Lost in the Middle? Claiming an Inclusive Faith for Christians Who Are Both Liberal and Evangelical

Overview

Lost in the Middle directly addresses the very large group of moderate Christians, especially in the United States. They typically do not say that they have both liberal and evangelical instincts because of the polarized environment in which being both liberal and evangelical seems impossible. In fact, they are routinely neglected in favor of the noisy extremes. But they are there, both within the churches, and hovering on its margins. Like people with family members on both sides of a civil war, these moderate Christians don’t feel comfortable taking sides, and can’t see how victory by either side could possibly be a good outcome.

Few resources exist to help moderates understand their faith and their counter-cultural dream of church unity across the liberal-evangelical divide. They find creative ways to nurture their spirituality when their church environment offers them one-sided rhetoric from the left or the right. Some leave churches altogether in search of a more faithful and integrated religious life. Most stay where they are, with their frustration and longing as constant reminders that something is wrong and that there must be a better way.

This book is for such moderate Christians, including church leaders who are in a position to help those who feel lost in the middle. It is a resource that will help them articulate their personal faith and their congregational identities. It offers a description of their situation that will evoke recognition: “Yes, at last, someone is talking to me!” It gives theological depth and dimension to being lost in the middle by disclosing the uniquely important opportunity that exists in that existential and social location for witnessing to the power of love to unite people across ideological and theological lines.

The book provides an analysis of the history and sociology of people with both liberal and evangelical instincts that will comfort and educate. It proposes theological and ethical principles that will help Christian moderates to articulate their faith more clearly. Overall, the book will inspire moderate Christians with both liberal and evangelical instincts to maintain Christian unity against the polarized opposites of secularized liberalism and conservative evangelicalism, and to work toward transforming their churches into beacons of loving unity in the face of seemingly intractable culture wars.

Moderate Christians, including pastors and lay church leadership, will also gain a persuasive and exciting insight into their faith and their calling. Informed church leaders can make a difference in congregations seeking to embody simultaneously the radical inclusiveness of liberalism and the fervent piety of evangelicalism. Being lost in the middle is confusing and frustrating. Properly understood, however, it is the ideal basis for going beyond bumper-sticker slogans to lifestyles of radical Christian discipleship, devoted study, and compassionate social engagement.

Distinctive Features

Lost in the Middle has a number of distinctive features.

It directly addresses a large group of political and religious moderates who know they don’t fit the polarized environment but don’t know how to express their convictions.

It provides the sociological and historical framework that moderates need to understand their situation and overcome the confusion of feeling lost in the middle.

It fills a gap left by books such as Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, which appeals to socially progressive evangelicals but does not provide a framework for moderate self-understanding.

It explicitly addresses the great taboo question of how moderate evangelical theology and moderate liberal theology are able to coexist in a sociologically feasible form.

It offers practical strategies to moderate Christians for conceiving their faith and thinking about church priorities.

Table of Contents

Preface

Acknowledgements

Part I. Haunting Questions and One-Sided Answers

Chapter 1. Five Haunting Questions

Pluralism and Relativism: Are We Right?
Passion and Politics: If I Love Jesus, Am I a Freak?
Belief and Doubt: Am I Making This Up?
Religion and Science: How Do I Reconcile Conflicting Pictures of Reality?
Faith and Action: How Do I Stand for Truth?

Chapter 2. Behind the Questions: Five Genuine Disagreements

Conflicting Visions of Reality
Conflicting Visions of Authority
Conflicting Visions of History
Conflicting Visions of Morality
Conflicting Visions of Church
A Moderate Conclusion

Part II. Lost in the Middle?

Chapter 3. Neglected Moderates

“Who Speaks for Us?”
A Demographic Profile
The Reassertion of Moderate Christianity

Chapter 4. Culture Wars and Religion

Seminary Styles and Congregational Identity
Conflicting Caricatures
Mutual Attraction
Avoidance or Engagement?

Chapter 5. Reasons for the Emergence of Liberal-Evangelical Christianity

Frustration Meets Love
Fear Meets Hope
Dismay Meets Gratitude
Disgust Meets Wisdom
A Moderate Conclusion

Part III. A Cultural Divide in American Christianity

Chapter 6. The Liberal-Conservative Split in Politics

Political Labels and the Muddy Middle
The Sociology of Political Fights
Liberals versus Conservatives on Institutional Roles
What Liberals and Conservatives Are Trying to Protect
The Broad Sympathies of Political Moderates

Chapter 7. Relations between Religion and Society

The Role of Religion in Protecting Democracy
Wuthnow’s Orange
Religious Influence on State and Marketplace
Political and Economic Influences on Churches

Chapter 8. Morality and the Liberal-Conservative Conflict

Textures of Moral Reasoning
Thin and Thick Moralities in Action
Why are there Differences in Moral Reasoning?
A Moderate Conclusion

Part IV. We’re Different, and that’s OK…except when it’s not

Chapter 9. Basic Sociological Principles

The Need to Belong and Religion
Survival Instincts and Cultural Aspirations
The Reality of Sin and Religious Responses

Chapter 10. Core Message Pluralism

The Bonding Power of Love
The Unifying Power of Shared Beliefs
Mismatched Gospels
The Need for a Compelling Message
Rightly Ordered Principles

Chapter 11. The Curious Social Strategy of Liberal-Evangelical Christianity

Social Strategies of the Major Branches of Christianity
Beyond the Major Branches
Beyond the Churches
The Liberal-Evangelical Social Strategy
A Moderate Conclusion

Part V. Reclaiming a Noble Heritage

Chapter 12. Early History

The Origins of Evangelicalism
The Origins of Liberalism
Chapter 13. Modern History
The Great Evangelical Split
Modern Evangelicalism
Modern Liberalism

Chapter 14. Liberal Evangelicalism

A History All Its Own
Liberal-Evangelical Heroes
A Moderate Conclusion
Conclusion

Review

Transforming Self-Understanding, Discerning Next Steps

Appendix: Resources for Further Study