by Barry Newton
Order arising out of chaos is wonderful. I suspect all of us have a jar of chaos commonly known as the coin jug or piggy bank.
Most people shy away from tedious coin sorting. Hence, the impetus for creating that wonderful contraption called the coin machine. Just pour in a cup of chaos and organized pocket change emerges!
Now imagine the anti-coin-machine scenario. Coins of different value are treated as though they are interchangeable. Small coins, such as dimes and pennies, are both considered to be ten cents. Imagine the false conclusions that would abound about how much money was in one’s pocket.
The reasons for distinguishing between coins and sorting them are easy to understand. Might there also be reasons to distinguish between biblically related, but distinct ideas? Of course!
Just as crediting both dimes and pennies with possessing a value of ten cents would yield false conclusions, so too erroneously synthesizing biblical verses discussing different aspects of a broad topic can lead to profound misunderstandings.
Consider the umbrella topic of salvation. The Bible discusses salvation under at least three distinct facets:
- A variety of scriptures describe those factors making possible our salvation through Christ. These ideas range from God’s person and activity, that is his love, grace, justness, his planning and initiative in offering a covenant, to Christ’s person and activity, such as his sinless life, obedience to the Father, his love, blood, death on the cross and resurrection.
- Another set of biblical verses informs us how humans can appropriate this salvation God has provided through Christ. These verses highlight belief, faith, repentance, confession and baptism.
- Then there are those contexts instructing God’s people, whether they be Christians or Jews living prior to the cross, about how to live in order to receive the goal of their faith. Often the ideas and terminology in these contexts revolve around persistence, faithfulness, expressing love toward others, and avoiding distortion of God’s message.
Failure to recognize the distinct facets embedded within scripture by treating them as competing ideas yields seeming contradictions. It also produces a proclivity to ignore or silence some texts by bludgeoning them with others. For example, God’s gift of salvation which can not be merited might falsely be pitted against the necessity of our faithfulness or obedient expressions of love.
When we have a large jar of loose change, we need a coin machine. When we study the Bible on topics containing multiple facets, we need to pay close attention to the biblical message and the context of those verses. In this way, we can perceive scripture’s embedded categories enabling us to accurately and healthfully organize our understanding.