Complexity as a Christian Virtue

We live in a world of simple answers.

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Why does she struggle with depression. Some: She has a chemical imbalance. Others: She has sin in her heart.

What’s wrong with our nation? Some: Liberals. Others: Conservatives.

Simple, right?

Our culture is obsessed with simple answers. When it comes to the public arena of debate and discussion, there is little room for moderation. Whether it be the talking heads on news channels or the defenders of truth on Facebook, our culture has largely lost its ability to use nuance and balance. We usually stick to the answers that can easily fit into a few catchy sentences, which were derived from a few catchy sentences on our favorite news outlet.

This is certainly seen in America’s political landscape, in which, according to a recent Pew research poll, there is an ever-growing divide between your average Democrat and Republican. Neither side wants to compromise or consider that the problems facing our society are complex, not fitting neatly into either political ideology.

But let’s not act like this tendency toward the simplistic is absent from Christianity.

To be sure, there are some issues facing us that are simple. For instance, God’s Word speaks clearly that only He is worthy of worship. Likewise, it is simple that Jesus is our only hope for salvation. Nevertheless, much of this world, and much of our lives, moves beyond the simple. This is not to say our world lacks objective or absolute truth. The all-knowing One gave us the Bible, the special revelation of Himself and His will for the world. It is truth about the Truth. But this is a complex world filled with complex people experiencing complex issues.

Christians, of all people, should be those who acknowledge and exemplify this complexity in our thought. After all, we worship the triune God—three Persons with one essence. We have been redeemed by Jesus—who is fully God and fully man in one person. We are those who zealously urge others to repent and believe in Christ, while knowing that faith only comes through a sovereign act of God. These multifaceted doctrines should produce Christians who view the world and its issues with an eye for subtlety and a mind that doesn’t settle for the superficial.

We need only to look at church history to see the dangers of a Christianity that lacks nuance. It was when our thought lacked complexity and nuance that heresy crept into the church. For instance, the early church heretic Arius denied the true divinity of Jesus because he didn’t hold the proper balance of the humanity and deity of Jesus. The history of the Church is filled with men and women like Arius who veered into false teaching by not adequately addressing the complexity of our God and the world He created.

In our interactions with secular culture, we must live with this balance. Christians are the righteous living in a fallen world, seeking to breach the darkness with the Light, while not allowing the darkness to seep into our own lives. In the past, churches have often emphasized one side of this to the neglect of the other. Either they have taken a posture of isolation from the world or have so stressed the need to reach culture that they could no longer be distinguished from the world. Both are rooted in a lack of tension. We are called to be in the world as ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom, while cultivating a culture in the church that is in stark contrast to the cultures of earthly kingdoms.

This complex thing we call the created world is something that should also show up in the art produced by Christians. So much Christian art today fails to communicate how deeply sin has affected our world. Our stories—whatever form they may take—often don’t reveal the complexities of human beings or the relationships we form with one another. Instead, the vast amount of characters we create are flat and dull, lacking texture and shape. Just pick up the latest Christian romance novel. The male character is most likely a man of near perfection, whose quality of hair is only surpassed by his quality of sinlessness. On the flip side are those modern artists that portray the sinfulness of mankind without showing the hope of redemption. Christianity is a story filled with graphic, profound sinfulness and overwhelming redemption. Thus, our own stories should reflect the depth and fell of the overarching Story.

It is time for the Church to recover the notion of complexity. Living with wisdom in the world demands it. Yes, that will mean that most discussions cannot be boiled down to single tweets or even 30-second sound bites. Yes, that means we will have to spend more time considering the issues that 21st-century Christians face, such as racism, climate change, and how to address world poverty. But you are a complex individual living in a complex world created by a complex God.

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