The Third Way

There is a Third Way, and this post officially kicks off a series of occasional reflections about the Third Way. The Third Way approach to the orthodox Christian faith is one that gets

beyond the fighting and
between the fighters in order
to carve out a middle way.

The Third Way captures and sustains the good in both the conservative and the liberal. It is the Jesus Creed at work in the church’s theology and praxis. It affirms the great traditions of the Church and seeks to embody those traditions in a new way for a new day. It is not afraid of change but has a deep desire to remain faithful.

Some of these posts will be a part of our Friday is for Friends posts, where we will be discussing Adam Hamilton’s new book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics. Today’s reflections are spurred by Adam Hamilton’s book.

Thumbnail image for Hamilton.jpgAdam Hamilton tells the story of many in his chp called “Are you liberal or conservative?” Converted in a Pentecostal church, educated at Oral Roberts University, became a United Methodist, and then was educated at a liberal seminary, Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist. This journey gave him the opportunity to “explore the truth found on both sides.” (By the way, Adam, you look very much like my agent, Greg Daniel.)

But Hamilton’s very important discovery and question is this: Are these the only two options? Do we have to choose between liberal and conservative? Do we have to line up always with one or the other? Do we have to make this black and white, or is there a big gray patch in the middle?

There are many today who argue that the middle road, The Third Way, is not clear enough to be a genuine option. I hear this all the time: “It muddies the waters. It creates ambiguity.” The problem is that I continue to bump into people, some of them on the conservative side and some on the liberal side, who say to me “I’m really in the middle.” Recently a Baptist pastor said to me “I’m where you are.” He knew I stood for The Third Way. What I find is that many who find themselves embedded in either side are afraid to say they are Third Way. So, this is a “coming out” opportunity for some. Folks, there is a Third Way and lots of us are journeying on the Third Way — some are to our left and some are to our right and we are in between and have no desire to fight with either side.

If “conservative” means hanging on to the great tradition, I’m for it.
If “liberal” means embodying the gospel in new ways for a new day, I’m for it.

What I’m learning is that lots of folks are like this. We don’t want to be stereotyped into “liberal” or “conservative.” We want to be Third Way. (We need some of you designers to come up with some logos for The Third Way and we’ll post them here and get others to post them on their blogs and websites.)

My final point is this: a Third Way approach is not new with me or new to the world. Lots of folks want this and have said so. I’ve been saying this for years. My own books [you can link to them in our Sidebar], from Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others to Embracing Grace and Praying with the Church and A Community called Atonement to our recent book The Blue Parakeet, are “third way” books. I hope to rankle the liberals and to irritate the conservatives, not because I like disagreement but because I hope these books can’t be stereotyped. I want both sides to say “I’m with you here but not there.” That’s fine.

At the heart of our Third Way project is fashioning the gospel as robust enough to be both a “kingdom” gospel and a “salvation” gospel, a salvation that is both spiritual/personal and social. A salvation that means complete liberation. We’re tired of the old-fashioned, thin gospels of both the conservatives and the liberals. It is hard to hold both sides of this debate together, but we will attempt to do so … and I think many of you want to as well.

Welcome to our series called The Third Way, a way of being Christian and doing theology that seeks to live out the implications of the Jesus Creed. I’m keen to hear your responses.

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  • Jamie Fox

    I love this ‘Third Way’ approach, it really resonates with me. I am somewhat of a mongrel as I imagine many regulars to this blog perhaps are? I came to faith in a United Reformed Church in the UK (where I’m from), spent a couple of years in YWAM, recently graduated from Regent College in Vancouver and now pastor young adults in a pretty conservative Alliance church in Western Canada. From UK Reformed to a charismatic parachurch, to a transdenominational evangelical protestant grad school, to a conservative North American congregation – I have experienced quite the journey! I deeply appreciate elements of both conservatism and liberalism but hate the fights. As such I look forward to following this on your blog – so thankyou for providing this important forum.

  • You’ll find me in the middle too, but i dont like the idea of a logo, just another box to be put in. I’m sick of being told i’m a this or a that. I’m afraid a logo would be just another excuse for people not to deal with your arguments but refute you by saying ‘oh you’re one of those.’ Listen to what i’m actually saying and you’ll see where i’m at, if you dont a logo wont help you decide.

  • “Third way” is traditional anabaptist lingo. My sense is that the best way to visualize the third way concept is to forget the liberal-conservative continuum with the third way as the middle ground. It is perhaps better to think of the third way as a point on a triangle. There are lots of things one might do with the other two points.

  • I will be following these discussions as I would like to see myself as “Third Way”, but I also think lots of people see themselves as “Third Way” while they are not – and maybe I am one of those as well, so I would like to see where this discussion goes.

  • mariam

    Via media? Common prayer? Liturgy? Reading scripture for deeping meaning? Resistance is futile, Scot. Just become an Anglican.

  • Carlo

    as i get older, i tend to find that truth is more messy and complex than many of the neat theories that we like to hold onto. we tend to love labels, so we can pigeonhole people and put them in boxes. the reality is usually more grey. i look forward to your series….

  • James Petticrew

    There is a Christian magazine in the UK called “Third Way” are you aware of it?
    The term Third Way also has political connotations in the UK and is very much connected to Tony Blair and his New Labour agenda of the late 1990s.
    These factors could colour how people in the UK understand the term.

  • RJS

    First – hasn’t the best of the conservative church always preached both a “salvation” gospel and a “kingdom” gospel? And hasn’t it wrestled with embodying the gospel of Christ in this world? Of course the term best here reveals my prejudice.
    Of course there are many other issues involved in this discussion as well. I am not sure how a “liberal” would claim that this gray area muddies the water and creates ambiguity.
    From the conservative side however, the issue seems to be one of authority – to admit a gray area removes certainty and comfort that black and white either/or statements provide. We want authority and security, we don’t want to have to think and discern and wrestle with messy reality. We get it down, learn the answers, in some cases nicely box up our faith as separate from day-to-day struggles, and move on.
    Interesting post – I am looking forward to this book and the rest of the discussion.

  • The ‘Third Way’, new way, post- way is of great interest for me and how I attempt to pursue theology and social issues (sometimes more successfully than others of course).
    In large part I value this because I think that both ‘sides’ have very valuable things to say, and yet both sides are quite wrong on certain issues as well. We do not need to choose though, and can take the best of both, a process we ought to approach cautiously and humbly.
    A resource that might be helpful in this (in addition to Blue Parakeet and Community Called Atonement which were excellent) is the just released “Don’t Stop Believing” by Mike Wittmer. I just read this book, and very much appreciated the way Wittmer critiques both sides in some very important ways and argues for a middle ground that takes in the ways that each is right.

  • Can’t wait, Scot! Sounds very good to me.
    Blessings of God be with you.

  • I liked Hamilton’s book. Whatever we want to call it, there is a third way for tradition and morality.

  • Clay Knick

    I really liked Adam’s book. I read it in Sept./Oct.
    & meet him when he came to lecture at Duke Div. for
    their convocation.

  • T

    Something I heard Todd Hunter say that embodies, I think, a core mentality of many “Third Way-ers”: In relaying what John Wimber and Dallas Willard had done for him, respectively, he said, “In the same way that John gave me Jesus back in terms of his ministry, Dallas gave me Jesus back as Teacher.”
    People in the Third Way (in whatever camp they reside) are looking for the real and total Jesus, and are convinced that there are parts of him overlooked and others prized and practiced, in virtually every tradition and time-frame, including some in their own backyard. They are willing to learn from all.

  • Jimmie Bean

    I don’t know which “way” this is, but I liked Tony Jones take on it. While there are two boxers beating each other up (the liberals and conservatives) – there is a third guy that’s flying a kite.
    He’s not getting between the two guys fighting – what they are doing is irrevelant to kite flying.

  • Scot – I think your books do a great job of presenting this third way. You introduce topics that conservatives often won’t consider and which liberals often ignore.
    RJS – I’ve discovered that there are many liberals who are just as afraid of this third way as the conservatives are. Their liberal absolutism is just as strict as the conservatives. I agree with Phyllis Tickle that the liberal and conservative church simply represents the extremes of the modern religious dialogue, but that postmodernism offers a third way in the form of an entirely new perspective. This stance can claim the best of both traditions, but not be constrained by their categories.

  • Excellent.
    Curiously, I think the “neo-evangelicals” of the 1950’s (Carl Henry, J.I. Packer) were trying to do exactly this — and what they did was good and appropriate for their time. But a number of things happened: the publication of John Morris’ magnum opus on creation science; Francis Schaeffer’s turn to fundamentalism and the “Battle for the Bible” as a sharp “in or out” dividing line; Hal Lindsey’s popularizing of end times dispensationalism; the rise of the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family’s turn to politics.
    While the above events and others like them influenced the evangelical mind and attitude, the praise and worship / seeker / charismatic movements homogenized our “liturgy” and removed the focus, at the popular level at least, on theology and towards emotivism. Thus, there is now often an uneasy tension between a resurgent fundamentalism in theology and a “don’t ask don’t tell” style of popular worship.
    I’d like to say that this “Third Way” is an effort to extend and re-envision a project started in the 1950’s that was coopted in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

  • RJS

    What do you think drives liberal absolutism? Perhaps it is humanism or Christian humanism.

  • Some older “Third Way” books BTW:
    Bernard Ramm, “After Fundamentalism”
    Thomas Oden, “After Modernity: What?”
    Alister McGrath, “A Passion for Truth”
    Clark Pinnock, “Tracking the Maze”
    Mark Noll, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”
    Stan Grenz and John Franke, “Beyond Foundationalism”
    Ramm and Pinnock were saying 20 years ago just about exactly the kinds of things we’re saying now.

  • Scot McKnight

    You got it. I agree that the Neo-evangelicalism of the 50s and 60s was hijacked as you said, and now many are seeking to reclaim Henry but in so doing are returning to the Fundamentalism to which he was himself responding. I also agree there is a “let’s not talk about anything that gets too detailed” approach to theology among many in the evangelical movement.
    Neo-evangelicalism always involved vigorous theology and clear difference but a willingness to cooperate on essential concerns.
    Modern Reformation magazine has two pieces in a recent edition, one by Michael Horton and the other by Donald Dayton, that get to the heart of what evangelicalism is.

  • Yes yes yes.
    Let’s hear it for the mongrels, the square pegs, and the people flying kites.

  • I’m excited to see where this thread of posts will go. But, echoing Brad’s point (#3), and other’s more implicit points, I’m not sure I want to restrict the “Third Way” as one of mediation between two extremes. When it does so, fantastic. However, I think that looking for that middle ground becomes an end in itself, and can then drive our theology and practice, rather than faithfully attending first to the gospel, coming again and again to Jesus Christ. I think that as we orient ourselves in this way, we’ll not be beholden to either conservative or liberal, but will find connection points with each, and perhaps accidentally find ourselves traversing a third way. Call it a type of ad hoc mediation, or something like that.

  • Bring it on! What a breath of fresh air. The more I learn about church history, the more I see this Third Way trying to break through only to be co-opted into one side or the other. It seems, though, that this time history is primed for the Third Way to actually become something viable. I look forward to reading more on this thread of posts. And I plan on ordering that book… his story sound similar to mine. My wife and I will be reading this one together 🙂

  • Scot,
    We’re moving, I think, in the “third way” from an adversarial model of theology-making and praxis-shaping to a dialogical model. In the adversarial model someone has to be “right” and the other “wrong.” This is the essence of evangelical fundamentalism (an absolute commitment to certainty with its twin: lack of humility in dialogue IMO). In a dialogical model there is still a deep commitment to truth, but also a rest and assurance in that truth to be its own best defender (not that we don’t need to put on the gloves occasionally…I’ve seen you do it here at Jesus Creed). I am amazed at how many conservatives refuse dialogue because they must think they’ll be tainted or led astray or seen as endorsing, etc. Where is their certainty in their certainty? It’s laughable.

  • Scot McKnight

    I agree with Brad and others that a Third Way approach is not simply mediation, but it is at times mediating. Because it is mediating, it often must strike its own path, find its way, and arrive in a different place.

  • Believe it or not, I’m a third wayer. I think most of the arguments we have involve two sides taking things that are completely true and emphasizing them all out of proportion — saving souls vs social gospel, personal spirituality vs community, faith vs works.
    That said, I think the truth is going to be found a bit more to the right than the left, and so far it seems like there are a lot of emerging sensibilities to be found in this — people who are as guilty as anyone of overemphasizing certain truths — so I’ll be watching to see how this goes and whether it will just turn into “emergent-light.”

  • RJS

    Your emphasis on the trajectory here is important – and as Scot points out in the post this is not brand new by any means.
    But I don’t think that flying a kite (see #14) while others battle is a good analogy. Isn’t the “third way” more a realization that reality is messy and we have to follow and be willing to be led, we have to think and wrestle.

  • ChrisB

    ps: Life is abiguity.

  • I am familiar with the authors that have been mentioned in connection with ‘neo-conservatism’ but the movement itself was a bit before my time and I have only seen its post-Fundamentalism/Religious Right heritage.
    Could anyone perhaps talk to how original ‘neo-conservatism’ may compare (or not compare) to ‘post-conservatism’ as articulated by for example VanHoozer?

  • Another thing that seems important in the process of developing a true third way is to open the dimensions of the conversation further than having points that “liberal” will agree with on the one hand and then points that “conservatives” will agree with on the other. To really be differentiated from the modernist vs. fundamentalist battles one might consider the need to frustrate both sides by saying something completely different that neither group will agree with. Since we are all so good at arguing this widens the boundaries of what we can actually talk about, thus widening the space of what we can actually do. In practice I am not exactly sure what this means, and perhaps I am just recasting this in its negative formulation.
    Beyond that, someone above mentioned Anglicanism. In an interview posted on Youtube someone asked Rowan Williams what his role is in relation to his critics. The media, he says, have already written their stories, and with respect to the church, the only stories delivered will be about conflict and decline. (Of course he regards conflict as one of the specialties of Anglicans and hopes that decline is not also part of their story). It seems to me that if this is indeed true it would be difficult for a Third Way to have as much public impact unless someone within plays the role of antagonizer just a little bit.

  • MattR

    I agree… glad you’re doing this.
    And your books, as others have mentioned, have been very helpful in this regard.
    In my experience, whenever these conversations come up, conservatives tend to dominate the conversation… they assume the categories and then ask how the third way fits into their already assumed categories.
    A Third Way makes BOTH conserv. and liberals uncomfortable at times…
    A Third Way also recognizes that truth is gray and messy, and how we’ve thought of issues in dualistic terms has often been part of the problem.
    How do we do this when many in evangelicalism today believe truth ‘leans to the right,’ as a commenter already mentioned?
    This is NOT a fight, but a question… and maybe this is only an issue in my particular context.

  • Rick

    I look forward to this series, and I agree with ChrisB #26.
    However, Scot writes:
    “The Third Way captures and sustains the good in both the conservative and the liberal. It is the Jesus Creed at work in the church’s theology and praxis. It affirms the great traditions of the Church and seeks to embody those traditions in a new way for a new day. It is not afraid of change but has a deep desire to remain faithful.”
    Depending on where you are on the theological spectrum, you can read that in very different ways (which traditions? what new way? what change? remain faithful to what? etc…). I assume, hope, this series will define those aspects.
    I do wonder if this will be similar to the theme of “change” from this past election. As people are starting to realize and point out, what was expected to “change” varied from group to group; individual to individual. Now that preparations are underway for the new administration, there are growing concerns that some may not be getting the “change” they sought.

  • Looking forward to this series.
    Being raised nominal Catholic and finding a deeper faith in an evangelical church while in college, the third way makes a lot of sense to me.
    In one of my ordination papers I wrote,
    “Further, Village (2005) suggests that those holding to extremely conservative or extremely liberal beliefs of Scripture, often hold to them dogmatically. He continues by suggesting that those who hold a liberal theology do not necessarily possess the freedom to believe anything they wish about the Bible, but can possess “as much narrow-minded conviction as conservative fundamentalism (Village 2005).” It appears contrary to popular thought that not only conservative Christians can be narrow-minded.”
    Village A. 2005. Assessing belief about the Bible: A study among Anglican laity. Review of Religious Research. 46(3): 243-254.
    In a recent blog post, I start to address third way concepts as it relates to a Christian reponse to envrionmental issues I suspect some of the stuff I write will urk both conservative and liberal camps as well… and that OK with me.

  • Dianne P

    As one of the mongrels who finds much good in most traditions but has difficulty committing to one way OR the other, I’m sure looking forward to this discussion.
    From an Eastern Christian upbringing…
    married to a Dutch Reform/Presbyterian…
    to a Quaker home church…
    Roman Catholic then Presbyterian then non-denominational evangelical…
    temporarily given up on finding a traditional church home in our new location (though dabbling in Lutheranism)…
    currently serving and worshiping in a new start-up with the homeless – that looks pretty much like nothing I’ve seen before – but we call it “church”.
    And hanging out here at Jesus Creed just about every day.
    Not so crazy as it sounds, as that covers many decades.
    Two things come to mind-
    1. The 3rd way is not just a place on the line in the middle of the two ends – but rather a way of looking at all traditions and not being afraid to use and appreciate those means of grace that help me to grow in the love of God and of all His children.
    2. After many years of life, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 2 kinds of people (ok, a pretty weak joke for this thread…). There are people who have a black and white world view and bring their hearts and minds to sorting the world in this way. And there are people who have a gray world view (or as I prefer, multi-colored) and bring their hearts and minds to seeing the world in this way. At the result of oversimplifying, I think that one yearns to sort and the other years to see.
    As a multi-colored person, I have a difficult time understanding a black and white world view, but it’s clear (to me anyway) that God has created these mind types, and I can’t help but wonder what each of our types has to learn from the other. That’s what I would like to see explored in this topic.
    And also many thanks that when I refresh the captcha, my text remains! Woo Hoo!!!

  • I was raised in conservative Christianity (GARBC). In the past few years I have become convinced that neither side is 100% right or wrong. I look forward to your series.
    Maybe a good graphic would be a road running between two armed camps, enclosed by barbed wire. 🙂

  • eleanor

    As J.J. writes (33) about environmental issues, I’d add the consistent ethic of life (to use the RC church idea) onto the pile.
    I don’t think Christ calls us to become liberal or conservative; indeed, the longer I follow him, the more I find my positions not corresponding to either view, but (hopefully) becoming more like what his are.

  • BTW, I love the idea of a logo, but how about a step forward: a “Third Way” journal? A “Christianity Today” of sorts for the “Third Way” (though CT and Books & Culture are already third-wayish in some respects). How about a “Third Way” journal that reflects a third way ethic in being published (a) online; and (b) through print on demand press (e.g.; and (c) is open-sourcey with an online commentary? With the right people, I’d bet this could be viable quickly.

  • RJS

    The more I think about it the more reservations I have with this “third way” language which inherently buys into the framework of either/or – it doesn’t really break through. The “third way” is always defined by what it is not.
    What we really need is to wrestle with theology and the work of God in each generation and cultural context in communion with those who went before and who walk along side. So there isn’t a third way – there is The Way – and we are all involved in a walk and a conversation trying to follow The Way of Jesus.
    Isn’t there a better tag line or identifier than “Third Way?”

  • Dianne P

    Third Way is reminiscent of Tony Blair in the UK – so it already has some(failed) political baggage.
    I agree that “third way” does have sort of a “compromise” feel to it and I’m not keen on some sort of “compromise” theology that pleases no one. It seems that what I’m hearing here is more like something that reaches for and embraces complexity rather than steps outside to pursue kite flying in order to avoid conflict.

  • David Opderbeck

    RJS and Dianne — yeah, but in our North American context, there are two clear “ways” to be a Christian right now: “liberal” and “conservative” (this is true, I think, even beyond the “protestant / Catholic / Orthodox” divides). The publishing houses, the video and TV media, the educational institutions, local churches — all are defined (sometimes unfairly) by whether they are “liberal” or “conservative.” I always thought of “emerging” as “growing out of” these labels, and so I was attracted to it when it first hit the scene, and particularly by the “moving beyond all that” language folks like Brian McLaren and Tony Jones liked to use. But “emerging” seems to have become too amorphous, while “post-conservative” and “post-liberal” seem cabined into their own categories. “Third Way,” it seems to me, restates the original ethos of “emerging” — getting past old stalemates — without losing some sense of coherence. It could be a fresh way to signify faithfulness to the Great Tradition without fundamentalism.
    There is no way to define what something is without defining what it is not. All definitions exclude, else they are not “defining” anything.

  • RJS

    As I think about this I realize that I grew up in a version of this “third way;” leaning conservative (in ChrisB’s sense #26) but not fundamentalist or excessively conservative. Not liberal either. My father’s childhood and youth was shaped to a large extent by the fact that his Baptist pastor father wouldn’t follow either extreme – but tried to follow “truth.” My uncle was, for 30 years, a Baptist pastor who preached a salvation gospel, taught high school science, and voted democrat, all at the same time.
    I agree that it is important to define in negative at times – not conservative, not liberal. But there are many ways to be neither conservative nor liberal – and multitude of middle paths; and almost as many ways to define conservative and liberal. The most important thing is to define what something is – especially as I think the “correct” third way is a centered path, not a bounded path.

  • Rdy

    I am not sure about the labels, but I love the effort. One aspect that might be “Third Way,” is how we deal with others. I have long told people that “I am evangelical (I decide on a case by case basis whether to attach adjectives like progressive, Sojourners, etc) in theology but am mainline in sensibility.”
    I mean by this that I hold to Reformed evangelical theology but I prefer to listen to and get to know people before either sharing my beliefs or drawing conclusions about theirs. I find quite a few of my secular friends expect that I am just like them, and then are quite surprised to hear that most of what I do arises from my following of Jesus.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Dianne P

    Oh yes, I really like “centered” vs “bounded”. So much of what I see/cringe as the religious right is the enthusiastic creation of boundaries – how many lines can we draw between ourselves as “saved” and others as unbelievers? The more lines, the merrier???
    OTOH, I love the picture that I read here on Jesus Creed some time back… Is my faith about the love and grace of Jesus that casts a wide arc that draws people to its center? Or is it about building and fortifying boundaries that keep people on the OTHER side?
    I think there’s a lot here and look forward to really rich thread.

  • Of course I’m all for this. I think we have to be open to all kinds of things within our commitment to the orthodox Christian faith. But this involves ambiguity as well, and the willingness to acknowledge when we’re off track.
    But yes, let’s pursue this. I’m all for it. I find what I like, for example Scot’s books, LeRon Shults (challenging), recently Francis Collins, etc., they all hold to beliefs which are not stereotypical of either the “right” or the “left”. Perish all that, we need to get beyond it. Not easy to do, but we need to be open to something different quite often, I mean different from what are the norms out there, I think. If Jesus were here today, no one would get off scot-free.

  • Rebeccat

    I would be most interested in hearing about how to find a place in the church as a 3rd way-er. It is easy enough to find people engaging in this work via the internet. But out in the real world, there seem to be an over abundance of boundary drawers who, as Jonathan (#2) put it says, “oh you’re one of those” and puts you into their “in need of being set straight” box. I would hate to see 3rd way becoming another dividing line among Christians. So, how can we pursue truth that isn’t bounded by left and right while also bring greater rather than less unity to the church?

  • Tony Hunt

    I am with Mariam #5, you already live the Anglican faith, you just need a bishop. No but seriously, thanks for being an Anglican evangelist, we need all that we can get! 🙂
    There is a better phrase than “The Third Way,” it’s called “The Via Media”

  • Your Name

    I second the motion made by #37 for a journal of some kind that will have the space to more fully develop these ideas.
    I’ve had the same exhausing journey around evangelical Christianity so many other readers of this blog have had. The journey might end if only I could enlist in a “camp” and stay put. If only…if only I wanted to stop thinking. Stop asking questions. Stop wondering.
    But, like a lot of others, I don’t want to.
    Looking forward the upcoming discussion that will help me continue to learn how to follow Jesus, ball of kite string in hand.

  • RJS

    Good one Tony…Scot was right, nothing new. Although history seems to indicate great difficulty in maintaining an orthodox middle without veering right or left.

  • I think that a true Christian third way would not necessarily be in the middle of Conservatives and Liberals, but would instead be something “other”.

  • On of my favorite books is Barry Johnson’s “Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems.” His thesis is that most (not all) of the conflicts we deal with are not problems to be solved but polarities to be managed.
    Take the biological function of breathing. Which is more important to you? Inhaling or exhaling? I highly value both. Furthermore, I don’t want to be at a compromise between the two. That is called dead. For that reason I resist language of “centrist” and “middle way.” What is needed is a firm embrace of both.
    In human systems, similar dynamics are at work. For example, structure and freedom are essential to the long-term existence of any human enterprise yet change is the one constant, endlessly altering the balance between the two tensions. There is no way to “fix the problem” of structure or freedom. It is a polarity that requires endless adaptation and management. I’d suggest the justice is deeply a polarity management issue.
    The challenge is that our perceptions of what needs to be done at any given moment often vary considerably based on our immediate context, our biographies, and our innate proclivities. In most polarity issues, we all gravitate toward one pole or another. Group departure from our pole generates anxiety, especially when opposing pole sitters minimize the relevance of our favored pole’s contribution. An escalating cycle of opposing pole allegiances transpires that demolishes the requisite trust for a community to effectively manage polarities.
    Not everything is a polarity in our Christian walk but I would argue that many of the things that divide us are a result of trying to solve unsolvable polarities instead of managing them. Furthermore, there are always a multitude of polarities that figure into our worldviews, not just one or two continuum with middles. Thus, not only is there a third way at any given time, but also a fourth, fifth and sixth way, and beyond.

  • Pat

    Isn’t there already a lot of ‘third way’-ing in mainstream protestantism? In my neighborhood, almost all the mainstream protestant churches work together without fussing over who’s emergent, liberal, conservative, etc.
    Of course there are a few local churches who shun all of us, refusing to pick up litter or pray with whatever they think we are. But I think most discussions of christianity pay far more attention to those kinds of christians than their numbers or importance deserve. Everybody writing about the faith seems to want to pick at the conflicts involving such extreme churches, but in daily practice who notices them?

  • Rick C

    Looking forward to your thoughts, Scot!
    Go Cubbies!

  • RJS

    Rebeccat (#44),
    I’ve been thinking about your question here – and I think that it is possible to find many churches that are open to a broad range of thinking, even many fairly conservative churches. One of the most important things to know is what issues the leadership considers debatable, issues on which Christians may legitimately disagree. The leadership of a church can go a long way toward setting the right tone, whatever their personal convictions on debatable issues. Beyond this it is important to approach all in an attitude of humility and charity. The attitude is never one of setting the other person right, but always one of opening a conversation. To a large extent this is within our control – although there are exceptions of course.
    You’ve commented in the past about this kind of issue (on the Bible, Rocks, and Time post for one). I am part of a church now where there are a broad range of opinions on many, many topics – yet the general attitude is tolerance of difference within fairly broad bounds. In fact one of the people we regularly eat and fellowship with is convinced that baby dinosaurs were on the ark – and I will be set right on this issue eventually, but it doesn’t interfere with friendship or with fellowship.
    Now to digress into my thinking at this time:
    I think that the best indicator of a Spirit filled church is a church that holds firmly to an orthodox faith; holds denominational differences loosely (mode and age of Baptism, doctrine of election, …), taking a position, but remaining in communion and in conversation with congregations that disagree; and welcomes conversation and diversity of opinion on everything else. Similar characteristics empower Spirit filled, Spirit led Christians.
    Scot has been preaching four atoning moments for quite a while (life, death, resurrection, Pentecost) and I’ve ignored his fourth moment until just recently … but I now think that Pentecost is key. The coming of the Spirit breaks ethnic, racial, gender, cultural, differences and creates a unified and universally accessible people of God – or starts this process. The gospel in every language (Acts 2). Interestingly enough it is a process initiated, not a fait accompli, in the NT or since. Much of the NT, in the remainder of Acts and in the letters, reflects the early church wrestling with this reality. And the Church has struggled with it since.
    I think that I would go so far as to say that a Church or Christian defined by boundaries and a combative attitude has lost sight of the guiding of the Spirit. But I am still thinking.
    My version of the Third Way is the Way that follows Jesus and the Spirit along this path to participate in the Kingdom of God on earth and hereafter.
    But the problem with the “Third Way” tag is that there can be as many third ways as there are Christians.

  • Nice post, Scot.
    Jesus Creed readers might be interested in the piece I did for Out of Ur back in October that relates to this topic. The piece hangs heavy on your thinking and you were gracious enough to post a comment.
    -Chad Hall

  • mariam

    But the problem with the “Third Way” tag is that there can be as many third ways as there are Christians.
    And I am grateful that God has carved a narrow gate into his kingdom for each one of us so that none who wish to enter are blocked.

  • I think Michael Kruse’s comments are very helpful in this discussion.
    Also, like a few others, I would question whether or not talking about a “third way” communicates, perhaps unintentionally, that the grid we’re standing on is valid; and that all we need to do is chart a new course. But I think we need to go further – as opposed to farther. We need a new grid. I actually think the emergence we are going through right now is all about this question, this process. Because so much of the liberal/conservative continuum lives and dies with the assumptions of modernism. So the way forward is not so much a third way, as a different plane – if you will – altogether.

  • Scott M

    I suppose I’m too postmodern to see two camps even when and where more modern sorts describe themselves as falling into one of two categories. So I don’t see a liberal/conservative divide between, around, or away from which a third way could be distinguished.
    To use the language of circles mentioned somewhere above, I take it as axiomatic that a group that can be described as ‘Christian’ is centered around the Jesus they worship. Some worship a Jesus that is more similar, some less similar. As a result, their respective circles are more or less overlapping. When I first approach a tradition, I try to grasp how they perceive Jesus. To the extent I can understand that, I find that much else tends to fall into place.
    As we borrow from various traditions or even develop new ideas, we are adapting our own perception of Jesus in ways that are more or less similar to the Jesus at the center of other circles and thus our circle will overlap in different ways and in different places.
    Of course, unlike a pure text or a more flexible religion, Jesus, as well as the other members of the Trinity, was and is a real, actual person. The more the Jesus we worship aligns with the actual person of Jesus, the more our circle of faith will conform to reality. The problem,and perhaps the reason there appears to be such a gulf that more modern perspectives tend to reduce to a binary divide, is that there are some pretty different Jesuses out there anchoring the different circles. I’m not sure some of the circles overlap much at all.
    None of that should be taken as a commentary on who is ‘saved’ and who isn’t. I don’t even find that a particularly interesting question. Rather, I think his question, “Who do you say I am?” is even more important than we have typically thought it to be. That’s especially true if we become like that which we worship.
    I’m not sure I can fit the idea of a ‘third way’ into that framework.

  • Scott M

    Oh, and RJS, perhaps that illustrates what it looks like to be flying a kite while others are engaged in boxing matches. 😉

  • Rebeccat

    RJS, truth to be told, part of my problem with the church and church folks is probably tied up with some issues particular to my situation. I’m a homeschool mom, so I tend to run into a lot of a particular type of Christian. (Some how word got out that we aren’t creationists and now my children are not welcome in many other homeschooler’s homes.) I’m married to an African American man in a part of the country with a minority population of under 3% outside of a couple of urban centers. There are 3 lutheran churches in my town of 10K, so the variety of churches is pretty narrow. (Not to mention that 2 of these churches are heavily rooted in Scandinavian or Norwegian heritage!) In fact, none of the more liberal denominations even have churches in our town. Etc, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a really cold version of the deep south!
    So, I readily acknowledge that there are some peculiarities to my situation which probably make my experience with church more negative than it would be in many other places. (As a matter of fact, when I was in Chicago, I attended Willow Creek and loved it, so I know that this isn’t the way it is everywhere.) But, I’m sure that there are other people like me who have been planted in soil which isn’t real hospitable to anything new, different, challenging, etc. It is good to hear about people such as yourself who have found a safe church home. I need to be reminded that it isn’t like this everywhere. 🙂