Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seeing Gray

Adam Hamilton is not afraid to address the big issues of the day in his book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. In this book he addresses the issue of how often the church seems to be reactionary in its approach to issues and has become politicized. So much of our society has been pushed into categories of conservative or liberal. Growing up in the church at the tail end of modernistic thinking, many churches promoted a very "black and white" view of the issues. For instance after I attended three years of college to be a film major I ended up completing my undergraduate degree at Liberty University as a youth ministry major. Many, many times I heard some very dogmatic things said in chapels and from the pulpit railing against Hollywood, feminists and homosexuals. In a lot of ways it was shocking to me in how these groups were stereotyped and villainized instead of trying to be understood.

In the book, Adam attempts to look at many of the major issues that have been divisive among church people and tries hard to bring both sides to a point where constructive dialogue can occur. Now depending on your views of such issues which he attempts to tackle, I am sure that there are at least a few chapters that will make anybody a little uneasy. In fact, as I read the book I began to feel that each chapter was only barely scratching the surface of the issue and could possible deserve an entire book devoted to each one of the topics he writes about. What I did like about the book though was that Adam is trying very hard to get people to stop villainzing those who may disagree with them, but instead at least consider the other side of the arguments and see if there is a middle ground that can be agreed upon or at least come to a point in which we can open up a dialogue instead of judging and criticizing those we don't even know.

Adam states in Chapter 4: "Our culture is in the midst of an important shift in which more people will be able to accept paradox and to hold fast to a compelling faith while living with ambiguity." (p. 30). On one had I agree with this. In fact this resembles the philosophical shift of modernistic thinking to post-modernism that we have seen occurring over the past few decades. It was when I was in seminary that I studied the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and he was way ahead of his time in bringing about this concept of paradox within Scripture. By systematizing our faith like a science, we have lost the absolute mystery and wonder of God. Post-modern thinking brings us back to that concept of paradox and ambiguity though. But the important thing here is that we remain clear on when Scripture is not ambiguous.

Quote from Chapter 5: "Christianity, when most effective, most faithful, and most empowering, is found in the sweet spot between legalism and libertinism. It holds together, in tension, the seemingly opposite ideas of grace and holiness, faith and works, legalism and libertinism. Black and white are found at the poles: The legalists are ready to judge all who don't live the gospel according to their rules, and their rules have served to push many away from Christ. The libertines have often failed to recognize that there are boundaries, that there could be anything we should refrain from doing simply because the act itself might displease God. The Christian life is found in the sweet spot between these two." (p. 36). This is a compelling quote and gives us reason to recognize that we need to approach these issues with a sense of humility knowing that when it comes to sheer knowledge on such issues, we don't know everything. In fact, I remember in seminary studying the theology of Charles Finney. He was one of the main people responsible for the Second Great Awakening and called the Father of Modern Revivalism. He had a huge role in American Christianity. But as we studied his theology, I remember being troubled by some of his views. It was then that we realized that most-likely on a subconscious level modernistic/scientific thinking was permeating the way everybody thought in those days. Enlightenment thinking was the mental grid that shaped peoples worldviews and theology. Discovering this caused me to approach theology with more humility than dogmatism, recognizing that culture plays a huge part in our thinking whether we want to admit it or not.

My final favorite quote comes from the last chapter: "The radical center within the Christian faith embraces the evangelical gospel that proclaims that human beings are wounded by sin and are in need of saving, and that Jesus Christ is God's antidote to our human condition. AND it embraces the social gospel that seeks to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and recognizes that Christian's responsibility for addressing the great problems of poverty, oppression, racism, the environment and war. The evangelical gospel without the social gospel is spiritual narcissism. The social gospel without the evangelical gospel remains afflicted by sin and holds, in the words of the Apostle Paul,'to the outward form of godliness but denying its power' (2 Timothy 3:5a). The radical center holds that the gospel is incomplete without both its evangelical and social witness. . . . The radical center holds together a liberal spirit that is open-minded, searching for truth, generous, and always reforming, with a conserving spirit that is unwilling to discard historic truths simply because they are historic. It is willing to question anything but requires a very high level of evidence before setting aside what has been treasured as truth by previous generations." (p. 232-233). As I read through his book I knew that on certain issues I leaned more conservative and on others more liberal. There is a general uneasiness with considering the other side because it is much easier to categorize and label those who think differently than you. It takes patience, humility and maturity to step to the "radical center".

I highly recommend this book, and if you are daring enough, use it for a small group discussion. You might find out that all Christians do not think alike. In the politicized culture that we live in right now it would be amazing to see the church begin to lead by example by uniting at the radical center instead of allowing our culture to fit us into polarized categories and inflame arguments instead of pursuing reason, dialogue and love in our conversations with one another.

No comments: