Paradox Lost: Parts 1 and 2

Paradox Lost has so far been quite an interesting read. It is incredibly thought provoking and has made me realize how full of paradox the Christian faith is. The most basic tenants of the Christian faith that we often confess, perhaps rattling off answers or creeds without thinking about what we say, are indeed very powerful and incredible paradoxes that are a testament to the magnitude and power of God. For example, the truth that we are simultaneously saints and sinners.We are by nature sinful and unclean, rotten to the core. We do evil and enjoy it. And yet, through Christ, we yearn for good. We yearn to be in the light of the Word and God uses us to do good. We are counted as sinless and righteous, yet we continually sin. I am a horrible sinner that deserves eternal damnation. I am righteous before God because of Christ’s death on the cross. Both of these statements are, for the believer, completely true statements. Neither will go away this side of heaven. God hates sinners, and yet, while we were sinners, wicked people whom God hates, He loved us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us, that we might not perish eternally.

Part 2: Serious Playfulness, did not at first seem as though it would offer any particular challenge. This addressed some of Jesus’ teachings that at first seem to be utter nonsense, but then resolve with the new understanding of faith and a change to biblical worldview. It did, however, bring up some interesting points. The first that I noticed was the fact that it is indeed helpful to remember how backwards these are to the original audiences. Those of us who have grown up in the church can get to the point where we see these sayings as very straight-forward. While reaching the end of this apparent paradox and understanding its meaning is indeed a good thing, understanding the context and audience gives us a fuller understanding and appreciation of the text. The other major point that I noticed was that it is important to distinguish between true biblical paradox and false paradoxes that are set up by those misreading or intentionally misapplying scripture. This is one of the reasons it is important to actually discuss those things that make us uncomfortable or angry in Scripture. Through open discussion of paradox and the text, we can unravel false and harmful paradox or discover and recognize the sinful faults and flaws in our own thinking.

Some of the ideas the author proposed made me rather uncomfortable. One of these was the idea that it is not up to us to make sure the audience “gets it” and that it is better to let people connect the dots for themselves. I am a very logical person. I like to problem solve and have recently taken steps to attempt to be as clear and straight-forward as possible. I tend to have very little faith that other people will connect the dots on their own. This does often come across as very dry, to be certain. But I want to make a point and be very clear cut, because there is often confusion about paradoxical topics. They are confusing by nature. Instinct usually tells us to “solve” the paradox or walk away from it. The intentional use of paradox in preaching seems dangerous and confusing. Certainly, we must discuss paradox, but using paradox as a form of teaching is incredibly bizarre. Hansen makes the argument that this use of paradox works because it creates tension in the listener and the paradox becomes personal. They are forced to ponder the question and wrestle with it.

Another similar issue that I struggled with while reading is his proposal that this paradoxical preaching must necessarily be lighthearted and somewhat ludicrous. It seems out of place to be humorous when eternal souls are at stake. Salvation is a serious matter. In a time where relevancy has become such a huge buzzword and some churches have become so focused on getting more people in the seats that all they do is entertain, my natural inclination is to become deadly serious and cut out all humor. On the other hand, over-the-top examples and ludicrous metaphors can be very effective tools in communicating the Word. But ultimately it is the Word that needs to be communicated and the Holy Spirit that converts people. Which again brings us into contact with the paradox of the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit converting people, yet using us as mouthpieces, using our words to proclaim His Word.

This is by no means a comprehensive discussion on any of these topics. I could write for days and still have more to say. But these are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

God’s Blessings!

Solomon Spangler

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