“The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.” Cyril Vernon Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer, editor of the influential literary magazine Horizon.
Connolly’s quote is a profound one – and never more true than among Christians. We are netted out of the guppy bowl of self by the true Fisherman and then placed in an ocean of truth. And before we know it, many (most) find themselves joining a school of other fish in some estuary of denominationalism and tradition and telling themselves – and arguing with others – that they have found the Mariana Trench.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in Truth, the absolute kind that shines like a diamond and is even more hard. I have no problem with denominations – tribes in His Kingdom, I prefer calling them. And I deeply appreciate tradition. Few of us would be Trinitarians without it. What I don’t like are people and groups who claim to have chased the mystery (Pro. 25:2) and caught it. Who chastise other God-fearers who don’t hold to the “truth” they’ve bagged with a cry of “they just need to read and believe the Bible.” (Probably the best example that comes immediately to mind are those who write Dr. Hugh Ross off as a heretic because he believes in an old-earth and animal death before the Fall.)
My calling in God is to try and faithfully present and defend the Truth. And thankfully much of its greater outlines are so straight-up and well-defined that a child can see and understand them. And as a result the overwhelming majority report for 2,000 years (or more) is locked and loaded in agreement: Jesus is God, He died on a cross and rose again bodily from the dead, that salvation from sin is made possible in and through Him alone, etc. There are even some moral/social Truths we can hold on to like the horns of His altar: that murder is wrong (including the murder of little children who happen to be temporary aquanauts in their mother’s womb), that sex is a wonderful and powerful gift from God that is to be unwrapped only in the marriage bed by a covenant-bound man and woman, etc.
But when it comes to getting all the colors right within the broader outline, truly only God is up to the task. Perhaps we will be as well when we cross over the the thinning membrane that separates this world from the New One that is rushing towards us like a comet. (My personal theory is that one of the joys of Eternity will be plumbing the infinite depths of Truth – of the mind of God – without ever arriving at the bottom.)
So in the meantime I’m trying, as Blind Willie Jefferson sang, to “read my Bible often and try to read it right,” ever keeping it mind the second verse: “As far as I can understand, it ain’t nothing but a burning light.”
Try and get all that light in your head and it will likely explode. (Exo. 33:20)
PS. That is such a good closing line I hate to mess it up by rambling on. But for the sake of driving this point home in a personal way: I am known for staking a position on certain theological perspectives that could fairly be called “colors within the broader outlines.” For example, I have written articles and produced videos defending a Reformed/Calvinistic perspective on salvation and grace. Ditto on partial preterism and a post-millennial eschatology. But I remain good friends and a co-laborer in the Gospel with people who share differing views on these matters. And while I do believe (Rom. 14:5) that my position is correct – meaning Biblically accurate – I try not to be a jerk or dogmatic about it. I know there is deep mystery here. When I do see Him as He is – and in a twinkling of eye am transformed (1 Cor. 15: 52; 1 John 3:2) – if in that rush of perfect light I see that I was wrong about any of these things, I trust my response will be to laugh…and then worship.