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  • Writer's pictureKent Chevalier

The Radical Middle

I often feel caught in the middle. Do you like Coke or Pepsi? Both. Are you a Marvel or DC movie guy? All of them. Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Neither. Are you Pro-Choice or Pro-Life? Yes, but first we have to define what we mean by these massive labels. Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian? Um…let me tell you a story.

I remember my first Bible class in college where I began to understand that people were going to force me to choose sides. The teaching assistant said, “All of you who believe in ‘Predestination’ go to this side of the room. All of you who believe in ‘Free Will’ go to that side of the room. All of you who are not sure stay in the middle.”

I was confused because I didn’t know what he meant. I hadn’t been a Christian that long. Even though I grew up going to church services on Sundays, youth group on Wednesdays, and summer church camps, it was only a few weeks before this class when I surrendered my life to actually following Jesus. I knew my parent’s Christian rules and some Bible stories, but I didn’t know fully what these loaded terms indicated about a theological position. To be honest, I didn’t even know I was supposed to have one, or what theology even was.

I was embarrassed because I didn’t know what these terms meant. I had an insecurity that I was stupid because I struggled to get good grades and got very low scores on my SATs, and this exercise did not help that one bit. I had friends going to one side and friends going to the other, and I wondered if they would see through my ignorance and secretly make fun of me.

Once the teaching assistant got through the entire class explaining these terms and hearing a few students from either side passionately defending their positions, he then said to the students in the middle, “Now that you’ve heard each side argue their position, get up and choose a side.” That’s when I got mad.

I refused to choose a side.

I stayed in the middle. I cannot remember if anybody else did, but I felt all alone. The teaching assistant was in the front of the room. Students were on either side of the room. All of them were staring at me in the middle. I was mad that I was put in this position. I was angry that any of us were put in this position as if these were the only two options on the theological table.

The problem was that I didn’t know enough about Christianity to wax an incredible apologetic for my stance in the middle. However, I knew that I wasn’t going to be forced to choose a side that I didn’t know enough about because one thing I did know was that I wasn’t going to follow the crowd anymore because following the crowd in middle school and high school usually got me hurt or in trouble.

I stood up from that lonely middle seat. I gathered my things and left class. Confused. Embarrassed. Mad.

And I got a zero for class participation that day. God bless our education system!

The Radical Middle

Why must everything be either this or that in our culture? Does it always have to be black or white? Is there any room for grey? Why do we accept that life comes in cookie-cutter cultural, religious, and political divisions? Is there not a third or fourth option? Isn’t there another way than always having to choose between the two media-driven opposing sides constantly presented to us?

The older I get, and the more I study the Bible and the ministry of Jesus, the more I realize that Jesus stood in The Radical Middle within the complexities of these cultural menu options.

Jesus had this ability to point to a different option that usually enraged or confused “both sides” of his day. Much of Jesus’ teachings ticked off religious people, but so-called “sinners” loved Him and were drawn to Him. At other points in his ministry, Jesus won the heart of a powerful religious leader through a beautiful conversation under the cover of darkness. Then you see that Jesus won the heart of a ruthless political leader by saying nothing at all, making it hard for him to take a stand publicly against Jesus because he knew he was innocent of all charges. Clearly, there was something radically different about Jesus and His teachings amidst these so-called sides that He decided to stand for amidst the palpable cultural tension.

This doesn’t mean that Jesus was wishy-washy. Jesus did not try to please both sides by tickling ears with safe truth that everybody would agree with by shooting the gap. In fact, Jesus often confounded his own followers with a bold new way.

The Kingdom of God way. Often the upside-down way. The contrary to popular belief way. The first will be last and the last will be the first way. The love your enemies way.

Jesus introduced, taught, and modeled The Kingdom Way. When his disciples recognized that Jesus had this X Factor when it came to his relationship with God, they asked him to teach them how to communicate with God as he did.

Jesus taught his followers to pray (recorded in Matthew 6:9-10), “Our father in heaven. Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This not only was a radical way to pray by addressing God as their Abba Father (meaning their heavenly daddy, and intimate term), but Jesus was also introducing a new and better way to live above the cultural tension and extremes. While living in the strain of a broken world, Jesus brought forth a new perspective of God’s perfect way.

This Kingdom Way often landed Jesus in the Radical Middle. Sometimes all alone with no one really understanding. Sometimes taking both sides and moving them towards each other in love and respect. Sometimes teaching both wrong sides to look up to God’s perspective on a matter. Often blowing people’s minds with his powerful teaching.

For instance, recorded in Mark 12:13-17…

The leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them. - Mark 12:13-17 NLT

They tried to trap Jesus into taking a side, and he stood in the radical middle and taught The Kingdom Way. They wanted a black OR white answer, and Jesus gave them a black AND white answer that they didn’t have a category for. Caesar AND God. And not or.

If we tried to practice this, our world would be a much better place!

The Kingdom Way

Recently I was at Cru 22, a conference for missionaries on staff with Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ). If you didn’t know this, my wife and I are full-time missionaries with one of Cru’s ministries, Athletes in Action.

One of the main sessions was taught by Daryl Smith, Cru’s Director of Oneness in Diversity. His message was titled The Kingdom Way. In it, he spoke about how the last three years with Covid, the culture of racism, and the political turmoil, how many Christians are taking sides and fighting about…everything! Not only are we fighting those who are not Christians over a gammet of cultural and political issues, but it seems like we’re fighting each other more than ever.

Two quotes from his talk are still ringing in my ears.

Daryl said, “The Kingdom Way is always a posture of humility and brokenness.” This must be something that God is trying to get my attention on because I wrote about this in a previous False Jesus newsletter.

Daryl also said, “The Kingdom Way is about attracting people to the Kingdom instead of attacking people who are not a part of the Kingdom.” I’ve been chewing on this concept for two weeks since hearing it.

Attracting not attacking.

In Mark 12, Jesus knew these religious leaders were trying to trap him into taking one side or the other. Somehow in his brilliance, Jesus took both sides by teaching a new way, and his attackers ended up being attracted by his radical middle response. This didn’t mean that Jesus agreed with them or they with him, but they left in awe realizing there was something amazing about Jesus. Attracted not attacked.

A sad reality is that the world thinks Christians (followers of Jesus) are great at attacking people for not being on their side. At the same time, the watching world sees that Christians are also great at attacking other Christians who are supposedly on the same side.

It’s Time For Change

This has to change.

The only way this will change is by Daryl’s other quote and what God has been trying to get through to me. This side choosing without even trying to understand the other side, the in-fighting and theological assuming can change by humbling ourselves, admitting our brokenness, and inviting God to reveal His way, the Kingdom Way into all of the sides. Therefore standing in the radical middle called the Kingdom Way.

I fear that the watching world will look at the extreme sides of Christianity that make the nightly news. The so-called Christians who bomb abortion clinics in the name of their pro-life Jesus or violently storm the U.S. capitol with “Jesus Saves” banners. The so-called Jesus followers who justify the sin of racism with a few verses about submission without knowing the context. For whatever reason, these are the dark sides of Christianity that get the most press.

This is why I’m so passionate about introducing people to the real Jesus. Most of the time, the Jesus in the press or your social media feed is a False Jesus. A proselytizing political side chooser. A marred version of Jesus that has never actually talked to the other side to understand their story and reason for choosing that side. The Jesus you get in most side-filtered media is at best a tainted portrayal an already biased Jesus with zero ability to even hear, let alone love, the other side.

The real Jesus, the One who can only be found in the pages of the Bible, showed us a new and better option when it comes to choosing sides. He taught his daddy’s new and loving way, The Kingdom Way filled with grace and truth. And that’s why both sides called him a radical.

Before you go…

If you’ve walked away from the real Jesus because of a harmful and arrogant portrayal of Christianity by one of his followers, I want you to understand that I get it. I almost did too. As a guy who grew up in the church and led a hypoctrical life, I bet I’ve been one of those people who misrepresented Christianity without sometimes even realizing it, and I’m sorry for that. I’m a broken guy still trying to figure out how to follow Jesus into the radical middle.

It’s been 27 years since my first Bible class. Since then I’ve seen the beautiful side of Christianity, and unfortunately I’ve seen the nasty underbelly of the church. I’m especially sorry for the version of our faith that screams without ever listening. I’m sorry for the position pushers who forget to love amidst making their point. I’m sorry for the awful images of a false version of Christianity that our culture has used to disqualify the real Jesus. It shouldn’t be that way.

If that’s your view of Jesus and Christianity, I hope that you’ll consider reading the Gospels in the Bible. There you’ll see how the real Jesus confronted cultural divisions and navigated complex theological stances with both grace and truth.

My prayer is that we can all meet Jesus in the radical middle by following his Kingdom Way.

God bless.


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