There’s been a lot of talk recently about the relationship between words and deeds. Books like What Is the Mission of the Church?
have generated a lot of discussion on this important topic.
I’m glad that Duane Litfin has written a new book called Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance
. Dr. Litfin has served as President of Wheaton College. I’ve been in the classroom with Dr. Litfin, and I’ve appreciated his wisdom and sharp mind. I’m grateful that Dr. Litfin agreed to answer some questions about this book.
Why is there so much confusion about the importance of the relative roles of word and deed in what God has called us to do?
The subject is complex and it’s easy to lose the balance called for in the Scriptures. At any given time, cultural influences have tended to jostle the Church toward one extreme or the other. In our own day, postmodern tendencies tend to valorize deeds at the expense of words. And at all times society at large is much more likely to applaud our acts of compassion and mercy than the “word of the cross.” Hence the difficulty of maintaining our balance.
What’s at stake in this discussion?
The Scriptures portray the Church’s verbal and nonverbal witnesses as complementary. To play down our verbal witness is to sacrifice what the Apostle Paul calls the very “power of God for salvation,” the Gospel itself (Rom. 1:16). But to fail in our nonverbal witness (our deeds) is to sacrifice our role as God’s agents in the world and undermine the credibility of the Gospel we proclaim.
What are some Scriptures that are frequently misunderstood on this topic?
I have a whole section of this book devoted to ways the Bible is misused in this discussion. Matthew 25:31-46 and Jeremiah 29:4-7, for example, stand out as fairly egregious examples.
Are there some dangers we face when we prioritize proclamation and word ministry and downplay the role of deeds within the local church?
I would want to resist “prioritizing” proclamation and “downplaying” the role of deeds. That’s certainly not what this book is about. What I’m after is a biblical balance that reflects their respective roles and gives due weight to both. The final chapter of the book discusses the challenges of deciding in particular cases which is needed most.
You write, “Even the clearest grasp of our biblical calling does not guarantee simple, straightforward (much less easy) answers in real-life situations.” How can we avoid being paralyzed by the complexity of this issue, and the needs we see around us?
In the final chapter of the book I also introduce what I call the Nehemiah Principle, after the strategy he employed in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The principle is, we are all called of God to build our part of the wall. We cannot do everything. But we can do something. So what is “our part of the wall,” that “something” God is calling us to do? Then we apply ourselves faithfully and sacrificially in fulfilling this call. Expending ourselves on the basis of God’s call, rather than futilely trying to be everything to everyone, is a far healthier and more biblical way to live the Christian life.
Thanks, Dr. Litfin.
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