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living in the tension part 1

August 16, 2012

As I settle into my new role as a church leader people come and chat to me. I am finding that they often have the need for completely contradictory advice. I may need to advise one person just to know Gods fantastic love for them and not worry about the things they struggle with; the next conversation may be one where I have to challenge someone to live out their faith by behaving better! It has struck me again that the way we live our lives, understand and practice our faith is full of tensions between equal and opposite things.

We need, if we can, to live with this tension. To allow it to shape us and stretch our understanding and practice so that we embrace both ends rather than compromising in the middle or finding an entrenched “position” at one end or the other. This is really challenging, so I want to explore some of these tensions in this blog over the next few days.

The first is one that anyone in Newfrontiers will be familiar with; the tension between “Word” and “Spirit”, it has been talked about so much but it doesn’t get easier.

I have to be upfront and acknowledge my gratitude to the stuffy boring evangelicals who raised me. (Hopefully I won’t offend anyone by saying this!) They managed to teach me that Christian faith is rational – and that is actually a very big step for most people who are taught to understand that science is rational and therefore good, and that anything to do with “faith” is irrational and flaky. As I grew up I learned that the Bible is consistent and understandable – and that is a huge jump for someone my age who grew up with the authorised version that may be poetic, but is hard to read and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

However these good folk threw up their hands in horror when I began to show an interest in the Charismatic movement. They told me that speaking in tongues is of the devil and that I was being deceived. Pretty strong stuff! However, being the rebel I am I went to Post Green, and the other places where God seemed to be doing things, and I discovered that God can be experienced as well as understood! I discovered that God steps into peoples lives and brings amazing feelings and happenings.

Because of the reaction of the “evangelicals” I felt I had to make a choice, a God who I can understand or a God I could experience: I chose the experience, and only gradually moved back to embracing the rational “word” side of my faith. Years later when the “Toronto blessing” hit I had to rehearse those arguments all over again, when people were telling me: Someone cried, laughed, fell on the floor, barked like a dog… this can’t be from God.

So I embrace Word and Spirit: The word because unless we have a rational understanding of what we believe we will just chase experiences and not long for God, the spirit because without his wonderful presence to change and shape our lives our faith becomes very hard work – and our worship is dry and, frankly boring.

Have you experienced the tension, or been warned off by one side or other? Leave your comments and share those experiences with us.


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