Romantics, Realists Both Needed In Conversations About the Church’s Health


In my last post, I suggested that sometimes people who love the Church disagree about the state of the Church because they focus on different metrics. Some consider the peace of the Church the measure of its vitality. Others think of the underlying health as the main criteria.

But there are other reasons that well-intentioned Christians who all love the Church sometimes disagree in their assessment of the Church. Sometimes the differences have more to do with our “bents” or our basic outlooks on life. That outlook colors, shades and frames what we see.

A person’s basic outlook can make him or her a strange bedfellow with others. For example, it’s sometimes baffled me to see “conservative evangelical” Christians come to the defense of certain “prosperity/Word of faith” leaders while criticizing other “conservative evangelicals.” Or, I’ve scratched my head when people who share basic ecclesiology and ministry philosophy end up sharply disagreeing over the ministry faithfulness of someone who rejects their view of the church and ministry. How do you explain that?

I’ve come to think it’s partially explained by temperament. Our “bent” molds how we see the church. We tend to flock together with people who share our disposition.

Two Basic Outlooks

When I think about discussions of the Church, I think I notice two basic outlooks. Some people are romantics and others are realists.

Romantics are those who tend to only see or emphasize the Church’s positives. They can idealize the Church and cover the Church’s faults with quick references to her virtues or deflections to the problems of other churches. The romantic tends to believe that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8) and “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:6, NIV). People with romantic outlooks prefer to think about “whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8). “After all,” the romantic might say, “the apostle Paul called the Corinthian church with all her problems ‘the seal of his apostleship in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 9:2).

Realists are those who tend to see or emphasize the Church’s negatives. They can become overly critical of the Church and sometimes dismiss the Church’s virtues by multiplying faults or refusing to give adequate credit where it’s due. The realist tends to believe that “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov. 27:5) and love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices at the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). After all, the apostle Paul rebukes Peter to his face and calls out Hymanaeus and company for their wrongdoing. The apostle John puts Diotrephes on blast in 3 John. When it comes to truth, the realist says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).

As you can see, both realists and romantics can appeal to the Bible for support of their perspective. Each group has its virtues. We tend to think of romantics as more loving or gracious; by contrast, we tend to think of realists as the “truth people.” But it’s not so much that realists and romantics are on different planets or are wildly different people. Perhaps it’s better to think of realists and romantics as accurately seeing different aspects of the same situation.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition

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