Do you ever read a non-fiction book, be it a motivational book, a spiritual growth book, a leadership book, or a book on politics, and find yourself wanting to underline practically every sentence?  Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I sure wish I could get …. to read this book?”  That does happen to me sometimes and it certainly happened as I was reading Adam Hamilton’s book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics“.

I first heard about Adam Hamilton in my Sunday morning class at church.  Hamilton is the pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.  It has been described as one of the fastest growing and most dynamic and distinctive congregations in the United States.  Hamilton is the author of numerous books.  ”Seeing Gray…” is not his newest book but I found the title intriguing and picked it out to sample his writing.  I could not have been more pleased or more impressed by the book I picked to read.

The title appealed to me because I am so aware of how polarized our country is politically and because  I feel that many of the churches in our country are contributing to the polarization in our country not only a political level but also in the way Christians and churches present themselves to the many people who are either no longer involved in a church or who have never been involved in a church or in organized religion.  I strongly feel that the church (that is said in very general terms) is pushing people away through extreme black and white thinking.  I certainly do not mean to imply that all churches or all Christians are doing that.  So many Christians are a natural at reaching others and in sharing their faith. Many, many have a deep and loving commitment for others and are able to touch people’s lives in compassionate and extraordinary ways and do that in a wonderful way.

But the church has a problem.  A real problem.  A recent survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life revealed that 16.1% of American adults say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith or religion.  And among American adults between the ages of 18 and 29 one in four say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith or religion.  The increasing numbers of the nonreligious must be a concern to all Christians.  I find helpful thinking in the book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics“.

The promo of the book “Seeing Gray…” on the dust jacket flyleaf says “One solution to the culture and political wars that hasn’t been tried, suggests Adam Hamilton, is for thinking persons of faith to model for the rest of the country a richer, more thoughtful conversation on the political, moral, and religious issues that divide us.  Hamilton rejects the easy assumptions and sloppy analysis of black and white thinking, seeking instead the truth that resides on all sides of the issues and offering a faithful and compassionate way forward.”

Hamilton begins his book with a discussion of two extreme personalities who often seem to represent Christianity to the world, the late fundamentalist preacher and founder of the Moral Majority, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and Episcopal bishop and outspoken liberal, Bishop John Shelby Spong.  Hamilton recalls watching an interview and discussion between the two men on “Good Morning America” back in 1991.  Hamilton writes, “Theologically, sociologically, and politically they were diametrically opposed. In listening to them, I found places where I sympathized with Spong, and others where I found I sympathized with Falwell.  But by the time their ‘conversation’ was over I found myself thinking, ‘These two cannot be our only options for being Christian!”  Hamilton goes on to say, “The truth is, most Christians find themselves somewhere in between these two extremes.”

They (Falwell and Spong) are pure examples of black and white thinking when it comes to Christianity.  Hamilton points out that it is often the extreme Christians who are called upon to provide comments on faith and culture by the media.  Hamilton says, “Unfortunately, when the people representing the Christian community are Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson on the one side, and John Shelby Spong on the other, you end up with a wide gulf in between with no one articulating a middle way.”

The core of Hamilton’s book is based on these thoughts:  ”It seems to me that increasingly there are large swaths of the Christian population who are yearning for a middle way.  There are self-described evangelicals who are embracing elements of the social gospel and who are open to insights from historical critical methods of biblical study.  There are self-described liberal Christians who are embracing elements of the evangelical gospel, who are speaking of their ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and who are learning to give evangelistic altar calls while still championing social justice.”  He goes on to say in the Introduction: “As many Christians are drawn to a centered or balanced faith, there is an increasing frustration with the role that Christianity has played in the culture wars.  Too often faith has been used by Christian leaders and politicians to further a political party or political agenda.  And in the minds of many nonreligious people in America, Christianity is not associated with love or grace or justice, but with a particular view of homosexuality, or a particular stance on abortion, or a seemingly absurd and anti-intellectual view of human origins.  Christianity has become a wedge that drives people from Christ, rather than drawing them to him.  And Christians have, in their political involvement, acted to divide our nation rather than serve as a balm that can heal it.”

That is just a small portion of the thought provoking way that Adam Hamilton writes.  The book is divided into three parts.  Part I is titled “Seeing the Gray in a Black and White World” which focuses on the general ideas that form Hamilton’s thoughts in this book.  Part II is titled “The Bible, Beliefs, and the Spiritual Journey” and, here, Hamilton writes about Christians and science, whether there will be non-Christians in heaven, the often asked question of where is God when bad things happen, and the honesty of doubt.  Part III is titled “Politics and Ethics in the Center” and includes Hamilton’s thoughts on situation ethics, abortion, homosexuality, war, and even faith and presidential elections (this book was published in 2008).  With each doctrine, each issue, each problem that Hamilton addresses in the book, he expresses his opinions and his values in an honest, heart-felt way.

I am a very open minded thinker, but there were times as I was reading Hamilton’s book that I wanted him to be more black and white in his thought.  But that is the heart of his book. This is what the book is all about: finding middle ground.  Do you ever worry that in some ways Christians are pushing people away from the church and from Christianity? Hamilton believes there is a movement toward the center among many Christians.  He issues a call for Christians to move to a “radical center”.   I agree so much with this.  If Christianity is going to appeal to the growing number of people who want nothing to do with the church, the people who are turning away from the church, there is going to have to be a new approach to the people of the 21st Century.  No one has to throw away their beliefs or their values, but everyone needs to focus on how Jesus would live and minister in our modern world.  Hamilton says, “The radical center avoids lambasting either the right or the left, though those in the center may be attacked by both extremes. They will not be conservative enough for the conservatives, or liberal enough for the liberals.  But two defining characteristics of the radical center will be a willingness to find what is good and true in others, and a commitment to practicing love.  The radical center will seek to take seriously the words of Paul who said, ‘Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear’ (Ephesians 4:29).”

In wrapping up his book, Adam Hamilton asks, “I wonder if this radical center resonates with you?  I’m not concerned with whether you agree with every single position I’ve staked out in this book.  I’m certain that with time I will come to disagree with some of the things I’ve written here.  But do you have this sense, deep down inside, that the world is not nearly so black and white as many would paint it, and that the greatest truth is found somewhere in the center?  If so I want to encourage you to speak up and let your voice be heard.  Do so, not belligerently but firmly; not with arrogance, but with conviction and love.”  Pointing out his conviction that Christianity is in need of a new reformation, he concludes that this new reformation will “…draw upon what is best in both Fundamentalism and Liberalism by holding together the evangelical and social gospels, by combining a love of Scripture with a willingness to see both it humanity as well as its divinity, and by coupling a passionate desire to follow Jesus Christ with a reclamation of his heart toward those whom religious people have often rejected.  This reformation will be led by people who are able to see the gray in a world of black and white.”

Well written, honest, and compassionate, I see the book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics” as a call to action.  I hope you will too.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being great, I give “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White…” a  5

Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics

Adam Hamilton

Abingdon Press

2008     (I have noticed that a paperback edition was released in 2012.  I do not know if the paperback contains any revisions).

ISBN  9780687649693  Hardback  (2008)

9781426766626  Paperback (2012)

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