Church leaders face the complex challenge of contextualizing the Gospel in our rapidly shifting culture. With Gospel passion, we strive for insights and strategies to bridge the gap between modern culture and historic biblical understanding.
What is the Third Way?
The third way is a prominent tool we employ to bridge this gap. With this tool, we find more effective ways to share Christ and make Him accessible to seekers (and those we wish were seekers).
All such endeavors are honorable for we serve a personal God who does not want anyone to perish. And neither do we. Anyone who has experienced the love of Jesus wants others to encounter His Amazing Grace.
Without minimizing or judging others, our ministry trustees do have concerns about how the third way plays out. From a decade of work in a really complex area – trying to bridge relational and spiritual gaps between evangelical and gay communities – here are several insights.
First, moving culture tends to move people — even believers.
Being a family of faith in the industrial revolution did not prevent the loss of family togetherness. When you stack family tradition against cultural shifts, culture so often wins.
Culture wins because it hits humanity like a sonic wave: it disrupts us; and moves us. Radically and rapidly. We see this impact looking back at prior generations, but we rarely note it happening to us in our generation. We act as if we are above the fray, but culture is always moving us.
Some will protest that Christians typically move too slow — not too fast. Agreed. After decades of inaction, though, we are prone to dramatic movements in order to catch-up. The fear of being left behind or deemed irrelevant triggers a fight-or-flight reflex in us.
The culture war generation represented the fight. The emerging social justice generation represents the flight. This is a perfect storm: the errors of one generation trigger opposite errors in the next generation.
Second, moving culture tends to move ideas — even biblical beliefs.
When the church and its’ Gospel are interpreted as outdated, we will do nearly anything to flee such perceptions. If we are not careful, this can propel us fast-forward toward an unintended destination.
Others made the Gospel too harsh and exclusive. We sat on that too long. The world changed. Our judgment was exposed. We were labeled haters. Pressure kept building as culture kept shifting. Soon, we panic and seek to make Jesus cool again. And possibly, as church leaders, we want to be viewed as cool too.
This drive to be progressive in a social justice generation is a temptation for every leader. None of us want to be known as the haters. All of us want the Gospel to be relevant in today’s world. There are good intentions behind any errors we might make. It’s a level playing field: we all get it wrong.
It turns out, then, that the third way is neither a conservative nor a progressive idea. It is a person named Jesus who perfectly lives out the Gospel in ways that we humans cannot.
We veer to one side or the other. We are either so rigid that we judge people; or else so flexible that we find hard truths entirely unacceptable.
Jesus never does this. He honors holiness, upholds God’s Word and addresses immorality, but He never takes the religious hammer to peoples’ heads (other than people who use the hammer). Likewise, Jesus cares about people, compassion and mercy, but He never bends God’s Word in order to accommodate sin (though He pays this debt for sinners).
He will always forgive sinners; but He never says sin is holy. This is not easy. It is not comfortable. And it certainly is not very cool. Rather, it is very costly: to-His-death costly.
One truth is clear: we are not Jesus. We get the Gospel wrong — both ways!
In prior generations, we sinned against God by excluding sinners from the church even as we were (and remain) guilty of the same things. (Romans 2:1-4) We turned the biblical fight against our own sin nature into a fight against other people.
Today, we make the opposite error, which is no worse or better. In our attempt to escape hateful stereotypes, the flight instinct in us tries to make the Gospel so accessible that everyone will like Jesus — and our church — and us.
We err when we try to make the third way cool and comfortable. We sin against God when we attempt to remove ancient boundaries intended to govern our lives according to God’s original design and purposes. Like the haters who dictate heavy truths against others, we dictate to God what we will or will not accept.
In light of this, we must face a very difficult but radically Jesus-like conclusion. The biblical version of the third way calls us to so love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind that we actually enter into repentance regarding the ways “we” fall short of God’s glory; and like unto it, to so love ALL other people whether they ever repent or not.
This way of viewing the Gospel has implications for enhancing our inclusion of people we might view as living outside the biblical box. If we are not being called heretic and demonic for the people we seek to include, then we likely are being far too exclusive on legalistic grounds. Particularly when we consider that our right beliefs cannot quite cover our own wrong behaviors in the sight of our Holy God.
Truth be told, we too live outside the biblical box.
But this too is true: the opposite of being exclusive is NOT to change the biblical box and say that sin is no longer sin. The third way tells the truth about sin; and invites all sinners to come to the Cross.
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