The Gospel Coalition

I increasingly hear people talking about the need to be "Biblically balanced" and I think I'm starting to understand what they mean.

As I talk to people who speak about the need for our theology and preaching to be "balanced", they mean that we need to spend the same amount of time talking about everything the Bible talks about.

So, for example, since the Bible talks about what God in Christ has done and also what we ought to do in light of what Christ has done, to be balanced we need to give both themes equal airtime. Since the Bible talks about Jesus and it talks about us, to be balanced we need to spend the same amount of time talking about both. The list could go on: since the Bible talks about x and y, to be balanced we need to talk about x and y the same amount.

But, this is NOT the balance of the Bible. While the Bible talks about a lot of things it does not give all of its themes equal airtime.

The overwhelmingly dominate message of the Bible is that God loves (and in Jesus) justifies sinners. There are tons of ways the Bible says this: the whore is made a bride, the dead are raised, the unrighteous are declared righteous, slaves are made sons, the blind see, the sick are healed, the unclean are made pure, the guilty are forgiven, sinners are saved, and so on. Obviously, no Christian denies that the Bible says more than this. But the work of Christ on behalf of sinners is clearly the emphasis of Scripture from beginning to end. What we do in light of what Jesus has done is important. But it's not more important than (or even equally important as) what Jesus has done for us.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...(1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Martin Luther said, "Remove Christ from the Scriptures and there is nothing left." The emphasis of the Bible, in other words, is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed. As important as how we live is, the spotlight of Scripture is on Christ, not the Christian. "The Bible is not fundamentally about us. It's fundamentally about Jesus." (Tim Keller)

My point is simply this: to be "Biblically balanced" is NOT to allot equal airtime to every Biblical theme. To be Biblically balanced is to let our theology and preaching be proportioned by the Bible's radically disproportionate focus on God's saving love for sinners seen and accomplished in the crucified and risen Christ.


Comments:

Matthew Lyon

March 2, 2012 at 11:44 PM

Why do you have a cover from a Blink 182 CD which has an explicit lyric warning as your picture for your blog entry? I don't get it.

PAUL

March 1, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Susanne, I have read your comments in past post and have been blessed by your understanding of the Gospel on Grace. My frustration with the video is that Tullian clearly makes this passage an acid test for discerning if you are a Christian or not. Please allow me to show some post from the past.

Susanne Schuberth, December 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14,15)

A few post down from yours: I’ll go outside my home and feel such a burden for the lost. Then I think I should witness to different people, and when I don’t then it’s this accussation that I don’t love God enough or don’t care about the lost enough, or that maybe I’m not really saved anymore and so I can’t really claim who I am in Christ anymore.

Susanne, you want to know why I have a problem with this video, my wife is a lot like the person above. She has been so beaten up by legalistic demand oriented religion that when she watched Tullian's video her thought was that if she didn't love God enough to keep all his commands she might not even be a Christian. I saw her literally dashed to the floor. My wife and I are seeking truth on these and other passages and have already found some good teachings. God Bless

Steve, you can jump in any time.

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

March 1, 2012 at 05:25 PM

Hi Paul,

(1) “My frustration with the video is that Tullian clearly makes this passage an acid test for discerning if you are a Christian or not.”
Oh – I didn’t watch a video, Paul, I only listened to a short devotional (January 19, 2012). There I couldn’t discern any “acid test” at all. Hm... Perhaps we are talking of a horse of another color?

(2) The posting you mentioned touched me deeply, too. I remember praying and sitting in front of the computer. I wanted to reply quickly, but God stopped me and later on I saw what “another man you know” had written – it was exactly the right thing in this case as the person concerned later thankfully expressed.

(3) What you wrote about your wife makes me cry.
Oh, how I wished I could hug her and tell her face to face that Jesus loves her so much, and that she has to do NOTHING – NOTHING - NOTHING to please Him. She is a Christian because Jesus loved her from eternity, and He wanted her to be with Him forever. I feel helpless, Paul. But I pray that God will give her the assurance of being God’s beloved child. I am praying right now and I'll keep on praying until I hear (read) that everything is OK with her.

(4) Reading that you both are at Saddleback Church, I wanted to know more and looked at that site. There I found a long interview between Rick Warren and John Piper. I was very pleased to listen to this fair debate on theological differences. In my opinion, Rick Warren is a good pastor, and I think that several people have wronged him because they didn’t grasp his book “The Purpose Driven Life”. In this interview he explained the points of controversy both plausibly and convincing.
Keep on with Saddleback, Paul – you and your wife!

Much love from our God and every blessing to you both,

Susanne

PS
I'll never forget that you, Paul, were the first to reply to my comments when I dropped in here. I was very glad about it and I will never forget it. Thank you so much! You truly blessed me. :)

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

February 29, 2012 at 05:44 PM

Apropos PAUL ... Tullian's devotional (1 Jn 2:3-6)

Though I can understand that one could be a bit confused by this recording due own legalistic experiences, I have to say that it was the very best I listened to about those verses.

What Tullian said is so true: 1 Jn 2:3-6 is not about our obedience to gain God's love (by no means!), but about our love for Him (that we must receive first). Feeling His love and knowing His gracious kindness toward us will make us eager to keep God's commandments because we want to please our wonderful God. The root of our obedience will always be what Jesus has done for us as we still were sinners; because He loved us first - unconditionally - when we were neither able nor willing to obey Him.
But one day we begin automatically, driven by His Spirit, to love what He loves, and to hate what He hates. This will happen only when our self-will has become one with God's will. Then we will have forgotten our sins and our self, since we behold Jesus and receive His power that makes possible the impossible.

se7en | religion sucketh

February 27, 2012 at 01:28 AM

[...] What does it mean to be Biblically balanced? [...]

PAUL

February 26, 2012 at 08:15 PM

Pastor Tullian, This is off subject but am not aware of any other way to contact you. I am a member at Saddleback Church. My wife and I were so exited when we heard you were going to do a daily devotional on 1 John 2, 3-6. We both grew up in very legalistic Churches and were so set free by the Gospel of Grace no longer having to look at ourselves but focus on Jesus's finished work on the cross. After listening to your video below we were honestly confused. Hopefully in the near future you will post on these verses. God Bless

http://www.40daysintheword.com/blogs/habits/day-14/

Steve, I will be posting this on your web site for your cherished opinion.

Steve Martin

February 25, 2012 at 12:09 AM

The areas where God gives us freedom to choose...we ask Him and wait for an answer...and the areas where we are not free to choose...we believe that it is somehow up to us...and our efforts or our will.

Talk about bass ackwards.

Frank

February 25, 2012 at 02:40 PM

About this whole idea of "radically devoted to hearing God's voice for every decision we make on a daily basis," I believe we would frankly go crazy when we try to do that because our focus would be so absorbed in just doing that. (Did God give us reasoning abilities for nothing?) Otherwise, fine, preach out of the Old and New Testaments, but we are under the New Covenant as Christians, after all. Teach what's there in books such as Amos and Judges, etc., but always bring it back to grace, to the New Covenant under which we really live. Thank you. Pastor T, I like what you've shared here.

Rachel Olsen

February 25, 2012 at 02:00 PM

Just wanted to thank you for your response to my question. I appreciate it.

[...] give your favorite works-preacher a close listen, and see if he gives weight to the weighty gospel or to the weak man. Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

Gokhan Kaya

February 24, 2012 at 09:38 AM

While I agree with "air time" logic; We should remember that under the banner of "air time" many types of obsessions can be hidden...& remember we are fallen. Lloyd Jones in his book "The Christian Warfare" in "Knowledge Puffs Up" sections says this: //Another subject of is the danger of being obsessed by one aspect of truth. I use the term 'obsessed' deliberately; because while it falls short of a psychopathic obsession in a strict medical sense, there is no doubt about the reality of the obsession which the devil produces in certain people.He does so when he fixes their attention upon one aspect of the truth only. The truth is very large and comprehensive...the devil persuades a man to fix on one thing only, and he goes through the Bible sees nothing else. He sees it always speaking about it, always writing about it, always underlining it, always putting it forward...Others are obsessed by the question of sanctification. Nothing else interests them. They have lost the balance of truth completely, they are always preaching their particular theory of sanctification.They have long since ceased to evangelize, for their pet theory monopolizes their attention. We should not form movements with respect to particular doctrines; to attempt to do so is to lose balance. There should always be a balance, a fullness of doctrine, "the whole counsel of God".//

Mike Aware

February 24, 2012 at 03:35 PM

"I believe that we must be biblically balanced (especially in the ‘open handed’ issues), but also radically devoted to hearing God’s voice for every decision we make on a daily basis."

Yeah we SHOULD, but YOU don't. And that's the point. Christ loves you even though you sin against your own self imposed law to command righteousness out of yourself.

Steve Martin

February 24, 2012 at 01:34 AM

The cross puts an end to all our efforts and striving.

How's that for balance?

[...] pressed this morning, here is a fantastic post from Pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s blog on remembering what the Bible is really about: [...]

Linkathon 1/22, part 2 | Phoenix Preacher

February 23, 2012 at 10:43 PM

[...] Tullian Tchividjian on Biblical balance. [...]

Anonymous

February 23, 2012 at 07:04 PM

amen. always teaching to make appeal to man’s response, right?: not to neglect such a great salvation; to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him; to present our bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, as spiritual worship; to love the LORD our God with all our hearts, souls, might. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. [Heb 2:3b; Col 1:10a; Rom 12:1; Deut 6:5 Eccl 12:13; Heb 11:6]

Pastor Ed

February 22, 2012 at 12:05 AM

Matt, the issue is not word count. It is understanding what the Law can and does do and what it cannot and does not do. The Law is good and the Law is right. The problem is not with the Law, the problem is with me. I am a sinner, born as a slave to it and completely unable to fulfill the Law even for a moment. If the story ended their we all might as well give up because there is no hope for us in the Law. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Enter Grace, God's answer to our problem.

To be sure Grace only makes sense in light of the Law. Even for Christians the Law functions to show me my sin and my need for a Savior. It's why Grace never gets old! Our focus is radically and disproportionately focused on God's love and forgiveness because it is God's given answer to our unsolvable problem. To focus on the problem instead of the solution would be foolish to say the least.

Walter Flach, Geneva-CH

February 22, 2012 at 07:14 AM

Pastor Tullian,

I have nothing to add to this post. However, I just can't help expressing my deep gratitude, once again, for the grandiose sermons I am privileged to listen to on a weekly base on Internet. Each and every sermon of yours is a jewel but the last one is just unsurpassable. You really nailed it. It is not only in th USA that you have so many Judaizers in evangelical circles but also in Europe and here in Switzerland. I myself suffered way too long under the scourge of legalistic preaching and teaching. To GOD be the praise, honor and glory for Grace Preachers like you and many others.

J.D. Arnold

February 22, 2012 at 02:41 PM

Thanks for writing a great article. In my opinion, this is why doctrine is so important. What we believe about God is the platform from which we launch towards everything. I think there are two camps 1) those who focus on salvation from man's perspective and 2) those who focus on salvation from God's perspective. We cannot have a "me" centered Gospel that makes salvation all about what we need to do. Jesus said "It is finished" and we can't add anything to that!!

Thanks for your ministry!!

Linda

February 22, 2012 at 01:15 AM

You will not be balanced by preaching themes from the Holy Bible, rather whole books from the Bible should be preached on, verse by verse. And the best way to understand the Christian faith is to read the Gospels, so the best way for a preacher to help the congregation to know Christ is to preach verse by verse from the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

By preaching on a whole book, verse by verse you will be forced to cover themes people do not want to hear, and you will be doing them a favor in the long run.

Steve Martin

February 21, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Pastor Ed,

Here's one that I know you will appreciate:

http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/here-it-is-the-question-that-percipitated-the-reformation/

Enjoy.

Steve Martin

February 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Thanks, Pastor Tullian.

I'm glad you took care of that. Afterwards, I was sorry that I wrote it.

PAUL

February 21, 2012 at 11:37 AM

In most places today, the problem is not pure law. You will not find pure law in Christian churches. What you will find in many places today is a mixture of law and grace. You will hear teachings that combine the old and new covenants. You will hear things like, "yes, you are saved by grace, but now that you are saved, you had better not take it for granted. You have to start living a holy life by keeping the Ten Commandments." This is called mixture -- you have a little bit of grace and a little bit of law. Many believers think that this--balancing law and grace--is all right. However, the Lord has shown me that what man calls balance, God calls mixture. Joseph Prince

Pastor Ed

February 21, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Preach the Law, full blast and no punches pulled. Then preach the Gospel, full blast and no conditions attached (and without making a return trip to the Law, just so people don't get to comfy!).
To preach from the perspective of Law/Gospel will always prevent us from getting "out of balance". To properly distinguish between Law and Gospel then becomes the highest calling to a preacher, because when we blend the two together we loose both!

Mitchell Hammonds

February 21, 2012 at 09:54 PM

The focal point of any book (including Scripture) is "made" by way of the content it contains. Not the number of times a particular word is used. Just as a single sentence has a pointed meaning, so does a single paragraph, chapter and book.

Susan

February 21, 2012 at 07:51 AM

How long does it take you to find these corresponding theological album covers? I get a kick out them, and I haven't seen the Moody Blues Question of Balance album in DECADES!

Dan

February 21, 2012 at 06:56 PM

I believe I'd heard Larry Burkett (and maybe a successor or two) say that before, though I don't know where it originated.

Of course Jesus said many other things that are not quoted in Scripture, so statements about how much Jesus talks about money, or hell ("gehenna" for any who may prefer), ought better be qualified as saying Jesus was quoted more times on these subjects.

Matt Powell

February 21, 2012 at 06:23 PM

How do you come to a decision about what the focus of the Bible is without doing "word count"? Isn't that kind of subjective? I've spent a lot of time teaching through the Old Testament prophets, and they spend an awful lot of column inches on the subject of God's great wrath for sin. Some of them (Amos, for example) hardly mention grace at all. How do you support your contention that the "radically disproportionate focus" of the Scriptures is on the love and forgiveness of God?

Paul St.

February 21, 2012 at 05:32 AM

Pastor
I think we need to be stone rollers; as in John 11:39-44

Matti

February 21, 2012 at 05:15 AM

The preacher should use his sanctified common sense when deciding what to teach. When the congregation seems to be overly introspective and judgmental the focus should be on Christ's finished work on the cross. If the congregation seems to be more leaning to antinominalism he should still preach the Finished Work but emphasize how the hearers should live according to what is their nature and identity in Christ as new creatures.

Mitchell Hammonds

February 21, 2012 at 04:46 PM

Susan,
Exactly. Only a poor interpreter of scripture will do theology based on a "word count."

Susan

February 21, 2012 at 01:39 PM

How about the agenda of imbalance when preachers say things like, "Jesus had more to say about money than any other subject."? And I've never felt that was His emphasis.

[...] his recent post,”What Does It Mean to be Biblically Balanced?” Tullian Tchividjian explains how the Bible places a premium on the gospel: The emphasis of [...]

Dan

February 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

Fantastic post!

DrewK

February 20, 2012 at 11:32 AM

The post is right on too. Tullian, you have articulated what has bugged me for years when fellow believers would talk about "balance". Everything equal, fairness, etc. It always stuck in my craw. Thanks for letting the "bee" out of my "bonnet".

Steve Martin

February 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM

In our church we use the prescribed lectionary readings which are on a three year cycle which take us through the whole bible.

This forces us to not avoid texts we may not like.


________________________________________________________


God gives us freedom in choosing in matters of everyday life.


I couldn't imagine waiting to hear from God each time I had to pick between the black socks, or the brown ones. Or what kind of car I am going to buy. Or what job to take in which town.

It's odd that people want God to make all these decisions for them. But where they don't have any freedom...(making a decision for Gog, for example)...then they rely on themselves. Many have it exactly backwards. What else is new?

DrewK

February 20, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Love the album cover. I once owned this album. Great music from a thoughtful band. Guess I better read the post now!

Mitchell Hammonds

February 20, 2012 at 11:18 PM

After rereading my comment I have to clarify the following statement:
"Just as no one on that day could see their sin on the Son of God they can in no way see His righteousness in them."
I'm attempting to say the "righteousness of Christ" (that perfect righteousness imputed to the believer and Christ) is known "fully" and "perfectly" only by faith. That "full and perfect righteousness" from our perspective is hidden.
Our "good works" that actually do something help the neighbor... they do not afford us anything before God.

Benedict

February 20, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Hi Pastor Tullian,

Please continue posting your thoughts on this site, and also writing your books!

You have been a great inspiration to me, to "continue in the grace of God" for all of life.

Blessings,
Ben

JJA

February 20, 2012 at 10:33 AM

I've never heard the phrase "Biblically balanced", but I daresay that whatever it means could be addressed if pastors simply preached their way through ALL of the Bible, instead of focusing on their favorite passages.

Tullian Tchividjian

February 20, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Hi Rachel!

Thanks for our kind encouragement.

The preacher needs to preach whatever text he's preaching from while making sure that he connects it to the overall thrust of the entire Bible--namely Christ's finished work on behalf of sinners. Expository preaching gets a preacher to preach the whole counsel of God which will inevitably illuminate, as I say above, the Bible’s radically disproportionate focus on God’s saving love for sinners seen and accomplished in the crucified and risen Christ.

I hope this helps!

Rachel Olsen

February 20, 2012 at 09:47 AM

Thanks for this post. I always appreciate your thought and reasoning.

I'm curious what you think ... Does each preacher need to line their teaching up with the balance of the Bible within each sermon, series or book? Or are some called to emphasize certain themes, at least at certain times - which could seem unbalanced?

Redeem Christianity

February 20, 2012 at 09:19 AM

I believe that we must be biblically balanced (especially in the 'open handed' issues), but also radically devoted to hearing God's voice for every decision we make on a daily basis.

Mitchell Hammonds

February 20, 2012 at 06:16 PM

We don't create our holiness. The Christian life is a paradox... a struggle between what is created holy and what will never submit to the law of God... for indeed it cannot. Only to the pietist/pharisee is the Christian life ultra spiritual. And as a result the only prayer they are able to pray is "I thank you God that you have not made me as other men." The true justified and sanctified individual can only say "God be merciful to me a sinner." The life of faith is in what one Jewish man did 2000 years ago. Just as no one on that day could see their sin on the Son of God they can in no way see His righteousness in them. Does it have an effect on us? I hope so. But that isn't the point. The point is what was done for us. And because Christ was raised from the grave we can have all the faith and assurance that He was doing exactly what He said He came to do... Save us. Now live!! As the created being God made us. Enjoy life under the realization of this fact... God loves us. Not because He looks over our sin but because His wrath has been propitiated.

John Thomson

February 20, 2012 at 04:35 PM

To be biblically balanced is to preach all the truth of Scripture. It is as you say to give the weight that Scripture gives to any truth. But it is here that I would differ with you, at least so far as this blog is concerned.

Firstly, I believe that it is very much part of the good news to stress that grace has freed us and empowers us for holiness through the Spirit. I believe that the NT lays great stress on the potential of life in the Spirit to live in the death and resurrection of Christ and the necessity to so live.

Secondly, I believe that the NT gospel lays great stress on what the life of faith looks like in terms of godliness and Christlikeness and urges us to live this life by the Spirit. In this sense it urges the active dimension of faith.

I think the balance is lost if we so stress what God has done and is doing that we rarely mention the need to take up the cross, to follow, to deny self etc. I believe profoundly that what God has done must be preached but I believe just as profoundly that the implications of this in cross bearing must be spelled out.

I think any taxonomy of Scripture would bear out that what God has done is just as equally matched verse for verse with what this means we should do.

Steve Martin

February 20, 2012 at 03:23 PM

Dan,

Somebody's view will always prevail (in unity).

So we might as well stick up for the gospel and the freedom that Christ has won for us on the cross.

Many won't like it, but that has always been the case.

Dan

February 20, 2012 at 02:08 PM

I guessed wrongly that the title might be a lead-in to point out the insistence of some that we somehow balance different doctrinal systems, e.g. "Calvinism" vs. "Arminianism"; or rather, not to get so biased in our doctrinal distinctions that we alienate or marginalize those who do not subscribe to such views, and not to "major" on such doctrinal matters for the sake of church unity.