Both-And and First Rate Intelligence

the test of a first rate intelligence is to hold two opposing ideas in mind, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The test of a first rate intelligence is to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should . . . be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I loved this quote the first time I read it. And the first time I read it was in Jim Collins book, Built to Last, in the chapter on Both/And. The idea of both-and was powerful and it frames the way I approach life, leadership, and the Christian faith.

Jim Collins used it to talk about how businesses can pursue both profits and make quality products, or be environmentally or socially conscious. He used this way of thinking in contrast to the either-or way of thinking. We can make money OR we can make good products. 

Churches face this all the time. Evangelism or discipleship. Evangelism or social action. Good theology or practical ideas. Seeker-sensitive or Bible teaching services. And the list goes on and on.

Now most of us reading this will say, "of course we can do both of these." But in reality, so many churches struggle. They do one or the other. They prefer one or the other. They emphasize one or the other. 

Leaders for the future will be those who are able to deal with paradox, with ambiguity, with complexity, with opposing ideas... and hold all this in creative tension. Either-or thinking, black and white thinking, simplistic formulas, and rigid-boxy thinking will not serve people or organizations.

The Christian faith is inclined to both-and thinking on many important themes. 

  • God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • The holiness of God and the love of God.
  • Jesus as fully God and fully human.
  • Justification by grace through faith and sanctification of grace inspired obedience to truth.
  • The spiritual and the material world are equally precious.
  • The heart and mind (and will and body).
  • The dignity of our humanity the the ruin of depravity.
  • On and on would the list of "apparently opposing ideas" be that are inherent in the Christian faith.

I could even say it this way. To have authentic Christian faith is to be able to hold opposing ideas in one's mind and heart, and still function. To borrow Fitzgerald's language, authentic Christian faith requires a first rate intelligence. Perhaps Christian faith creates such an intelligence.

May you be one of those with a First-Rate Intelligence as you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, mind and strength.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International