The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike Balance by Randy Alcorn

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike BalanceTakeaway: We cannot be 50 percent truth and 50 percent grace.  We have to be 100 percent truth and 100 percent grace.

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I am trying to read about how to properly disagree as Christian (I am giving a talk about this in September).  I have several good short resources.  The introduction to John Piper’s The Future of Justification (Free PDF download) is one of the best short articles about how to disagree as Christians that I have read.  (I did not like the rest of the book that much, but I keep telling people about the introduction.)  I keep running across short sections of books that also are good.  But I have been struggling to find longer works that are focused on disagreeing properly as Christians.

While I was searching around I found this short little book by Randy Alcorn.  It is only 100 pages, but it sounded like it would be a good resource.  While it is a decent little book, it is primarily focused on reaching out to non-Christians (primarily through evangelism) with Grace and Truth.  While that is good, it isn’t quite what I am looking for.

If you have any suggestions of books that are overtly focused on how to disagree as Christians, please let me know in the comments.

The Grace and Truth Paradox is primarily focused on helping Christians realize that they need to be showing non-Christians the grace that they have been shown by Christ, while at the same time affirming that there is ultimate truth and we as Christians are responsible for sharing that truth with others.  I basically agree with the book.  Grace is fairly well defined and defended by Alcorn.  But the concept of truth floats around a bit.  Occasionally, he sounds like he is talking about Old Testament Law.  Occasionally he is talking about the person of Jesus Christ.  Occasionally he is talking about provable propositional truths like 2+2=4.  In a specific section on truth, he talks about scientific truth (of evolution), fundraising without explicitly disclosing the fundraising costs, ghost writing, and a variety of other types of mistruths as if there is no difference in the types of truth being violated.

I get a bit uncomfortable when Christians have this loose understanding of truth.  Especially when he paints in broad brushstrokes that is questionably truthful himself.  In on section he suggests that all, or at least most, college campuses explicitly reject the concept of truth.  He does not have any type of evidence that he cites or any disclaimers that he is talking about a particular type of college or a particular type of understanding of truth.  This seems to be, by his own meandering definition of truth, untruthful.

I am 100 percent behind the fact that there is nothing true except Christ.  I am mostly in agreement when we say as Christians that we can be confident in scripture as the word of God (my only quibble is that we can be confident in scripture, not as confident in our understanding of scripture).  I am fine with saying there are specific truths for all time (the 2+2=4 types of truths.)  My main issue is that I think we need to be much more humble about our understanding of truth.  Not because truth does not exist, but because I am not sure that we always really understand the truth that does exist.

We need to be open to the fact that our understanding of truth is necessarily limited because we are on this side of heaven.  We are human, and by definition limited in our understanding of truth.  Yes we can understand truth, but as Paul says, as though we are looking through a dirty glass.  Our understanding is tainted.  NT Wright and others (not sure where the quote originated) have said, “I know that about 25 percent of everything I know is wrong. The problem is that I am not sure which 25 percent.”  So he says he is open to correction and rebuke and tries (but not always succeeds) in being humble and gracious when presenting his ideas before others.

Overall, it is an OK little book, just not what I was looking for.

4 Comments

On the subject of truth and our relation to it, you might enjoy the book Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, by Paul Hiebert. The first chapter, “Epistemological Foundations for Science and Theology”, sets critical realism (“we see in part, but we do see”) against absolute/critical idealism, naive idealism, instrumentalism, and determinism.

The end of chapter 1 talks about communication within the Christian community. The closing paragraph of that chapter:

As evangelicals, we need to distinguish epistemological issues from theological ones so that we do not waste our energies and so that we can work toward a resolution of our differences without misguidedly attacking a brother or sister. We need to guard against heresy. We also need to carry out the mission Christ has given us in this lost and broken world.

Most of the chapters in the book appear to have first been published elsewhere, so it reads a bit disjunctively across chapters and as a whole. Nonetheless, I’ve enthusiastically recommended the book to a number of people. 🙂

Just a further note: after leafing through the book just now, the recommendation holds, but with several caveats. For your specific goal of looking at relationship/communication within the Christian community, it will (a) take quite a bit of synthetic work (there are gems sprinkled throughout the book, but they were in separately published articles) and (b) require translation from an “external missions” focus to an “intra-Christian-community relationships” focus.

I’ve found the translation of (b) very helpful in relating to other Christians even before reading this book, and think the book could be quite helpful given that lens. But, I don’t want to over-represent its suitability for your purposes.

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