Former Asbury Seminary President Maxie Dunnam is one of the great elder statesmen of United Methodism, widely respected even by many who don’t share his evangelical beliefs. In a recent Facebook post, he offered this commentary on renowned Kansas mega church pastor Adam Hamilton.
SEEING GRAY IN A WORLD OF BLACK AND WHITE
Adam Hamilton is all over the news. His recent participation in the Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral introduced him to many outside the United Methodist world, which has expanded his audience. That public exposure inspired reporters and others to read and comment on his book, SEEING GREY IN A WORLD OF BLACK AND WHITE.
Almost at every turn, people are asking me about Adam and particularly about his book. I want to respond to what I believe inspires these questions, so this is not a book report. You can read the book.
First, a personal word about Adam. I have been amazed through the years, and pleased, at his leadership capacity, what he has accomplished, and his commitment to the church. Though there are issues about which we presently disagree, we have agreed most often. I see him as an earnest Christ follower, a visionary, a lover of the church, and what we might call an “evangelical” Christian (I even think he would appreciate that last descriptor!).
As he confesses, I have seen him change his position on some of the tough social issues of our day. I am deeply disappointed in some of the positions he has taken, but I want to affirm the dynamic of growing and changing. I believe that to live is to choose, and often to choose calls for change.
Why all the questions? I believe they reflect two characteristics of our present culture. One, we seem hopelessly divided on critical issues like abortion, same sex marriage, immigration, and criminal justice. Two, we have become destructively un-civil in our debate on these issues.
We are a polarized nation and our ever-hardening positions make us less and less willing to listen to one another. No one agrees on what to do about it. So at least the surface concern of Adam’s book strikes a responsive chord. He rightfully rejects the easy assumptions and sloppy analysis of black and white thinking, seeking instead what he believes is the truth that resides on all sides of the issues.
I see a huge problem in the language. The very title of the book is confusing to me. I don’t believe we need a greater capacity to “see gray.” I believe that’s a huge part of our problem…we see “gray” too readily. Now, I believe and I hope that when Adam talks about a “black and white world,” he is talking about how we communicate (our categories are so fixed and we have no respect for other opinions than our own). I just don’t see a black and white world…it all seems gray! In the pervasive situation of post modernity, personal feelings and experience are the final arbiters of Truth.
In fact, the pervasive notion is that in morality and ethics, there is no “black and white.” What seems to trump everything else is how I feel, how this satisfies me, what, whom and how I please to love. Every person must find his/her own way. And no one seems to believe Jesus’ admonition about the “narrow way,” The chief idolatry of this world of gray is personal autonomy; the individual is “god.”
Maybe we need a civil discussion, with love and grace, about seeing black and white in a world of gray? In such thinking we might concentrate more on TRUTH rather than right and wrong, or good and bad; in other words we might see Jesus “full of grace AND TRUTH.” And maybe, in the church at least, we would settle on some ground of authority for truth and grace, and at least for the Church, the Bible would be a good place to start…and the tradition of the Church would help, and the witness of faithful Christians through the ages!
Thanks, Adam, for fostering the discussion, but help us with the “truth” and “authority” question.