I am a fairly regular reader of Scott McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, though I don’t keep up every day, and he blogs a ton (how does he find all that time). I usually find his posts stimulating and enriching. Recently, however, he has been writing a series of reflections on “The Third Way”, using Adam Hamilton’s book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics as the discussion starter. Now I haven’t read the book and probably won’t, at least for a long time, but the thought behind it seems at once attractive and also wrongheaded.
McKnight correctly writes the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are not the only two options. Of course I agree with that. The labels are useless to begin with because they are very relative (in politics as well as religion). To my uncle and all my other fundi relatives I’m a raging liberal. To the liberals I work with on the CaRLA board, I’m a conservative fundi. McKnight, and Hamilton, argue for a middle road between the two. McKnight acknowledges that the middle road between conservatism and liberalism is a hard one to hold too. He says that people complain all the time that this Third Way “muddies the waters. It creates ambiguity.”
The Third Way does muddy the water and create ambiguity, but that’s not my issue In the first post from Dec. 8th with McKnight/Hamilton’s position. In fact, I don’t think it muddies the water enough. It seems overly simplistic. If the liberals are to the left and the conservatives are to the right, pitch your tent in no man’s land. Ok, but what if you should be pitching it to the left? Or to the right? Sometimes the truth is in the middle gray area, but not always. Sometimes it’s to the right, sometimes to to the left. Just as we should avoid totting the party line (whether it Republican, Democratic, Presbyterian, Liberal Protestant, Evangelical, etc.), so we should avoid totting the Moderate party (“run to the gray”).
I think McKnight/Hamilton’s thesis works at the macro level, but not when it comes to evaluating individual doctrines, maybe not individual policies either. For example, the liberal Jesus, the ‘historical Jesus’ is a wonderful Jewish teacher who made no divine claims, had a small inconsequential ministry in Palestine stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got himself crucified. His later disciples deified him in political churchmanship…The conservative Christian Jesus is the Jesus of the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Definition. The truth isn’t in the middle, it’s with the ancient and ‘conservative’ Christians who continue to assert the truths of Jesus deity and humanity in one person, his life, death and resurrection.
This approach is more muddy because it requires deep thought not only about the gray area, but also about whether there is a legitimate middle ground on a particular issue.