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Third Way Values: A Different Look at Power

In the world and in relationships in that world, power often is about who has control of a situation.

Can America's Christians Find a 'Third Way'?

In the Third Way there is no Democrat or Republican. I have considered the terms hope and reconciliation as single word summaries for what the gospel is about that is to give perspective on how Third Way Christians engage the world. These are values that help to drive how we are to see things and respond to circumstances. Such values help us make assessments about the often uncomfortable circumstances where we find ourselves. They do so in ways that differ from the assessment categories that often come out of our world and culture. They help make the Third Way a distinctive path.

A third term that works in a similar summary way is the term power. The text is Romans 1:16. It reads, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek".

For this one, I need to give a little background before we consider the points in this text. In the world and in relationships in that world, power often is about who has control of a situation. It is seen in terms of a competition for control. Often that situation is seen as a zero sum game. So if I win or gain, you lose and vice versa. This view of power pits people against each other as my advantage is your disadvantage. Thinking this way in a marriage will usually kill it as each spouse vies for control in ways that can demean or distance themselves from their partner. Thinking this way in all kinds of identity politics leads to fights that pit groups against each other. Sound familiar? Now this kind of power is around us all the time and so is this way of seeing things. However this view of power, fueled as it often is by self-interest and or self-preservation, often has a core by-product––serious dysfunction. That is not how the power I am going to focus on works. The caveat is important, because the view of power that is tied to the Third Way calls us to a humility that often is ignored or crushed in the competitive world of power and zero sum games.

So what does our text say about power? How does it define the word? What does that picture of power mean for this engagement discussion? Let me first explain why power is a summary word in Romans 1:16. Paul argues that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God. A look at the book of Romans as a whole explains why. In Romans ­1:1­–3:20, all are under sin and are in the language of Ephesians 2:1 "dead in their trespasses and sins" in desperate need of God. Now a dead person has no power, by which is meant the capability to live in ways that honor God. In Romans 3:20–5:21, we are justified, declared righteous and forgiven through the work of forgiveness Christ's death provides. So in Romans 6–8, we find the person of faith walking with God by God's Spirit with the capability to please God. He or she has become alive from the dead. As Romans 6:13 says, "Present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness". So the power of the gospel is the transformation of capability it brings to people who receive blessing from God, a blessing they gain by humbly entrusting their spiritual care to God through Christ. Where they lacked the ability to please God, now they possess that ability and can think more about how to love and serve others versus being self-focused. The example is how Jesus reached out, even as Son of God, and came to seek , save and thereby serve the lost, to deliver capability to people who lacked it. Part of appreciating what power means in the Third Way is to possess the humility to understand that without this capability, not only does our relationship to God suffer but also our relationship to others as we descend into the other kind of self-focused power play.

So power in this summary text is enablement. It is another key, one word Third Way value. It is God supplying what we otherwise lack. Those of the Third Way understand how profoundly true this worldview is. It leads into a life of humility, caring and service while being committed to truth in such a way that it has the potential to draw people to God. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, "Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven". This is why the gospel matters and representing the gospel well in pointing to him through how we interact. That representation, not just in what we believe but how we engage, matters most. The lack people possess is why politics often fails, for people need the capability to live in ways that honor God that only the Spirit gives, in ways that directs the heart beyond the self. On the other hand, most politics asks us to consider what we want. They play the other power game.

Now I will admit the church often does not show this side very well. We tend to fall into patterns the world has taught us. We need to do better and reclaim these distinctive values and more consistently apply them. Without drawing on this enablement, relationships often suffer and divisions abide. That the gospel is about this distinct kind of power shows why mission is important and ideologies have limits they cannot cross. They cannot deliver ultimately much of what they promise. It means our expectations need to reside in the hope, reconciliation, and enablement the gospel gives. That enablement makes Third Way life potentially distinct, including a way of relating that is able to trust God even in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances. This enablement causes Third Way believers to reach out to draw others toward a different way of life. More on that in the posts to come.

In sum, when power becomes a capability rooted in the humility of being forgiven and looking to God, we can emulate his way far better than by reacting out of fear or defensiveness from our more inherent instincts. Drawing on divine power as enablement makes for a path to the Third Way. Without it, there is no Third Way.

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