Simple Reminder Series: Third-Wayism’s Dead End

Note: This post is a bit of a departure from the sort of devotional fare I usually serve up on this site. It’s part of a series called Simple Reminders, in which my goal is to remind us all that the Bible speaks very clearly into the cultural debates of our day.

This world is a strange place, and if we aren’t aligned with the One who is always true north, we can quickly find ourselves upside-down.

Good mileage or off-road capability? Satisfy the sweet tooth or slim the waistline? Aisle seat or window? Rarely does life hand us perfect choices. There’s almost always a tradeoff. This is true in everyday life and in the voting booth. Don’t let anyone fool you; Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. Neither political party expresses kingdom values perfectly.

It’s this reality that has prompted some powerful Christian leaders and pastors to promote something of a third way—one that’s neither Republican nor Democrat, neither completely conservative nor fully liberal. As the subtitle of one recent book advocates, we should “[Pledge] Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant.” Whimsical, isn’t it? And who could argue with it? Of course we are to give our loyalty and wholehearted devotion to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and not to some earthly political party. Of course we are to hold loosely the things of this world, while we clutch with every ounce of passion we can muster the hem of Christ’s garment.

It’s easy to understand the attraction of a mystical third way. It would be wonderful to pick and choose from our nation’s two parties as though we were visiting the buffet at our favorite restaurant. A little pro-life measure from this tray and some corporate accountability from this one. But of course, we don’t get to vote on specific issues most of the time. Instead, we must choose between two wide-ranging and imperfect platforms. Take everything or leave everything—as simple (and perhaps as frustrating) as that. So, in reality, there is no third way. Christians, like everything else, must cast their ballots for the lesser of two evils.

I bring up “two evils” because that’s often how proponents of third-wayism speak about our options, as though both party platforms are equally rife with wickedness. In doing so, they imply that how we vote doesn’t really matter, since we’re always faced with two bad options. But is that really true? Are both parties equally despicable?

One party wants to protect babies in the womb, while the other celebrates and promotes abortion, and has, at times, flirted with legalizing infanticide. One party is in favor of school choice so parents, regardless of their income level, can decide how their children are educated, while the other is just fine with drag-queen story hour at the public library. One party believes in securing the southern border so we can have some idea who’s entering our country, while the other believes in open borders, virtually ensuring that drug runners, human traffickers, and terrorists will continue their evil unchecked. While neither party is perfect, they’re hardly the same.

The attraction of the third way is that it allows its proponents to have their cake and eat it too, all the while keeping their hands clean. They can pretend they are above politics. They don’t have to make compromises, because they never really take a stand. They essentially bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image but only to keep the way open to share the gospel with the elites, they insist. They can be vaguely pro-life and vaguely pro-LGBTQ at the same time, never really protesting abortion or waving a rainbow flag but creating the impression they’re on whoever’s side they happen to be next to at any moment. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day (who, incidentally, knew something about keeping their hands clean), they play the system. Third-wayers appear pious in all the ways that matter to this world, but they refuse to take a stand when it really counts.

Because they often enjoy the favor of believers and nonbelievers alike, people of the third way believe themselves to be living out Paul’s admonition “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). But Paul never imagined Christians who would remain silent in the face of evil. He wasn’t advising the believers in Rome to buddy up to their Pagan neighbors by giving them the impression Yahweh was totally cool with their sins. This is a sort of cheap peace, false in every way that matters.

In the book of Jeremiah, God told His people, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (6:16). Our task is not to invent a new way of engaging with this world but to hold tightly to the old ways—the ways that honor God and His commands, provide ample freedom for individuals to walk with the Lord, pursue true justice, and dole out hefty portions of mercy (see Micah 6:8). With that charge, we are called to stand and speak.

2 thoughts on “Simple Reminder Series: Third-Wayism’s Dead End

  1. Thank you for your message. It addresses, sadly how so many people have become today. Just go along to get along is their motto. There is so much wisdom in the Old Testament, Jesus often quoted from it.
    I follow Jesus, not a political party, not religion or a church. I attend church and we are blessed to have a pastor who isn’t afraid to step on toes with his sermons. I look forward to communicating with you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Rodger!


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