Rev. Rob Renfroe is best known to United Methodists as president and publisher of Good News magazine. In The Trouble with Truth, he argues that the witness of the church is tethered to its ability to live out an “equal measure” of grace and truth. Guy Williams reviews his latest book here.
I’ve heard Methodist theology described as “conjunctive.” In other words, where some traditions place a “but,” we do our best to hold concepts and values together with an “and.” This means that our theology includes tension. That tension is something like the tautness of a tightrope. Those who would endeavor to live within that tension are like a tightrope walker, forever performing a balancing act.
In his new book, The Trouble with the Truth: Balancing Truth and Grace (Abingdon 2014), Rob Renfroe insists that performing this balancing act is vital to our Christian witness and that it is increasingly difficult in North American culture.
The Big Idea
Rev. Renfroe’s conviction is represented in a litany of “and’s” in chapter one. He begins, “At the heart of the universe, there is a heart of grace.” That heart is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus. And “[t]his heart of grace is also a heart of truth.” The other and’s are: a heart of compassion and righteousness and a heart of love and holiness. “The Christian faith is not one instead of the other or one more than the other but both together in equal measure, because this is the nature of our God.”
What’s at Stake?
For Renfroe, the witness of the church is tethered to its ability to live out this “equal measure” dynamic. He writes, “If we are to have an impact on our world the way Jesus did, then we must possess his compassion for people and his passion for truth. Both are equally important for those of us who want to represent him well and care for people the way he did.” The church dare not embrace compassion, grace, and love alone, especially our culture’s current definition of those terms. If we do so, we will distort their true nature and power. After all, without righteous indignation at evil, are we really compassionate toward the downtrodden? Without a solid grasp of truth, are we capable of offering grace? Without holiness, are we truly able to love freely and wholly?
Why the Truth is in Trouble
Renfroe writes clearly and concisely about the three basic worldviews within our present culture, Scriptural, Modern, and Postmodern, and how the modern and postmodern worldview undercut a traditional Christian understanding of truth. Some elements of postmodernism that could be judged a positive development for Christianity are not mentioned, such as emphases on the role of community and narrative in shaping one’s identity. But Renfore’s focus is on the problems presented by postmodernism’s moral relativism and on that subject, he hits his target. Likewise, his identification and critique of the “new absolutes” is compelling. Lest we think he’s overstating the problem, his illustrations serve as a chilling reality-check, in particular, real conversations with young persons (one an atheist, the other a Christian considering ordained ministry) unable or unwilling to condemn Hilter’s actions as wrong because of their commitment to moral relativism.
The audience for this book is clearly identified: “This book is for classical Christians—believers who hold to the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith—who, as I do, sense that our culture is in trouble.” It will hit the mark with that readership. Perhaps others will find his perspective helpful too.
Rev. Renfroe is best known to United Methodists as president and publisher of Good News, a conservative renewal group in the church. In that capacity, he has garnered a reputation as someone willing to stand up for the truth as he sees it, defending a traditional understanding of scripture, doctrine, and morality.
Renfroe’s commitments in The Trouble with the Truth uphold that reputation. But he also confesses a natural preference for being the “grace guy” rather than the “truth guy.” It is his recognition of and commitment to a balancing-act, both-and theology and vision of the Christian life that prioritizes holding truth and grace together as he makes the effort to do. For “[i]t’s only when we combine both compassion for people and a passion for truth that we will walk in his footsteps and be used by him to do the work of his Kingdom.”