“Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”
I was approached by a regular in our community the other day with what seemed to be a common question: “Why are Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum having a debate about creation versus evolution?”
My initial reaction was to say that these two well-formed camps within the theological community were typical of the “Red” and “Blue” state system at any given election. Bill Nye’s position comes from Darwinian Evolution, and Ken Ham’s from the Young Earth Creationist perspective. Nye’s view is typically absent of God, and Ham’s view is typically absent of evolution. As such, this debate and its debaters shouldn’t be surprising. But my response was different: “Because it’s the polar extremes that sell tickets, even if they don’t always represent a well-balanced position, or produce transformation of the mind and heart.” This person agreed, and then asked, “Then why is it that people with these types of positions seem to be the ones doing all of the talking?”
This type of dualistic thinking – the “red vs. blue,” “them vs. us,” is a commonplace feature of our culture today. However, most people on any given topic find themselves gravitating somewhere toward red or blue, but are also much closer to the center than the polar extremes. Why then the dualistic debates, news media features of extreme allegiances to these polarizing viewpoints, and the like? Because, at the end of the day, this is what sells newspapers, tickets, and stimulates social media feeds. However, it leaves many people confused about faith, life, culture, and theological orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Somewhere in the frenzy of communication, the voice of the radical middle is much like a whisper in a shouting match – it becomes lost because that voice is heard only from afar, or more commonly, is absent altogether.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, there were plenty of polar extremes. The Zealots and Sanhedrin come to mind, for example. The Zealots longed for God’s shalom, yet wanted to take over with the sword. The Sanhedrin tried to be faithful to Rome while concurrently maintaining faithfulness to God. Both parties were more concerned about their own vision for the Kingdom rather than the one who inaugurated the Kingdom in their very midst, Jesus Christ. When Jesus fit neither the Zealot nor Sanhedrin vision of the Kingdom, and when he presented a challenge to the totalitarian nature of the Roman Empire, it is unsurprising that he (Jesus) was condemned to death on a Roman Cross. And the disciples, fearful of death themselves, fled the scene long before the condemnation to death and let everyone else do the talking.
Perhaps the most challenging notion in all of this is that when the disciples fled and allowed their prospective red and blue entities have the final say, it left the crowds without the much-needed perspective they had to offer. To be sure this changes on the other side of the Great Commission, but given that we have received this Great Commission…is the same true today? Why do we buy the tickets and remain viewers, not active participants? Why not offer well-formed conversation or debate as an alternative to those espousing polarizing viewpoints that contain theologically and/or scientifically incoherent issues? Is it that these positions don’t have enough audacity to generate ticket sales, or those who find themselves somewhere nearer the middle don’t risk and enter the debate?
And so our challenge is illumined: the combination of red and blue might leave one ending up purple – just ask artists. Purple more often than not represents the bruises received when one engages the Sanhedrin, Zealots, or Romans and doesn’t choose their side. Following Jesus Christ toward this radical middle, grappling with the issues, wrestling with dualistic thinking, and even experiencing the bruises he did along the way is one way the Church might recapture the vision of the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated in our midst. This elimination of our need to be right so that we might join Jesus is a key element of transformation.
Reflection and Conversation
What then, are we to do? Here are a few areas for reflection and conversation:
Are you willing to teach and preach on the difficult and often polarizing subjects of Christianity in a fresh way? How might you as a leader offer instruction on the difficult topics of faith and life so as to be a voice of calm orthodoxy in the mélange of yelling from both sides of the fence?
Would your church be willing to hold a “Doubt Night?” What kind of conversational teaching forum can you collectively create where people from within and outside the Church can openly and yet anonymously express their greatest doubts about Christianity? How might you create dialogue and moments of teaching around these doubts?
How might the Church and/or theological community engage issues such as the Nye vs. Ham debate? Is it possible to offer a live-streaming viewing of the debate and then offer follow-up reflection and opportunity for dialogue? How might this generate the third (and often unheard) member of such debates?
As it relates to the Nye vs. Ham debate, what is the radical middle?
How does one live in tension in this radical middle?
 See, for example, the online article in the Christian Post, January 14, 2014. http://www.christianpost.com/