The Third Way

The Third Way December 8, 2008

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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