Recently I had a stimulating conversation over lunch with a couple of pastors who were wrestling through some theological issues. One of the main threads of conversation was woven around how one deals with apparent contradictions or tensions in the Scripture. For example, how can we reconcile the doctrine of individual election with the idea that God desires all men to be saved? Well, we can talk about what the Bible means by “all men” or discuss the two wills of God, but those discussions still don’t remove us from the truth that many times learning about who God is and what God does leaves us at the foot of mystery. Personally, I completely okay with the tensions concerning what the Scriptures say about God and how he works. I don’t feel the need to smooth everything out. I don’t have to get all the answers. Frankly, the fact I can’t get them reminds me God is God and I’m not him. So if others regard me as inconsistent because the Bible seems to say contrasting things, I’m totally okay with it. I feel no need to explain how God makes those apparent contradictions work within his economy. Indeed, I couldn’t if I wanted to. Again, I’m totally okay with the mysteries of God in Scripture.
Afterward, one those pastors sent me a quote from the great 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on Scripture’s tension intersecting his own theological beliefs (particularly how he dealt with the sovereignty of God in salvation versus texts, like 1 Tim. 2:3-4, which gives the appearance God wants all people to be saved). I thought it good to share with you:
My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”[ref]From Spurgeon’s sermon, “Salvation by Knowing the Truth” (http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1516.htm)[/ref]
Spurgeon is so good here. I’m with him. I could care less about consistency with my views if the Scripture is clear to say differently. Scripture is the authority, not my theological constructs, as helpful as they may be. You might say, because I believe the Bible over any particular system, there will be times where I’m committed to be consistently inconsistent. And so should you.
6 thoughts on “God, The Bible, and Being Consistent on Inconsistency”
I tried (and failed) to find another of my favourite Spurgeon quotes where he talks about if the Bible says 2 things, no matter how irreconcilable they appear to be, then both are true.
Ben, though he has many on the subject, perhaps one of these:
“This doctrine is as much God’s Word as the other. You ask me to reconcile the two. I answer, they do not want any reconcilement; I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy. If you begin to put fifty or sixty quibbles to me, I cannot give any answer. Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”
“”How,” says some one, “do you reconcile these two doctrines?” My dear brethren, I never reconcile two friends, never. These two doctrines are friends with one another; for they are both in God’s Word, and I shall not attempt to reconcile them. If you show me that they are enemies, then I will reconcile them. “But,” says one, “there is a great deal of difficulty about them.” Will you tell me what truth there is that has not difficulty about it? “But,” he says, “I do not see it.” Well, I do not ask you to see it; I ask you to believe it. There are many things in God’s Word that are difficult, and that I cannot see, but they are there, and I believe them.”
Yes! That’s the one. Thank you 🙂
I’ve read those quotes from Spurgeon before. Ridiculously good. Once again Matt, thanks!
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