Saturday, October 20, 2007

Balanced Flight

It is easy -- too easy -- for someone like me to get engrossed in all the arguments for God, the scientific evidence for God, promoting our intellectual assent to God, and pointing out the deficiencies that result in our removal of God from the culture. All these are the kinds of things that "float my boat." They are where I focus a lot of my energy, reading, teaching, and time. They are all fine and dandy -- except that they can also be distracting detours from what should be my primary purpose in this life -- The Pursuit of God.

I have been reminded of that recently as I've been reading a book that has been sitting in my bookcase, untouched, for several years. Greg Koukl mentioned the classic, Desiring God, by John Piper, in a recent radio broadcast and motivated me to dust it off and dig in. What a treat.

Some may have a negative reaction to Piper's call to "Christian Hedonism." I did. If so, I would encourage you to listen to his entire argument and the Biblical justification proposes for making it. Some of it is still sinking in. Some of it sounds disagreeable to me. I have to consider it more. Some of it though, is just eye-openingly on target. Though I have no intention of analyzing it point-by-point, the message that came through loud and clear to me was the recognition that there is an affective element to the Christian faith that people like me sometimes minimize to our own detriment.

To be honest, I have become jaded (even antagonistic?) toward this notion -- turned off by the feelings-based, thoughtlessness of the American church in general. History shows that many of the denominations that exist today in America were born in the Great Awakenings that occurred early in our nation's history. The emotional appeal of those "Awakenings" were relevant and proper, they also helped to produce an anti-intellectualism in the American church that is alive, well, and amplified in the contemporary "Oprahfied" culture. I believe and defend the claim that this trend is not only dangerous but unbiblical. Christianity has never been based on the mindless acceptance of a blind leap of faith. It has always been anchored in intellectual assent to objective truth, embodied in Christ himself -- a thoughtful, willful decision. But Piper makes a beautiful point in that regard (p. 247):
It is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation to achieve. They are evidence of no true work of grace in the heart. People can make "decisions" about the truth of God while their hearts are far from him. (emphasis mine)

This is something we know but that is easy (at least for someone like me) to forget. A wooden, solely mind-centered faith is not only equally invalid, and equally dangerous -- it is also practically handicapped and unbiblical as well. There are two sides to the faith coin. We were told to "love our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength." The key word is "and". We don't get to pick the one way we will love our God. It takes our heads and our hearts working together in holistic unity. Piper again (p. 76):
Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers ... On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone marrow of biblical worship.

Put simply, we need to be balanced. Or, as Greg Koukl puts it:

Emotion and Feelings Make Life Delicious
Reason Makes Life Safe

To push my persistent analogies once again (hopefully not one time too many!), this concept is at the heart of flying airplanes. Every successful airplane ever flown, no matter how funky it happens to have looked, could not operate if this concept wasn't built into the marrow of aviation. Flight controls were powered directly by cables and wires in the old days, by hydraulic actuators in more contemporary airplanes, and most recently by computer-driven, hydraulically-powered servos in modern fly-by-wire jets. But no matter how fancy you try to make it, all those methods are meant to do only one thing -- control the airplane in the three axes of flight: pitch, roll and yaw.

Each of the primary flight controls is also aided by "trim tabs" that allow the pilot to fine-tune each axis of control so that they are all working together in coordinated, "balanced flight." A pilot who is attentive to detail and intentional about this task can maneuver his craft with an elegant grace that makes it look (and feel, if you're a passenger) effortless. But ignoring any one of the inputs to balanced flight leads not only to inefficiencies, but to dangerous situations from which the aircraft simply cannot recover. Aviators ignore the concept of balanced flight at their own peril.

Christ-followers ignore the notion of balanced faith at theirs.

When we were told that He came so that we "may have life, and have it to the full," this is what I believe he meant: a clear thinking, meticulous use of our God-given reason to make life safe, combined with appropriate affectations that make it indescribably delicious.

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