I don’t quite remember when I first learned about psychological blind spots. Probably it was while working on a psychology major, but it might have been in some earlier college reading. The blind spots we may most be familiar with are the literal kind. You may be thinking of that area diagonally behind your car where idiots sometimes hang out while you’re driving. Or, maybe you are more sanctified than me.
You might not be as aware of the other literal blind spots you have in your everyday vision. To help illustrate that, I went ahead and rotated the cover of Collin Hansen’s new book, Blind Spots: Becoming A Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church so you can see the effect. If you’re about 12-15 inches away from the image, close your right eye and focus on the face. You should notice the cross disappear. Likewise, if you close your left eye and focus on the cross, the face will disappear.
The reasons for this involve scientific explanation, which if you’re super interested in, you can watch this video. The point here is that just as we have physical blind spots, we can also have spiritual blind spots when it comes to Christian ministry. The cover of the book makes the point that you can be so focused on yourself (or other people) that the cross and the gospel fade from vision. Likewise, you can be so focused on the cross, and with that, doctrine and theology, that you don’t actually care for people.
To help navigate this challenge, Hansen has written a book that offers a kind of lay of the land when it comes to dispositions in Christian ministry. Some people are courageous to stand up for sound doctrine. Some people are compassionate to help the marginalized, the hurting, and the poor. Still others are commissioned to try to reach as many outside the church as possible. If you can’t tell from these brief descriptions which describes you, take this marginally helpful quiz. I say “marginally helpful” because when I took it, I scored the following:
- A (with a little concern for C)
- None (see here)
- A and C
- A and B
I answered A the most, but only unanimously three times. I had 2 unanimous B’s, and 1 C, but they each showed up 3 times total. From reading the book, I related to the “Courageous” position (A), but don’t really have trouble seeing the concerns of Compassionate and Commissioned types. I would say I used to have the blind spots associated with the Courageous position, but I worked through it my third and fourth years in seminary and hopefully have left cage-stage Calvinism far behind. Certainly it is something I should be aware of, but I think I’m more aware than most.
As for Hansen’s book itself, it’s a quick read that is worth pondering if you’ve never considered the idea that your primary concern in Christian ministry can lead you to overlook other legitimate concerns. The answer is not, as some may imply, to give up your concern to advance others. Rather, there is a balancing that needs to take place so that we are all working together to fulfill the Great Commission. At the end of the day, each individual’s concerns are best advanced by working together and helping each other see the blind spots we miss. After all, the nature of a “blind spot” is something you can’t see but it probably clear to someone else. Hansen’s book is essentially a plea for us to listen, and I think he makes it without coming across as either pretentious or condescending.
However, Hansen’s book would have been strengthened by connecting it with other similar analyses. The first is John Frame’s triperspectivalism, as it has been applied to church ministry. Hansen’s three types could be mapped this way:
- Courageous = Prophets = Frame’s normative perspective
- Compassionate = Priests = Frame’s existential perspective
- Commissioned = Kings = Frame’s situational perspective
Those who are most concerned with doctrinal norms shouldn’t minimize reaching the lost (expanding the kingdom) or helping the hurting. Those most concerned with reaching the lost need to have something to teach them once they’re reached and care for them when things go wrong. Those most concerned with helping the hurting need to have something meaningful and true to minister and a framework in which they can do so.
Similarly, Hansen’s book could have been strengthened by connection to Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church? Their analysis of the nature of the church’s mission can also be charted triperspectivally:
- Social justice is the situational perspective on the church’s mission
- Shalom is the existential perspective on the church’s mission
- The Great Commission is the normative perspective on the church’s mission
Or even more detailed (from this post):
- Social Justice
- Normatively, social justice is a result of the coming of the new creation that was inaugurated by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection
- Situationally, social justice is changing the injustices of this world to match the justice of the new creation
- Existentially, social justice is an activity of the people of God, carried out in an attempt to more fully love their neighbors
- The Great Commission
- Normatively, the Great Commission is declared by Jesus on the basis of his death, burial, and resurrection (i.e. it announces a new norm)
- Situationally, the Great Commission is repeated by the church as it spreads into all the world (i.e. into all situations)
- Existentially, the Great Commission is a command to be applied by the church as it makes disciples.
- Normatively, shalom between God and man was achieved by God reconciling the world to himself through Christ
- Situationally, shalom is communicated through the church as it expands into all the world
- Existentially, shalom is brought to individuals through faith in the saving work of Christ
Looking at this parsing, you should see how the concerns overlap further. Each of the categories of people in Hansen’s analysis are picking one perspective within this overarching mission to the unintended exclusion of others. For instance, the tension between Commissioned and Courageous Christians results from focusing on either the situational aspect of the commission (spreading it through the world) or the existential aspect (teaching it to people in the church). Likewise, a tension between Compassionate and Courageous Christians can result from focusing on the bringing that shalom to hurting people (existential) without fully explaining the root of where and how that shalom has come into the world (normative).
All of this is to say that Hansen’s book is useful, but I didn’t find it as useful taken on its own. It would have accumulated more explanatory power if it were presented in conjunction with other works. Perhaps this was intentional on his part and is part of the design to help it reach a wider audience. As it stands, being published by Crossway, I imagine most of the people who will initially read it are in the Courageous camp. This isn’t to say that people who are more Compassionate or Commissioned don’t read Crossway books, but it is to acknowledge that it seems like those who lean that way are more progressive and less young, restless, and Reformed. They’re 2/3 of the intended audience, so hopefully this is a book that they might take and read. While it would be easy to hope they do so, I’d rather hope that we all are willing to examine our concerns and continually ask one another if there’s blind spots in the way we are living out our faith.
Collin Hansen, Blind Spots: Becoming A Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church. Wheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $12.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!