Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). The apostle Paul wrote of “our warfare” (2 Cor. 10:4). He wanted the early church to “get ready for battle” (1 Cor. 14:8). He called Timothy to accept hardship “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). Conflict—for the sake of the gospel—is a clearly declared theme in the New Testament.
Because you have picked up this book, I have two hunches about you. On the one hand, you accept that advancing the gospel will at times pull you into worthy conflicts. On the other hand, you reject petty conflicts and selfish controversies as distasteful violations of the gospel. This new book by Trevin Wax will help you grow both in your courage and in your caution.
I am glad that Trevin has written The Multi-Directional Leader: Responding Wisely to Challenges from Every Side. We need this book. As we are being buffeted on every side—and I expect it to get worse—staying steady under multiple pressures isn’t easy, is it?
Decades ago, Francis Schaeffer taught me something that has helped me through the years. It is the wisdom permeating this book. Here’s the insight: we rarely have the luxury of fighting on one front only. Christian faithfulness often requires us to fight on two opposite fronts simultaneously. For example, when we take a stand against false doctrine, we must simultaneously take a stand against ugly harshness. We see the monster of heresy in front of us, and we rightly resist the error. But if we are not paying attention, we might not notice the other monster behind us—the brutality of a censorious spirit. We can easily back right into its jaws.
We rarely have the luxury of fighting on one front only.
If the challenges coming at us were one-dimensional, or if they came at us sequentially rather than simultaneously, we could stay focused on one problem at a time and press through more easily. But the battle rarely unfolds so simply.
Watch Your Biases
Here is another layer of complication. We import our hypocritical group biases into our conflicts. Our sense of moral urgency rises when we see a failing among our opponents, and our drive for correction relaxes when we see it among our allies.
What’s more, each of us has very personal inclinations. By temperament, we are naturally sensitive to some issues even as we are less alert to other truly weighty concerns. For example, some of us are naturally gripped by the standards and definitions and clearly drawn lines of doctrinal truth. Others of us naturally gravitate toward the vibe and feel and tone of warm relationships. We turn God’s both-and into our own either-or—without even realizing it.
Half-Right Is Half-Wrong
For all these reasons and others, it can be easy for us to be half-right as we contend for some aspect of the gospel. And because, at that particular point, we really are half-right, we do not see that we are also half-wrong—or, at least, incomplete. We see and rejoice in the good and true boxes we have rightly checked off. But we honestly do not perceive how many blanks we have never filled in. We can be blind to the towering beauty of fully developed, well-proportioned, mature, biblical Christianity—“the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
We can be blind to the towering beauty of fully developed, well-proportioned, mature, biblical Christianity.
I will make it even worse. Fighting on one front only can reap huge rewards. It is a way to get noticed, create a platform, and generate a following. Just beat the drum loud and long for one facet of a multi-faceted gospel issue. Many people will rally to a church or ministry that specializes in being oh-so-right—in one respect. It gets likes and reposts and mentions and money. And this way of making a name for yourself does not require you to deny the gospel. All you have to do is keep repackaging your one theme within the gospel—rather than undertake the more demanding, more ennobling, more life-giving task of declaring the totality of the biblical gospel, so that the true magnificence of Christ can be seen by more and more people.
Let’s all face ourselves honestly about these temptations and pitfalls. But for now, I ask that we notice just the obvious: a half-fought battle is not a well-fought battle. Even an apparent victory conceals the actual grandeur of our Lord, in all his grace and all his claims. Fighting a battle on one front only can, and probably will, lose the war.
This is why Trevin’s book matters so much. If we will make the vision and the wisdom of this book a matter of ongoing discussion and prayer in our generation, 20 years from now we gospel-loving Christians will be more united together and more compelling to our world. We will have fewer church splits and more church plants, less controversy and more solidarity, quieter hearts, fuller praises, and new conversions to Christ, because our more mature Christianity will be a persuasive and inviting alternative to cross over into.
Wonderfully, our Lord above is for us in this very way. We do not have to hold the full magnitude of the gospel together in our own strength. If we will look to him moment by moment, he will help us transcend ourselves and our limitations and fears and prejudices. And we will, imperfectly but really, represent the glories of Christ with more and more public obviousness, as we grow into the stature of his fullness.