Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Sunday, July 15, 2007

the radical center

Last month Andy Bryan wrote a post, Unclaiming the Center, in which he responds to a friend of his who thinks the solution to divisiveness in the church is for liberals and conservatives to look for common ground in the center.

Andy replies:
Sounds neat, but it doesn’t work for me; I am not in the center, I am liberal. I am an honest-to-God “progressive.” If you are going to label me, label me left wing.

...for me, the solution to the divisiveness in the church is not to artificially move to the center purely in order to find common ground. That would not be authentic to who I am, nor to whom any of us are.

Call him liberal, but don't even think about calling him wishy-washy.

He makes some good points in his post, and I urge you to read the whole thing if you haven't already.

Nevertheless, I tend to disagree with his main point. I think it is vitally important that we do look to reclaim the radical center. But perhaps this disagreement is more in perception than in fact. I may be using the word "center" differently than either Andy or his friend are using it.

As I understand them, "liberal" and "conservative" are political terms that have spilled over into other areas of our lives. In American presidential politics, it is customary for candidates to play up their "liberal" or "conservative" credentials during the primary season, to appeal to the party's "base," then to "move to the center" as the general election approaches, to try to appeal to a wider range of voters.

This can be represented by the following image:

The black part of the line represents the center, and the white parts represent the liberal and conservative wings. Under this paradigm, Andy is correct that liberals (or conservatives) are not being authentic if they try to "claim the center" as a common ground.

But it seems to me that this entire paradigm is missing something.

A few weeks ago my wife took our 4-year-old son to the farmer's market and let him buy something with his own money. He spent a quarter, and got a home-grown peach.

Normally, when he eats fruit from the grocery store, he will eat a little bit from one side and leave the rest. So when they were in the car, and Nicki heard, "I'm done," from the back seat, she didn't expect him to have eaten the whole peach. Yet when she reached back for the remains, he handed her just the pit.

A peach pit is a better metaphor than a political campaign, I believe, for the radical center of the Christian faith.

Here we don't have two fringes at opposite ends, just a solid inner layer with a protective outer layer. The outer, fleshy part of the peach actually provides the nutrients necessary for the seed to grow -- or for a four-year-old boy. One way or another, though, the flesh will be consumed, and only the core will remain.

The core of the Christian faith can be found in the gospels, throughout all of Scripture, and in the ancient creeds. That's not to say that there is nothing more to Christianity than this. The church is one body with many parts, and God calls each of us to fill different roles.

But whether you're anti-oil or anti-abortion, and regardless of how important you personally think those issues are, those are not the essentials of the faith. Likewise, Christianity is not primarily about creationism, fair trade, gay rights, or even a living wage. Our faith may inform us about those issues, but we are almost certain to find ourselves at some point fellowshipping with those who hold different views.

That's when we need to affirm the radical center -- the core -- of our faith. If we cannot fellowship with those who hold differing views on the peripheral issues, we've failed to understand what Christianity is all about.

Unless I'm misreading him, that's essentially what Andy is saying too. So perhaps I don't disagree with him after all.

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At 7/16/2007 6:36 AM, Blogger John B. said...

And (this member of) the congregation says, "Amen."

So much "religious" rhetoric has less to do with theology than with politics, broadly-defined here as alliances with some and not others. The result--something I noticed during my time teaching at a (conservative) Southern Baptist-affiliated college--is another sort of doughnut effect: My students there were rather adept at quoting chapter and verse from, say, Leviticus or Timothy in support of their positions on certain issues, but weren't nearly as forthcoming with chapter and verse from the Gospels. They seemed more comfortable with didacticism than with asking themselves "What would Jesus do?"

At 7/18/2007 7:48 AM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

"Liberal" and "conservative" are weasel words nowadays.

So much depends on what you are trying to liberate and what you are wanting to conserve.

At 7/19/2007 6:33 AM, Blogger Ken L. Hagler said...

Very well written.

I agree with Steve, I've been wrestling with what I call, "defective definitions." The english language is full of words which have shifted in their meanings through the years. Or for the matter, we've just grown lazy and not fully considered the meanings.

I wonder too, in the midst of "emergent," (which has questioned even the existence of a core) where we are supposed to even find middle ground?

Good stuff.

At 7/19/2007 2:29 PM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

I've found an even worse example. Just Google for "tmatt trio".

At 7/20/2007 5:31 AM, Blogger Keith McIlwain said...

Good stuff; great imagery for the Church.


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