Walking the Line: Staying Out of Theological Ditches

I am continually reminded that much heartache comes in our journey by not embracing the tensions in theology (our knowing of God) and seeking to walk in the middle of those tensions that seem to contradict one another.

Our Christian journey is often a tension-filled road of discipleship. Instead of striving to walk in the middle of the road in what’s taught about Christ and the essentials of our faith, folks often end up in the ditches. And boy are they dirty!

Here are just a few ditches I’ve personally encountered:

  • faith alone vs. good works
  • human reason (head) vs. blind faith (heart)
  • predestination vs. free will
  • love vs. wrath
  • Old Testament vs. New Testament
  • historical Jesus vs. theological Jesus
  • Scriptures vs. Jesus
  • rest vs. work
  • justice vs. mercy
  • oppressive law vs. cheap grace
  • conservative vs. liberal
  • traditional vs. charismatic
  • Southern Baptist vs. the world
  • rules vs. freedom (1 Corinthians vs. Galatians)
  • holy huddle vs. “I have to save the world” evangelism

How much doctrinal division and denominations have been formed out of choosing one side of the ditch to walk in?

All of this comes about because folks are unwilling to embrace the tensions. I wonder what kind of people we would be if we chose to walk God’s line—walk His road and stay out of those ditches.

What kind of people would we be if we accepted every believer’s portion of Christ? What if we were known by our love for one another and how we humbly explore the mystery of Christ together?

I’m confident we would be better listeners. We would be His learners.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we so desperately need each other? We help each other stay out of the ditch. But instead we often hear believers express this in a round about way: “Look!  I’m over here… my side is better.  Why aren’t you doing what I’m doing?”

And we think things to ourselves like, “Whew! I’m so glad I’m not stupid like that guy. I’m so glad I’m free. I’m glad I really know what’s going on.”

We go out trying to jerk wheels over to our side of the ditch through books, blogs, and magazines, and movements. I have found that people who jerk the wheel into any ditch probably aren’t paying much attention to what’s really going on. They make over-correcting a lifestyle.

If someone were to follow behind a drunk driver, that’s about how they drive.  (They do often slam into the back of people because their vision is impaired.)  And if they’re not drunk, it makes me say to myself, “Who taught that guy how to drive?” (I live in Houston, so I ask myself this almost everyday.)

I have followed behind some believers like that. And yes I know they have been behind me. I was in vocational ministry for a few years.

I submit that we have not learned these things from our driving instructor: Christ.

Think with me for a second. Maybe the ditches are there for a reason. It could be that those lines have been placed before us so that we can see the road. Sure, no one drives in a perfectly straight line. Nobody walks in perfect symmetry either.

But it is expected that we stay in our lane and walk on the pathway provided for us. When we don’t we’re likely to have a wreck or walk into a signpost. I think the sign says, “DON’T WALK ON THE GRASS!”

And let’s not forget this point. I look at these ditches and find that some of them don’t even really exist (e.g. love vs. wrath). We have dug our own ditches—potholes in many cases.  Because we don’t see the Instructor properly, we end up driving however we like.

This makes the roads unsafe to drive on and the ditches cluttered with wreckage.

WARNING: Ditches often collect trash! They’re dirty, smelly, and they induce vomiting. There might be an occasional rain that washes it out, but eventually there will be more filth collect there in the gutter. Stay out of the ditch! It’s hazardous to your health.

Dear saints, trust God in the tensions and understand that He has given us His truth in tension-filled pairs for a reason. Seek to discover a hermeneutical (biblical interpretation) practice where you’re taking the time to listen to others in community.

A communal hermeneutic keeps us out of the ditches and helps us to stay on the road that leads us to Christ; where we may encounter the Living Lord in His written Word.

We were not created to walk behind each other, but beside each other. We were created for community. In this way we are able to lookout for the potholes, stay out of the ditches, and walk the line we have in Christ.

Lord help us to walk Your line and find the balance of traveling the road You’re walking. Amen.

So, what ditches have you encountered?


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

18 responses to “Walking the Line: Staying Out of Theological Ditches

  • cindyinsd

    So true, David. I get a picture, reading this, of a trampoline. The bed has to be pulled from every side equally in order to be of any use. It’s the tension that makes it useful for propelling people upward.

  • John Wilson

    Great article David! Without the tension what need would their be to deny ourselves and take up our crosses in community!

  • Heather Goodman

    I really like this one David… Nice writing- wonderfully stated perception that really clarifies some things for us out here in reader-land. 🙂

  • Rick

    Great article! Thanks.

  • Jilliefl1

    Thanks, David-what a great analogy! “We were not created to walk behind each other, but beside each other”-I love that. Lord give us grace to look for that portion of Christ in one another-to look beyond the doctrinal trappings and see You.

  • Marshall

    Whether in “tensions” or dimensions to faith, you’re definitely on to something, David. (btw: thanks for not including an exhaustive list here, which may have potentially my browser-reader.)
    The “ditch” metaphor also pleasantly reminds of the various bog-downs & turn-outs along Pilgrim’s path [Bunyan].
    Wonder if you may at some point further address “rubbernecking”? As when our brothers or sisters are craning the neck for something or someone on the road, alongside, or in a “ditch”. Why, have we seen more folks drive themselves nearly right off the road for whatever curious may be observed?
    It may be that a communal hermeneutic only helps keep us out of the ditches when inside the indelible & inseparable context of the larger ekklesia; local, global, historic-future. Having visited into relatively isolated communal settings, a working communal hermeneutic + group think can also build a really nice sect.
    What say you? Matthew 19:21: a ditch, or an incline?

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks for commenting, Marshall. I do believe if it is a communal hermeneutic (or a true “group think”), then folks will not be participating in a sect of any kind. Unless it is the kind where Jesus of Nazareth is the Shepherd and saints are allowed to respond to Him together–individually as well as corporately.

  • Anthony Verderame

    Thanks David for a concise yet clear message. A brother & I today were talking about this EXACT thing. We want to hold fast to theology and leave relational living behind. Tragic!!! Life is born out of relationships!!!

  • elvineve

    Random thought of the day: Hold to Christ tightly; the rest loosely.

  • Paul Jones

    Thanks, David, food for the soul, as always!

  • David D. Flowers

    Thanks, Paul. I appreciate you reading.

  • jaredcburt

    Great article. Sounds like it has a few Utleyisms in it. I think your analysis is correct. We should learn to walk in the tension (because our tension is not God’s tension) and such tension is slowly relieved in a communal setting, with true fellowship. Good work.

  • Christian

    How very true. We get so hung up sometimes on smaller points of doctrine that we lose sight of the big picture, that Jesus died for us, was buried, arose on the third day, and ascended and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. We are to be pointing people to Christ, not arguing over the stuff salvation isn’t made of. How about a couple more… dunking vs. sprinkling, pre vs. mid vs. post trib rapture, King James only vs. all other translations…

  • John Metz

    I found your post very interesting. Are you familiar with Robert Govett’s “The Twofoldness of the Divine Truth”? Govett strongly states that we should embrace both sides of the seeming contradictions of the Bible in order to comprehend the truth.

  • John Metz

    You might have difficulty finding Govett’s book. For the most part, I think it is out-of-print. Howver, it was posted on the Web and can still be found at http://web.archive.org/web/20040213162510/www.twofoldness.org/divine_truth_introduction/index.html

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