The following commentary addresses the fifth point as advanced by Myron S. Augsburger in “The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith” (Brethren in Christ History and Life, August 2000), which is: “Emphasizing Kingdom Community as a Third Way in Life.”
Today, perhaps more than ever before, young Christians are wrestling with culture. These young Christians are not wrestling in an attempt to disengage or withdraw, but to engage and transform. There is a big difference between this generation and that preceding it, as concerns the application of Christian life and living within culture. The later seems to have been satisfied - or inspired - to withdraw, escape, and/or disengage. This generation is, however, more inclined to to actually engage and converse with culture. These fairly obvious generational distinctives are rooted in basic understandings and expressions of the Gospel. The Gospel, for an emerging generation, is understood as re-creative power. Christ’s “realm” is substantiated by the re-creative and redemptive power inherent to the cross and resurrection. The Gospel is all about re-creation and redemption; the Gospel is not escapism. The Gospel is the redemption and recreation of the world and culture. Participation in Christ’s mission is a call to engagement, conversation, and recreation. Participation requires us - Christians - to be involved and fluent.
Yet, there are obvious difficulties that we must faithfully and prayerfully traverse. Our present culture, for example, is seriously divided in half by two expressions composed of a conglomeration of social, political, and religious ideals. We call these competing “worldviews” popularly referred to as the “left” and “right.” The left is liberal; the right is conservative. These two sides are founded on platforms and expressions that are tangled in idiosyncratic prejudices and cultural blind spots. Said differently, the West’s “Left vs. Right Divide” is limited to the West. Our culture and society are neither universal, nor universally applicable.
This is important to keep in mind, as far as the Gospel is concerned. Why? Because more often than not, we - Americans - tangle up the Gospel and our expression of the Gospel with our own cultural idiosyncrasies. The final product is a Gospel that reflects more of America than it does Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is universal, in that it supersedes cultural expression. The Gospel meets culture where it is at, but then moves well beyond its limitations and addresses humanity’s need universally. The Gospel is, as Augsburger says it, a “Third Way.”
This is especially refreshing in our own American context wherein the the left and right dichotomy seems to be the sole option. Well, it isn’t the only option. The Community of God is the alternative. The Kingdom Community offers believers an opportunity to supersede the left/right dichotomy, while simultaneously acknowledging and appreciating the best offered by each, as it is confirmed within the teaching of Christ. There is no disengagement of culture. Culture is engaged and conversed with, as Christians meet it directly, and then move beyond it towards the universals represented in the Gospel. The Anabaptist emphasis upon this Sacred Community as Third Way resonates with the many, many individuals who are increasingly weary of the limited left/right dichotomy in America today. There is a Third Way.
Augsburger says it like this: “For some years I have taught that the priority of the kingdom is a social dynamic as well as the character of our piety. As to the social it means that we are free from being either rightist conservatives or leftist liberals, rather we take the stance of the third way, selecting from either right or left or rejecting either while we seek clarity on the will of Christ.”
The important point in Augsburger’s statement is in his presentation of Christ’s will as neither rightist, nor leftists, but superseding. That is not to say that aspects of the left or right are not congruent with the will of Christ, but that Christ’s will, as it supersedes culture, is the final authority of the believer and his or her life expression. This is a refreshing alternative not only to the limited left/right dichotomy, but also the Christian expression the preceding generation that was bent upon disengagement and escape. Christ calls us to engage and recreate; disengagement and escape are not option in the Gospel.
The “Kingdom Community as Third Way” resonates today. It will continue to resonate, as more and more individuals begin to realize that they have another choice. The false dichotomy of the “Left vs. Right Divide” is getting pretty tired. The Gospel is freedom.