a quick-and-easy rebuttal meant to interrupt our thoughtless acceptance of the cliche. We love to shout that Grace is Free, but when our people begin to live as though our behaviors “don’t really matter” since “we’re all sinners anyway” and “no one should judge anyone else”, we cheapen the sacrifice of Christ and forget the clear moral teaching of the New Testament. Jesus certainly emphasized godly living, and rebuked his disciples harshly for their failure to comply (see Luke 9.46-56).
My point is simply that “bumper sticker theology” is memorable, but not the end of the conversation. And too many Christians have learned a few cutesy sayings and exploited the least-demanding-interpretation of the cliché in order to justify living with disregard for God.
When Jesus spoke in memes, he was demonstrating trust that his followers will pour over the meaning of his words and arrive at a deeper understanding of his kingdom. Hence, Truth is always in stereo. Last are First. Humbled are Exalted. Rich are Poor. Dead are Alive.
The church of the future will rely upon her ability to layer and contrast differing metaphors, pictures, and narratives in order to reveal God’s design and architecture in ordinary life.