The Radical Middle


 The Radical Middle

 

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

-William James

Modern arguments are fraught with misunderstanding, assumptions, and unearthed prejudices. We’ve all been there; we’ve all said things in haste. But this is the point: It is important that we speak, rejecting a life purely lived in the head.

We attempt to articulate our understanding of reality and in the process we hopefully exhume our fears, regrets, misunderstandings – allowing our ignorance to come to the light. This is dangerous work. If you don’t believe me, just spend 5 minutes on your Facebook newsfeed and you will see what I mean. I recently had such a discussion.

The Professor

My interlocutor was a person whose number of degrees outnumber my own. Sharp and articulate, a philosopher with credibility, she found it confusing that BioLogos, a Christian think-tank, would invite “Science Mike” to speak at their Houston conference this year[1]. Deeply disappointed that this was the case, her thoughts were clear and I began to question as to why this was such a problem. It made sense to me, given that BioLogos is a group seeking to re-enchant the world of scientific inquiry through solid research, matched with a commitment to historical Christian orthodoxy, that they would invite such a thinker, providing space for skeptics who can’t reconcile creationism with what they’ve found to be true in biological discovery.

They sum up their mission statement in one sentence: “BioLogos presents evolution as God’s means of creation, so that the Church may celebrate and the world may see the harmony between science and biblical faith.[2]

A community of bridge-builders, BioLogos is the kind of movement that has enemies who are liberal and conservative. If this sounds familiar it is because you have read the Gospels, where the man called Jesus of Nazareth found Himself aggravating the Pharisees (the conservative reformers) and the Sadducees (the progressive elites). It wasn’t until both of them found Jesus repulsive that they decided to crucify Him. People who are conservative tend to dislike BioLogos for their rejection of a literal six, 24-hour day creation narrative; people on the liberal side don’t like them because they affirm Christian orthodoxy.

Who is Science Mike?

Mike McHargue has recently become a famous spokesperson for the disenfranchised who have been unable to find a way back to the church once their initial inquiry led their faith to collapse altogether. Mike is not a scientist. He is a fundamentalist-turned-atheist-turned-christian again, whose present work has led him to become a popular progressive podcast host, author, and speaker[3]. As a science fanboy, it is the “progressive” part of that statement which is the real reason for the controversy[4].

Mike may believe in the bodily resurrection but he also affirms gay marriage and a relativistic epistemology (the science of how you know things are true). Although Mike returned to a robust faith in Jesus, it is not a conservative one. Rather than depending on truth claims to undergird his faith in Jesus, He often encourages the individuals’ participation in mystical prayer to tie up whatever doubt holds them back from encountering Jesus.

G.K. Chesterton once stated the danger of ideas in his book, Heretics“Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.”

Whatever we might say about this age, it is certainly not lacking in “ideas.”

The invitation of Mike is seen by some on the more conservative side as a complete affirmation of everything he stands for, which is admittedly more progressive than the typical evangelical would find tolerable. (If one reads The Language of God by BioLogos founder Francis Collins, one feels like they are hearing arguments from Mere Christianity, an argument of a conservative even though he is an advocate of evolution.) But that is not why BioLogos invited him. How could it be?

As Chesterton states, ideas may be dangerous, but this is only a concern for those who don’t have any ideas. People do not have ideas; ideas have people[5]. So the person who should find Mike worrisome is the one without ideas; a person who would rather stay home and watch Netflix than attend a meeting where those ideas are put to the test. Yet, this person does not actually exist.

A person may not have any ideas, but ideas certainly have them. Therefore, there is no need to be concerned when one is engaged in the act of idea testing. It is simply the work of a human being.

The panels of speakers at the BioLogos conference do not agree on everything, nor do they have everything in common with their work. What they do have in common is a need to heal the divide between science and faith; reason and experience. For this reason, I thought that Mike’s rejection of inerrancy – a theory with a bumpy history in political coercive power in southern seminaries, and one of the objections from my friend the Professor – is not even close to being a good enough reason to not invite him to the conference.

A Room of Liberals 

Acclaimed Christian author Philip Yancey was once asked in a Q&A session whether or not he identified as a liberal or a conservative. His answer was perfect, but I’ll paraphrase it here: I’m often either a liberal in a room full of conservatives or a conservative in a room full of liberals; and to be honest, and more and more it seems like those are my only two options[6].

Yancey’s comments ring true here because when you seek to live the radical Way of Jesus, you find the road is difficult when faced with the political nature of our public discourse. For example, I may say I am pro-life, but that phrase means that I am allowed to be pro-war. And if I say that I agree that there is a correlation between climate change and carbon emissions, I am also allowed to believe that State-sponsored violence is necessary to curb the use of carbon emissions.

I am pro-life, but not just in the womb, on the battlefield. And I may believe that climate change is an issue, but I also believe that CO2 is responsible for the greatest lack of temperature related death in human history. The radical way of Jesus is hard when you live in a world of ideology – which I define as one’s prescribed echo chamber – but at least you get into the room.

Heresy

I have been in both liberal and conservative rooms. I have seen the threads that hold both groups together. If one thing is certain, it is that we all believe our side is the true expression of orthodoxy. Any group without tension between one individual and another should be immediately questioned and seen as theologically suspect. With the kind of love we have for our own ideas, we must make sure that love is eclipsed by a love for the One in whom Truth is embodied, the living Christ. Otherwise, we might wake up to find that we don’t live in Truth, but in Propaganda.

If you want to live in the “radical middle,” both sides will see you as guilty of the worst kind of heresy: association. And honestly, I don’t see another way around it. The radical middle calls us to be guilty. So I applaud BioLogos for their decision.

We must be heretics in an age of disassociation.

Be Uncommon,

Jon Beadle

 

 

[1] http://biologos.org/2017-biologos-conference/

[2] http://biologos.org/blogs/deborah-haarsma-the-presidents-notebook/biologos-in-one-sentence

[3] See Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists

[4] McHargue, Finding God In The Waves

[5] This idea originate with Jordan Peterson

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT9BGHcbqDc

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