Calling Up The Tension . . . .

tension 1  Biblical Tension

In a message on the Sermon on the Mount, John Ortberg sets us some tension in a fairly extensive introduction.  While it seems like the introduction could have been shortened, it could be argued that different audiences require a more lengthy development.

Nevertheless, remember, we can only listen to it being done, but we can also quantify it and/or “template it.”  If we can quantify it, see and lay out the parts of what was done, then we can use this rhetorical technique as we deal with other passages and for other messages.


Here is the audio link and transcription of Ortberg’s message — Please NOTE — I am going to transcribe only the key portions of this audio link.  The transcription is slightly shorter than the audio.  The audio link does provide the full clip.


Audio clip link — John Ortberg, “Is Christianity Narrow-Minded” @ the 1:04 minute mark of the original message

But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life and only a few find it.

Now this picture of a narrow gate touches on a real deep concern that a lot of thoughtful people have about religion and Christianity in particular — and the concern runs like this

Christianity call certain beliefs wrong.

And it calls certain behaviors immoral.

Therefore it impinges on human freedom by telling people what they must think and how they must live.

Furthermore Christians believe that they know absolute truth

[TENSION — the beginning of the tension — beliefs and people]

And therefore they believe  — that people who disagree with them are wrong — not just wrong but condemned before God

again — lots of folks are concerned about this . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Therefore — this concern goes — Christians must be intolerant to atheists or agnostics — people of other religions — even other kinds of Christians — like Catholics versus Protestants or liberals versus conservatives or Presbyterians versus all kinds of folks and instead it’s often thought —

It’s often that what humility requires — is giving up claims to exclusive truth.

Because if we affirm nobody really can claim to know what’s true

Then instead — I have my truth and you have your truth

But nobody really knows where in no position to judge that – that will lead to tolerance and acceptance because nobody would call anybody else wrong.

It is often thought that the narrow gate the narrow way lead to a narrow minded.

To unthinking irrational blindly compliant to authority intolerant bigots.

And of course it is very true that many of us who call ourselves Christians are often guilty of such things and have been in the past.

Here’s what’s interesting.

[TENSION — on the one hand]

If you look really carefully if you examine the life and teachings of this man Jesus you notice what looks to our culture like a very strange paradox — on the one hand Jesus makes statements that are outrageously staggeringly exclusive in our eyes

He prayed one time — this is eternal life that people may know you are the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent

Jesus says there is a God

not just that –H e is the true God so other gods are false gods

not just that — He is the only true God.

Most famously Jesus says once — I am the Way – the Truth – the Life – no one comes to the Father except by me.

Jesus did not present his teachings as optional suggestions for a better life he claimed to know how things are.

He claimed that what he said wasn’t just wise it was true.

And he claimed that this truth mattered more than anything else in the world.

[TENSION — And yet]

And yet and yet this man — who made claims that were staggeringly and breathtakingly exclusive — pursued relational connections with people that were breathtakingly and scandalously inclusive

He deliberately touched and untouchable leper

He allowed an unknown prostitute to bathe his feet with her hair

He committed hated Roman Centurion

He partied with despised tax collectors

I’ll give you one very striking example of this inclusivity on Jesus part his relational inclusively he’s approached once by ten lepers

Some of them are Jewish, but at least one of them is a Samaritan — so they would have been an interview.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Not only do evangelicals have the hardest time having normal natural conversations with atheists or Muslims or people of a different sexual orientation — twenty eight percent of Evangelicals say they have a hard time having a normal conversation with other Evangelicals.

[TENSION — By contrast]

By contrast the longest conversation recorded in the Bible is between Jesus and a pagan Samaritan five times married now shacking up with a guy who’s not even and her husband woman that no other rabbi likely would ever have gone near.

[TENSION — In other words . . . . ]

In other words, when you look at Jesus and his followers today by our own admission in research — the followers of the most inclusive man in human history have become the most exclusive in people in American society.

Often we are quite lax in our devotion to God, but relentlessly narrow minded in our relationships in attitude towards people.

[TENSION — on the other hand]

Jesus, on the other hand was relentlessly narrow in his devotion to God but outrageously broad minded in his relationships why is that why was he that way.

[TENSION — Possible explanations which could relax the tension]

Well maybe he was just inconsistent

Maybe he was a nice guy but not a real good thinker.

Or some have said — maybe these claims of Jesus authority and religious convictions got made up by Paul and others and got retrofitted back into the gospels — some people say that the was not that clear about his own identity and the exclusivity of his message.

Or maybe . . . . 

Just maybe — The truth that Jesus taught actually explains the life that he led

Maybe the truth that he taught is not in tension with the life that he led maybe it explains it.

Maybe the possibility of finding deep truth and offering broad tolerance are not mutually incompatible maybe they’re mutually inextractable

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

You can tolerate somebody without loving them.  But you cannot love somebody intolerantly.

And Jesus now is inviting us to live in a kingdom — a spiritual reality — the sphere of God’s Will — where the primary law is love because God is love

So love your neighbor as yourself

Love your enemy

Now love will certainly include the virtue of tolerance  — it surely will.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In other words the cure for arrogance and intolerance — which are horrible sins and often infect the church — as much or more than any place else  — the cure for them is not that we should embrace uncertainly  — “Well,  we don’t really know.”

The cure is that we embrace humility.



The tension is this . . . .

#1) Christians claim that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, that Christianity is “exclusive.” 

#2) However, while Jesus makes statements which are exclusive, yet in his relationships with others, He is breathtakingly inclusive.



  1. Begin with a singular biblical truth.
  2. Bring in the antithetical, converse, or balancing truth.
  3. Layout biblical examples of each side of the tension.
  4. Repeat, Restate, and Reframe the nature of the tension as you proceed.
  5. Provide possible explanations — easily dismissed theologically or real possibilities.
  6. Suggest they are not in conflict, but one flows out of the other.
  7. State the resolution (which was hinted at or mentioned earlier) and then support the resolution biblically.


There are a good number of biblical truths which carry tension because many biblical truths require balance to deal with the tension.

Speak The Truth  vs.  In Love

All Man  vs.  All God

Diversity  vs.  Unity

Separation  vs.  Isolation

Hate the Sin   vs.   Love the Sinner

What We Say   vs.   What We Do

Predestinated   vs.  Whosoever

I believe   vs.  Help my unbelief.

Eternally Secure   vs.   Work Out Your Salvation


When working with a biblical truth, think through the possible option of approaching that truth by pointing to the actual biblical tension which exists in the Scriptures, and/or in our behavior as those who believe in what the Scriptures teach


Note: “Beauty” is having everything in balance — a nose not too big, but not too small, a chin not too pronounced, but not too recessed, legs not too long, but not too short, etc..  God has every truth in balance.

Dr. John McArthur:  “Today, I will be preaching from this particular passage of Scripture.  I will preach the truth of this passage as strongly as I can, but as you know, there will be other times that another passage may seem to contradict this truth.  When I come to that Scriptural passage, I will preach that truth as strong as I can.”



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