The Missing Middle–Is it Time for a Third Way People?

I was going to write about something else today, but came across a guest post by Sara Cunningham in Ed Stetzer’s column at the Christianity Today site titled, “The Missing Middle: Three Expressions of Christ I’m Yearning to See In Evangelicalism“. Earlier this week, the same columnist posted an interview with local pastor Rich Nathan on a similar theme: “Both-And: My Interview with Rich Nathan“.

Both of these captured my attention as I’ve been thinking about the blog series my son and I have been doing on You Lost Me. I’m convinced that one of the problems that has plagued the evangelical Christian community with which I would most closely identify is our cultural and political captivity. Most of those my age are captives to the right. Many of those my son’s age are captives to the left. And hence we become lost to each other. What is troubling to me, and this seemed to be born out in the Cunningham post, is that it seems there aren’t that many, or that many who are vocal for being captive to the kingdom way which challenges our cultural and political captivities of left and right.

One of the things my theological training taught me is that nothing can be totally wrong. Very simply Satan (or whatever you want to call him) cannot create anything, but only twist the good things God has made. No human perspective can be utterly wrong or evil, nor can it be utterly pure. Yet this is where much of our cultural and political discourse has ended up. It forces me to be either pro-life or pro-women. It forces me to be pro-environment or pro-development.  It forces me to choose between “entitlements” for the poor and “entitlements” for the rich. It forces me not only to be alienated from others in my country, but even from others in the body of Christ who might identify differently. This is our cultural-political captivity and it is based on the lie that the “other” is utterly evil and we are utterly good.

When we celebrate Advent and Christmas, we celebrate the Jesus who delivers us from not only our personal captivities which we often think of under the rubric of “sin”, but also in his call to the kingdom, delivers us from all our captivating cultural and political allegiances. John Howard Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus argues that the church is its own polis, its own political structure and should not allow itself to be taken captive by others but to be shaped by its allegiance to Jesus.

The terms “centrist” and “both-and” have reasons to commend them. I like the term “Third Way”, which I first picked up from an early work of Os Guinness, The Dust of Death. We are neither just a compromise between left and right, which is often what I associate with “centrist”, which can also simply mean pragmatist. And while “both-and” often is true in things like combining both grace and truth, I struggle with the fact that there are some things that just are mutually contradictory–I cannot both love my neighbor and pollute their water supply.

Allegiance to Jesus brings me together with people from very different places and our oneness is not one of adopting the same perspective but rather being called by the same Redeemer. And as we read the scriptures from very different places, I discover a narrative that is both pro-life and pro-women, a narrative that is both pro-entrepreneurship with a kingdom vision, and pro-caring for “the least of these”. It is not for nothing that Jesus is called The Reconciler. Again and again I’ve seen polarities become creative tensions productive of great good.

I realize this post has been very “situated” in Christian terms. That is where I’m situated. But those of us in this country are all situated in a polarized culture. Finding ways to reconcile, to bring together those polarities in a way that thwarts the evil of hostilities toward the other and releases the best of what we all bring seems to be a matter all of us should care about deeply. These are my thoughts of how the Christian community could contribute to healing these hostilities. What are yours?

2 thoughts on “The Missing Middle–Is it Time for a Third Way People?

  1. Pingback: The Challenge of “The Third Way” | Bob on Books

  2. Pingback: Blessing and Burden on the [Third] Way | Bob on Books

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