If you’ve ever argued over theological controversies with Lutherans, you’ve no doubt heard us boast of our comfort with paradox. We will often overtly embrace a set of Biblical teachings that just don’t seem to add up. For those of us who appreciate reasoned discourse, embracing a paradox often seems like cheating—holding a doctrine that doesn’t make sense is just not something we deem acceptable. Nevertheless, sometimes paradoxes are true while explanations that make sense are false. Nothing is more frustrating than when the facts get in the way of a perfectly good theory.
I am all for Christians making rational arguments—I even wrote a book on the subject. But sometimes reason is insufficient. As a Lutheran myself, I consider paradox to be an essential concept for rightly handling the doctrines of the faith that have been handed over to us. Our own understanding must be subject to Scripture, not vice versa. At the same time, however, any good thing can be abused, and this is no less true of the finer points of Christian doctrine. While many Christians err because they reject paradox, I am seeing more and more Lutherans err by a faulty way of embracing them.
Over my next few posts, I plan to take a closer look at theological paradox. Part One will cover the nature of paradox and introduce its importance to theology. Part Two will explore one of the most thorny paradoxes in Scripture—the doctrine of predestination—and contrast the Lutheran approach with that of other Christian traditions that refuse to accept paradox. In Part Three, I will turn that same critical eye back to contemporary confessional Lutheranism and ask whether pride in our comfort with paradox is tempting us to our own mishandling of Scripture.