When it comes to blind spots in the Christian life, we have two options: Admit we have them, or lie. I’ve never held a theological or philosophical position assuming it was wrong. Who does that? But it’s either the height of arrogance or ignorance to think it’s not possible that I have some wrong ideas, hold certain ideas in imbalance, or haven’t adequately considered viable alternatives. Challenging me to think clearly and critically about my own positions, I was helped tremendously by Collin Hansen‘s latest book entitled Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Hansen is the Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition).
In my own understanding and interacting with other Christians outside my tradition and theological framework, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t always done a great job. I could have easily been the one writing Hansen’s words: “With my highly attuned gift for discerning others’ motives, it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else. Then I blamed them for not seeing the wisdom in my arguments… Because I’d understood my experience as normative for everyone, I couldn’t see how God blessed other Christians with different stories and strengths.”
Certainly, there are specific, unalterable truths that should not be tampered with, downplayed, or discarded. God has revealed in His Word, “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation” and those things “are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them” (1.7 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689). I have long been an advocate of Dr. Albert Mohler’s three-tiered Theological Triage and find it to be a helpful matrix in which to frame each Christian relationship. But I’m thankful that Hansen presses the conversation even further. He writes, “This book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.”
Focusing on the gospel as the unifying, unalterable center of relationships and conversations, Hansen points out that all Christians have further, specific emphases that we assume to be more important than others, and he places them into three distinct categories. We will identify closely with either compassionate Christians, courageous Christians, or commissioned Christians. In each category, Hansen outlines the distinctives that are commendable and worthy of emulating, and suggests temptations that should be guarded against lest our blind spots remain undiscovered and crippling to our Kingdom efforts. It’s most likely that every Christian will resonate on some level with each category, because they all contain biblical elements, however the honest reader will find himself in a specific category more than the others.
The compassionate Christians are those who see the hurting, broken world around them and have a longing to relieve suffering and poverty. Hansen describes the compassionate Christians: “You clothe the homeless, feed the hungry, nurse the sick. You write the letters, shame the offenders, protest the powers.” Compassionate Christians are quick to see the abundance of biblical exhortations about the disenfranchised “little people” of society and to call the church to action.
Hansen commends the compassionate Christians for their focus on an area of biblical truth and action that should always be on the church’s radar, but also warns, “With compassion comes blame. In a broken world that lacks simple solutions and people who care, it can become all too easy to blame those who aren’t mending our society. Compassion abounds for humanity, just not for humans.” Hansen wisely warns compassionate Christians to not emphasize giving at the expense of the gospel itself. It’s important to remember that our “compassion won’t always be appreciated or even received by a world that rejects the source of our compassion.”
The courageous Christians are those who take stands on truth, and oftentimes on specific issues of importance (or even non-importance). The courageous Christians are those who will make precise arguments for specific positions, and make appeals to others to not waiver from what they understand to be true. These are Christians like Martin Luther and the reformers, willing to stand, fight, and die for the things that matter. “Courage is necessary for us to endure in the faith.”
Hansen self-identified in this category, and it’s most likely that the majority of reformed Christians will. But Hansen is wise to offer some cautions here as well. The courageous Christians can sometimes turn important issues into single issues, demanding that other people fall in line behind a specific agenda or else they will be cast as an enemy and considered suspect in the future. Courageous Christians can easily become heresy hunters, and are willing to compromise the fundamental exhortation to love because of a single issue. While courage is important and necessary in the face of sin, false teaching, and evil attempts to thwart the work of God, it’s vital to be reminded that “courage is not measured by how many people you can offend.”
Commissioned Christians are those who emphasize mission with an eye toward bringing as many into the church and God’s Kingdom as possible. “You might be a commissioned Christian if you worry that younger generations will slip away or never bother to show up unless churches adapt to changing times. You’re not exactly conservative or liberal in theological terms. You probably trust in the authority of Scripture and hold to conservative views on issues such as the exclusivity of Christ; otherwise why bother with evangelism? But you don’t fit in with Christians who actually enjoy debating theology or arguing over whether ministry practices conform to Scripture. You want to get on with the serious, urgent work of changing lives with the power of the gospel.”
Commissioned Christians seek to push the church to the highways and hedges that the gospel would be proclaimed far and wide. Surely, a continued focus on the great commission is important and necessary. However, Hansen warns, “in their search for cultural relevance,” commissioned Christians “can slide into syncretism. And their eagerness to expand the tent can culminate in theological compromise. Sometimes these churches don’t merely resemble the mall with their expansive parking lots and food courts; they also communicate with ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ messages that Christianity is an à la carte faith that supplements our private pursuit of peace, wealth, and status.”
A Call to Unity and Growth
Hansen’s book challenges readers to identify personal tendencies to over-emphasize certain areas of focus at the expense of others. We never outgrow our need to find balance in the Christian life, and we can more readily do so when we are more determined to learn from other believers instead of instantly seeking to find ways to differ from them. Certainly, there will be significant differences from one Christian to another, however they need not always be divisive or viewed with negativity and skepticism. Our goal should be “the kind of biblical fulness that . . . expects opposition from the world and seeks unity among believers for the sake of the world.”
I highly recommend Hansen’s book to those who are willing to ask questions of their own heart and consider whether or not their blind spots have kept them from learning from other Christians who have a lot to offer.
If you want more before picking up the book, read 20 Truths From Blind Spots.
(By: Nick Kennicott)