The Third Way is like the sweet spot on a golf club — when you hit the ball on the sweet spot you avoid the ball wandering either left or right. This analogy is from Adam Hamilton’s book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics, and provides us with an opportunity to talk about the struggle of pursuing the Third Way — it will not be the legalism of the fundamentalist or the libertinism of the liberal. It seeks a way that is both holy and loving — both, always.
For those of you who have escaped libertinism, what was the biggest fear? For those who have escaped legalism, what was the biggest fear? What’s the hardest part of the Third Way that is neither legalistic nor libertinist?
Both legalism and libertinism provide certainty, but the Third Way — to use Hamilton’s words — is “liberating — and terrifying” (37). It is far easier to say “tell me what to do” or “tell me what not to do” than to say “know the Story, live the Story, and the Spirit will guide.”
Hamilton suggests the earliest Christians faced this very issue with
the Pharisaic Christians who wanted the Gentiles to follow the Torah
and the earliest leaders found the sweet spot. How?
First, they advised (see
Acts 15) a posture of sensitivity, of not scandalizing, of respect for those who
followed the Torah and they advised the Jewish Christians to respect
the Gentile life of the Gentile Christians.
Second, Paul urged Christians to
follow the Spirit. Anyone, Paul was also teaching, who lived by the
Spirit was holy and loving — both, not just one or the other. Paul knew that life in the Spirit meant freedom: “for freedom Christ has set you free” (Gal 5:1).
Third, Paul — and James — and John — taught that morality can be reduced to its utter essences: loving God and loving others. What I call the Jesus Creed.
Here’s what I believe: anyone who wants to live in the Third Way seeks to love God and love others, seeks to follow the Spirit, and adopts a posture of sensitivity to others.
And here is where the Third Way avoids legalism: it trusts others to do the same and can live, in trust and respect, with the decisions of others who also live in the Spirit, who also love God and love others, and who also adopt a posture of sensitivity.
It is easier to be a libertine and let everyone do whatever they want; it is easier to create rules/legalism for others to live by. It is far more difficult to discern how to live by living the Third Way. Once again to quote Hamilton, the sweet spot is found in “the call to freedom that comes by grace and the call to holiness in seeking to live by the Spirit” (41).