Third Way Allegiance: Christian Witness in the Shadow of Religious Empire (Justin Bronson Barringer)

Third Way Allegiance: Christian Witness in the Shadow of Religious Empire (Justin Bronson Barringer) June 30, 2011

The early Christians had a funny notion that their lives were to be the primary argument for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. They lived peculiar lives, radically different from the surrounding society. What happens though, when society co-opts the language, symbols and rituals of the church? The society may be quite religious, but that religion will be anemic and often antithetical to Christian discipleship. How then must Christians live as disciples of Christ in such a society? This is the question that Tripp York addresses in his new book Third Way Allegiance: Christian Witness in the Shadow of Religious Empire.

York writes, “I have found that such religiosity… often renders faithful Christian discernment difficult, as being a Christian becomes almost synonymous with being an ‘American.’”(13-14) To help Christians in the U.S. discern how to move from merely being religious to being a radically different community exemplifying the way of Jesus, York considers no topic too “sacred” to critique. Mother’s Day to militarism, Thanksgiving to Christmas, and even the most hallowed of all American rituals, voting, are all targets for York’s insightful theological prodding and dissection. Each essay is a gadfly buzzing about, persistently provoking readers to ask better questions and devote themselves more fully to Christ.
The Crocodile Hunter and Star Trek find themselves in pages beside tales of saints and martyrs, and this combination of pop culture and history along with probing questions and keen theo-political insight engages readers and presents York’s vision of faithful discipleship.

Third Way Allegiance begins with a section on the witness of the Christian community. York recounts exemplary lives, to speak to the truth of the Gospel and to exhort readers to reconsider what faithful witness looks like. He makes the outrageous claim that “Christianity is simply not philosophically defensible” (16). While this may be an overstatement, York is right in arguing that the way Christians live our lives is the best evidence for the existence of the God revealed in Jesus. These stories provoke readers to question our lives. “Do we live lives of quiet methodical atheism – believers when we speak, yet atheists in our actions?”(18)

Chapter one, “How Absurd is Your Christianity?” explores the way Christianity has been viewed by both opponents and loyal adherents. York argues, with Tertullian, that Christianity is believable precisely because it is foolishly impossible. For Christians then, “the only thing for us to do is to live lives based on this impossible truth so that others can revel in the absurdity of Christianity, too. (23)

York makes an interesting rhetorical move by turning his attention in the next chapters to the treatment of nonhuman animals. St. Francis and Steve Irwin serve as examples of faithful interaction with the animal world and witnesses to our common Creator. These chapters also raise questions about vocation and calling as they pertain to discipleship and our collective witness to the goodness of the creation groaning to be reconciled with its Creator.

York then recounts the lives of three disciples who drive home his point that “our witness becomes our best argument for the existence of God.” (42) He concludes the section with a discussion on the madness of retaliatory violence and the godliness of peaceable martyrdom “contend[ing] that a faithful witness to the way of God requires the kind of justice that assumes peacefulness that in turn produces an authentic martyrdom.”(46)

Section two asks “What does evangelism have to do with the understanding of justice after Jesus?” (49) York responds by accosting American militarism, selfishness and pride, and their undergirding systems. He juxtaposes allegiance to Jesus and allegiance to the nation-state with questions like “When Jesus demands that we love our enemies and our leaders demand that we kill them, whom do we obey?” (62) York even proposes Christians refrain from voting (gasp) as a form of political witness. The section ends with, “if there were no witnesses to God, then the world would be lost…” (78) While I wonder if this overestimates the burden on Christians, York is right that our witness, as a distinct polis, is needed in this fallen world.

The final section is the most challenging because York unleashes a salvo against some of the ‘holiest’ of American traditions. Should Christians rethink celebrating Christmas? How about Thanksgiving, or Memorial Day? York argues, quite persuasively, this is indeed the case. These holidays, he posits, either promote the secularization of Christianity or “to remind citizens of the United States who they are in order to be who the nation-state needs them to be.”(82) Likewise, York suggests Christians be cognizant of the variety of ways prophetic figures can quickly be re-framed, repackaged and sold as heroes of the very government who saw them as enemies. When voices for justice are replayed as voices for the status quo, Christians must carry on their prophetic legacy.

The challenge is that the church in America regain its distinct and peculiar witness, refusing to settle for the deceitful and petty civil religion, determined to live in faithful allegiance our King. Third Way Allegiance is a primer for the discussions that must be had if the church will ever regain its proper witness. The provocative yet succinct essays along with the discussion questions at the end of each one make this one of the most helpful resources for churches concerned with authentic Christian discipleship in America.


Justin Bronson Barringer is a writer who is doing grad work at Asbury Theological Seminary.  He is also the co-editor of the forthcoming book, A Faith Worth Fighting For: Questions and Responses About Christian Nonviolence.

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  • Intriguing.  My friends and I are reading “Mere Discipleship” by Camp (sort of a “Politics of Jesus” for the evangelical especially Stone Campbell restorations movement groups).  This sounds like a  good follow up.

    • RogueMinister (Justin)

      Jason, I had the great fortune to study with Camp and have the privilege to call him a friend. If you like Mere Discipleship then I think Third Way Allegiance is indeed a good companion because it addresses some related issues specifically for the American context that Camp does not address. Tripp also pushes a little  harder than Camp sometimes and is a bit more provocative…

    • I recently read “Mere Discipleship” myself.  I’m working on a review (of sorts) but it hasn’t come as easily as some of my topics, so it’s still in draft.  I do appreciate Camp’s work greatly.

  • Mike Ward

    Jason, some material also found in Third Way Allegiance can be found here:

    You might want to try that out as a bit of a sampler.

    I have not read Third Way Allegience, but Justin and I have very divergent opinions on the quality of these essays. You can of course judge for yourself.

  • Thanks for sharing this synopsis, Justin.  I shall have to check out the book!

  • Corey

    its a shame that most conservative Christians in positions of power today are simply mentally unstable. Feeding the hungry and helping the poor is considered un-American and un-Christian to them, as allowing woman to vote and to even wear pants were for that matter. This type of Christian supports Christianity taking over the world by killing all Muslims, even infants. These are also the type that travel the world telling countries they should have laws that outlaw gays because if they don’t look at how the USA as accepted them. YES, this is American conservative Christians, with taxpayers money, using the USA as a negative example to what happens when gays are allowed to have rights or even to be allowed to live. This is how these people have run their “version” of Christianity since the creation of America. We had “witch” trials, Puritans forcing Quakers to pay for churches they didn’t attend, hunted down and killed Mormons, ran people out of the community for not being the “right kind” of Christian. Why is it these have always been the most powerful Christians in US history? The only answer I can come up with is that most Christians do not want to get involved. Yet, they are the same ones that say “moderate” or American Muslims need to tell their extremist counter parts to simmer down. I am a happy Atheist, and I do not care what anyone believes, unless they make laws against equal rights for all, including, ending people like Michelle Bachmann and others like her, getting tax payers money to push their religious agenda and taking taxes away from public schools and funneling that into private religious schools. How is that treating everyone equal? These are they types of Christians that make people not want to support them and not want to join them. People of any faith or group that believe they have been personally chosen by their god to rule the country and everyone else should pay them, support them and follow them, are those who are megalomaniacs and resemble dictators, who most times use their religion to support their cause. Like Hitler and Constantine. So, I ask you all to join groups like Interfaith Alliance that bring people of faith together, and not follow or support people like those who have taken over the Republican party, who are truly evil, uncaring cruel, and an enemy to us all.

  • Johnbautista

    awesome post. I had a quick question. just wanted to get your perspective on an issue. Concerts?? I know that things are to be to God but i just came from reading this

    and it talked about using concerts as a witnessing tool??? idk. I’m just trying to get your perspective. you seem friendly enough to give it lol 🙂

    john 🙂