A New Via Media: Dr. Duane Arnold, PhD
Via Media – the middle way. It was term that once referred to the Anglican Church, inferring that it was a middle way between Roman Catholicism and continental Protestantism. It had a prayer book – The Book of Common Prayer – and a confession of faith – The Thirty-Nine Articles – but through the centuries adherents of Anglicanism had a somewhat wide expanse in which to roam. As a result, the Anglicans produced biblical scholars of varying stripes from Reformed to Lutheran to crypto-Catholic.
The style of worship could range from a Wesleyan Meeting House to a High Mass and almost everything in between. This strange conglomeration was held together not really by an ecclesiastical structure (although one was in place) but by the essentially Anglican quality of “moderation”. Sad to say, in the last 60 years that “moderation” has waned and with its waning the Anglican Communion has rapidly descended into chaos.
It seems to me, however, that another “via media” is currently emerging. I think this new middle way is going to be different. Firstly, it crosses all the old denominational lines and, indeed, even some doctrinal distinctions. Basically, it consists of people who can say the Apostles or Nicene Creeds without crossing their fingers behind their back. If anything, I think one would have to view this new middle way as being “post-denominational”, i.e. the denominational title out in front of the church means less than the life that is being lived within the church. In this new via media, you will find an odd conglomeration of people who, at first glance, don’t seem to belong together. In this new via media one will find evangelicals and Roman Catholics; Anglicans and Lutherans of various stripes. You will find Baptists and Eastern Orthodox, and a wide variety of independents. In this new middle way, you will find those who are embracing what one might call a C.S. Lewis styled “Mere Christianity”.
Much like the via media of old, there are, of course, preferences and points of view. (After all, we are human!) Some have a high view of sacraments, while others do not. Some are left of center when it comes to politics, while others lean a bit right of center. Certain people hold to eschatological views that others cannot accept or consider of only minor importance, while many have little interest in such matters. Within this group are people who are slightly more theologically conservative or slightly more theologically liberal, but on the whole they are simply people of good faith who are wanting to express their commitment to Christ and to live out the gospel in their lives.
There are, however, some common traits among these people.
Firstly, they have a high view of Scripture. Now, this is not to say that all would sign on to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Many would not. Moreover, many are not concerned with fighting battles over “original autograph manuscripts” (which we don’t have). Nor, however, are they interested in seeing the Scripture reduced to Semitic/Graeco-Roman morality tales and fables. Some among those in this new middle way have not made up their minds about the boundaries of inerrancy, while others hold inerrancy as a faith position. The bottom line, however, is that they take the Scripture seriously – in study, in their devotions and in their lives.
Secondly, those in this new middle way care about the Church – not just “their church”. They care about its history and they care about the face that it shows to a watching world. They are less willing to “follow the leader” and excuse excess and abuse. Moreover when excesses and abuses are discovered and revealed, these believers tend to be as grieved as they are angry… because they care about the Church and its witness in this age. Owing to this care for the Church, those in this new middle way are concerned about holding leaders and structures accountable and, if they refuse to be held accountable, these believers tend to vote with their feet.
Thirdly, perhaps more than many who have come before, those in this new middle way, like the arc of the universe, tend to bend towards justice. This is not a matter of being a conservative or a liberal, a Republican or a Democrat. This is not a matter of embracing a certain national health plan or a particular public policy. This is about “the least of these, my brethren”. Some in this new via media might be insulted if you told them that they were involved in promoting social justice, while others would wear the label proudly. The fact is, however, most in this disparate group care about their neighbor. They will help to feed the hungry. They wish to protect basic human rights. And they do this as an expression of their faith. Even more, they will join with other believers, oftentimes not of their tribe, to do this work.
Finally, those in this new via media are wearied by the extreme voices so prevalent in theological discussions today. Those who believe that their volume, bullying and dogmatism will reach those in this new middle way are sadly mistaken. The virulent voices that demand assent to their particular point of view, whatever it might be at the moment (it often changes from week to week, year to year) will find themselves addressing fewer and fewer potential converts. Those in this new via media take seriously the injunction to “come, let us reason together”. This is not owing to a desire to elevate human reason, but simply in imitation of the One they follow. The loud, aggressive and strident voices who stand on the sidelines – right and left, liberal and conservative – demand, and often receive, the momentary attention they desire – and make no mistake, it is attention they crave. Let’s hope they don’t see all of us subversive people in the middle who disregard their vehemence.
This new via media does not have a name (and I hope it doesn’t get one!). It is not a movement to be categorized by the press, religious or secular. It seems to me that this new middle way is happening all around us and, if it is not hijacked by some clever Christian marketing guru, it may be the greatest hope for the Church.