How to Do Theological Triage in Our Divided Age

How to Do Theological Triage in Our Divided Age by MATT EMERSON for The Gospel Coalition

Speak the truth in love.

Truth in love. Truth and love. One of these often dominates in theological conversations, some choosing to emphasize the need for truth and others the need for love. According to Paul, truth-telling and genuine love for those with whom we are speaking are crucial for growing up “in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:11–16). In other words, if you want to be like Jesus, you’d better learn how to speak the truth and to do so in a way that exhibits love for others.

Some like to think that speaking the truth just is loving. That is, to love someone is to tell them the truth. But is it that simple? Can I just declare truth to someone and, because it’s the truth, claim it’s also therefore “in love”? If that’s the case, then why would Paul need to modify the words “speaking truth”?

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“In love” tells us how we are to speak truth. There is a way to speak truth that isn’t loving, and there’s a temptation to describe love that doesn’t include truth-telling. Both of these are errors, according to Paul. Instead, we must speak truth, doing so in a way that demonstrates our love for others.

This combination is hard to produce, as church history can easily demonstrate. And with social-media spaces like Twitter filled with quote tweets, getting “ratio-ed,” muting and blocking, ad hominems, slippery slopes, and straw men, civil discourse—yes, including theological discourse—seems not just difficult but nearly impossible. Add a global pandemic into the mix where most people are even more bored, lonely, anxious, and “extremely online,” and the chances of productive theological conversations on social media are slim to none. It’s either truth or love these days. Certainly not both at once.

In this contentious environment Gavin Ortlund exhorts us to pursue both truth and love in his new book, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. Ortlund—senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California—wants to find “the happy place” between the two extremes we often see in theological conversation: fighting over doctrine either “too much or too little” (17).

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