Theological Proportionality and Your Nose

“A man’s nose is a prominent feature in his face, but it is possible to make it so large that eyes and mouth and everything else are thrown into insignificance, and the drawing is a caricature and not a portrait: so certain important doctrines of the gospel can be so proclaimed in excess as to throw the rest of truth into the shade, and the preaching is no longer the gospel in its natural beauty, but a caricature of the truth, of which caricature, however, let me say, some people seem to be mightily fond”

-Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students

I think if you spend enough time in the Bible, you will have a pretty good handle on when things just don’t feel right. That is a good intuition to have. I think we often discount the type of critique that says, “I don’t know what’s wrong with that person’s theology, but it seems funny.” Now, it may be the case that the person critiquing just doesn’t like the style of the person being critiqued, but I want to make the case that the category of “non-proportional” views actually fits a lot of those times when something just doesn’t “feel right.”

A “non proportional” view is a helpful category whenever you are talking about a book, a speaker, or just someone’s theology. Say that your friend talks about grace all the time. But it doesn’t feel right. It seems that all he talks about is grace. If you go up to him with an open Bible and say, “I think you talk about grace too much,” he will (rightly) tell you that grace is all over the Bible. Since you can’t refute him, what generally happens is that you become one of those curmudgeons who says that they don’t like these “grace preachers.” That’s unhelpful. It is much better to say that grace is prominent and bountiful in the Bible, and we must speak of it often. But, when grace is all that we speak about, we run the risk of giving our hearers a distorted picture of the Bible.

This is where Spurgeon’s analogy of the nose comes in. Say a man draws a portrait of a face with a hilariously large nose, and you critique him for doing so. It will do you no good to pull out a book titled “list of body parts found on the face” because “nose” surely will be there. The painter may even have memorized the chapter and verse where you can find it. The painter is technically right, the nose is on the face, and it is there quite conspicuously. But–and here is the point that you need to bring up–it is not quite as conspicuous as presently painted.

The theological application? Though Spurgeon applies it to preaching, I think it is well taken in general theology as well. To blow something small (or even large) out of proportion, or even to shrink something that is very large, is to distort the beautiful face of the gospel. The encouragement, then, is to spend much time in your Bible. Not just to get the doctrines down, but to get the proportions down. To whisper where the Bible whispers and shout where it shouts. Doing so will allow us to walk around with our noses prominent, but not overly so. 

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