Friday, August 5, 2011


Ever heard the claim by theologians of theological tension? If you have not encountered this as a student of the Word, at some point, you will.

Essentially theological tension refers to two or more ideas/concepts in the Scriptures which appear to function in conflict with one another. The most well-known alleged conflict in theological circles is that of divine sovereignty/human volition. For many teachers the only end of these two teachings is theological tension. That is, according to their definition of both truths (the existence of divine sovereignty and human volition) there is an unsolvable theological tension at work that does not enable us to explain their dual existence which entails, to them, the appearance of certain conflicts or contradictions. Yet, they will clearly state that the one cannot contradict the other so instead of saying what they know they may not say (that there is a contradictory teaching in the Scriptures) they have made up a term which allows them, in effect, to go around the obstacle.

Yes, basically to avoid having to admit they cannot answer the issue(s) or are unwilling to admit they believe in a contradiction, they simply create an escape route. And it is a convenient one indeed. I tried it a few times and it leads to nowhere. And in truth, it reflects something much worse, specifically a man or woman who is unwilling to audit themselves and their views or do further study on a matter.

The truth is, there is no such thing as theological tension as has been described here and certainly there is no place of theological contradictions with which we must put up. The problem stems from the understanding of the Teacher, not the declarations of Scripture. One should consider two main steps when encountering theological territories where there is potential claim of theological tension:
1. Avoid following those in this area who make such assertions because they are leading you to empty space.

2. More pertinently, do not attempt to take a position on any matter until you have resolved what doctrinal/conceptual conflicts exist in your mind.
Really, it is not that difficult. Maybe what is more difficult is being willing to admit you simply do not have the answer at the moment. No doubt for those who wish to portray the image of being the smartest person in the room this option is dreadful at best but you'll get over it and be the better for it.

Show me a man or woman that believes theological tension is a legitimate explanation and I will show you a man or woman who cannot provide you a proper explanation.


Bob Hicks said...

It would seem that your explanation of why "tension" does not exist is simply a restating of the definition of the term, but denial that it can be applied. To wit, theological tension is basically meant to admit that there is no explanation, not be an explanation. It's an admission to "not knowing," but applying a shortcut to refer to a recurring situation.

Alex Guggenheim said...


Thanks for stopping by. Per your observation - My view of what theological tension is by way of those who employ it as a valid theological construct is that the Scriptures contain, in fact, contending or conflicting views and particularly with respect to divine and human sovereignty.

My view, as is of some, is that no such thing exists, in fact, rather it does so soley in the mind's of those who cannot resolve their imagined dilemma of opposing ideas.

They would not tell you that the problem is really their conflicting definitions, rather that it is intention of God to have provided this form of "mystery" and irreconcilable revelation.

Thus, I say that "theological tension" is a myth, an untruth with the word "theological" functioning as a synonym for Scripture and not the construct and properties of a theological system.

And this is where you have a point if I am merely restating it to include in the cause of the the tension both Scriptural and systemic properties. I am not.

I do get that if there is tension in a theological system one might use the term "theological tension" and explain it is due to their faulty definitions and understanding, but such is a rare use of the Word. Commonly, as I said, they blame God's Word as the one possessing the conflicting properties.

Ultimately, therefore, I do not redefine theological tension, I assert it is a false concept. What I do say is there is tension in the student or teachers minds at times but I do not call that theological tension because, as I said, by great majority this term faults revelation.This should have a name, but not theological tension.

Scripture and the Christian life are consanguineous and nothing short of this in my view.

Maybe I can give it some time to think of a fitting descriptor of the systemic/personal tension some have in dealing with Scripture which reflects the fault being at the user's doorstep and not the divine source. Thanks for the feed back.