The Radical Middle
When you first see this, what comes to mind? Most people might say contradictory, ambiguous or an oxymoron. It sounds compromising, wishy-washy without convictions. RADICAL MIDDLE, how can that be?
I define the Radical Middle as a balance or willingness to be open to other people’s thoughts or opinions while not losing your core convictions; never and I mean never compromising on your beliefs.
Interestingly, just this week I read a major article in Christianity Today called “Meeting in the Middle” where the author talks about an ancient Christian practice called via media or the “middle way.” This practice was rooted in a conviction of avoiding extremes and finding balance.
An example is Christian sexuality. In Corinth, Paul railed against certain Christians who took a rather “liberal” or as I would call it, sinful position about sex outside of marriage. In fact we still see this today. Many Christian couples are having premarital sex and justifying it because they plan on getting married. On the other hand throughout church history, many Christian teachers believed that any sexual pleasure, even for married folks, was to indulge in fleshly behavior. Neither position Biblical.
Politics is another area where we can apply the Radical Middle. Instead of vilifying everyone who has a different position from ours, begin by listening to them. Then state your position in a non combative manner. When we seek to understand “the other side” it is amazing what we might learn, but also that we could end up as…wait for it… friends!
In the realm of religion, most of our arguments stem from having different understanding of the Scriptures. In applying The Via Media, the practice of looking at what’s right and good in the ideological or theological “other side”, we would begin by asking someone how they arrived at their conclusion. Like those with different political views, understanding and civility in our disagreements in religion can foster real relationship without compromise.
Other examples abound as to how to walk in the radical middle. One is we can love the sinner and hate the sin (see John 8:1-11). For many Christians we either excuse or tolerate the sin and love the sinner, or we hate the sin and the sinner.
A second example is we should spend some of our time with believers for strength and fellowship as well as time with non believers witnessing to them our faith. If we spend all our time with just believers we become insulated to the people in need of Christ. If we spend all our time with unbelievers they might influence us to become like them and abandon our Christian convictions.
In our spiritual life we practice the radical middle by a balance of spending time with the Lord in quiet meditation and then doing the work of ministry. We are out of balance when we pray too much without any corresponding action or we pray little but do a great deal of good works. Jesus warned us on the former (see the discussion on the Mount of Transfiguration) and in Luke 5:16 Jesus shows us the danger of the latter.
Another way of looking at the radical middle is trying to do the right thing, in the right way toward the right end. This includes doing things with humility. Scripture over and over teaches that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility is not some passive, scared rabbit attitude towards others. But it is knowing who you are in relation to who God is. This means we have convictions but we recognize those convictions come with grace and charity towards others, especially those we vehemently disagree with.
So if I am committed to desiring the radical middle, how do I get there? First off I must know and understand the eternal truths of Scripture. I can’t know any balance until I am aware of what is right and wrong. Once I know what I believe, then am I willing to be open to anybody who opposes those beliefs. Not open in the sense that I am wishy washy, but open in the sense of understanding.
Once I am committed to understanding others, can I choose to dialogue without condemnation? Can I become a friend of people who are not like me? Can I also be willing to lose judgmentalism of others and embrace them as people whom Jesus loves and died for? If I am a charismatic, can I love other believers who think speaking in tongues is unbiblical? If I am a conservative Republican, can I love liberal Democrats?
Anybody can love and be around people just like them. To be in the radical middle is to risk alienation of your own tribe, but it can bring true freedom and make us more like Jesus. At the end of the day that is the type of radical I want to be.