“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 the balm that can heal it” (xv). It is the desire to provide a more helpful and healthy approach to Christian dialogue on moral, political, and religious issues that provides the impetus for Adam Hamilton’s latest book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics. Believing that “any issue about which thinking Christians disagree likely has important truth on each side of the debate,” Hamilton seeks to “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 its 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” (xvii).
Adam Hamilton is burdened to try to find a way forward past the polarizing and often destructive ways that Christians have too often related to one another. He writes, “part of the polarization we are experiencing in our country today is a result of pastors and church leaders who have abandoned the teachings of Jesus and the apostles regarding the way we speak of those with whom we disagree. Part of the healing of our nation must come from the church modeling for our society how we are to love those with whom we disagree. Right now we’re modeling for society how we destroy with our words and actions those we disagree with” (22-23).
Hamilton passionately argues that Christians often try to force us to make a choice between things that we don’t need to choose between. For example, “do we really have to choose between pursuing our faith with the intellect… or enjoying a deeply emotional, passionate, and heartfelt faith that moves us” (53). Thus, Hamilton seeks to outline the depth of the problem in the black and white world we live in, while making the case for seeing grey instead of choosing one or the other. Hamilton connects this desire with John Wesley whose “movement, Methodism, was born out of the theological conflicts that preceded him, and rather than finding himself drawn to the extremes, Wesley drew from them all as he articulated a gospel of the middle way” (4).
Seeing Grey is divided into three parts that are preceded by a foreward by Jim Wallis and an Introduction, “Are Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong Our Only Options?”, that vividly sets the stage for the major argument of the book. Part I makes the case for Seeing Gray in a world that is often black and white. This is where Hamilton lays out the reasons why it is necessary to begin to see things differently than we often have. Part II discusses the grey area in specific issues related to the Bible, Theology, and Christian Spirituality. Here Hamilton deals with issues such as Evolution, Heaven, Hell, the Problem of Evil, and Doubt. Part III “Politics and Ethics in the Center” deals with issues that are more political in nature, including: abortion, homosexuality, war, and how Christians should approach voting.
Hamilton is at his best when he is making the case that “Jesus preached one gospel that has, unfortunately, been split by the church into two: the social gospel and the personal evangelical gospel” (93). He convincingly shows that in many scenarios that are presented as either/or, the answer that is most faithful to the witness of Scripture is both/and. Hamilton also proved to be prophetic in his concerns about the War in Iraq that he wrote about March 1, 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq.
Having read much of his other work, I was disappointed at times that he seemed to largely reproduce what he had previously written elsewhere. In both the chapters dealing with homosexuality and abortion, he seemed to be largely rehearsing arguments that he had already made in his previous book Confronting the Controversies. He also used some of the same (albeit very powerful) illustrations. I was also intrigued that towards the end of the chapter “Will There be Hindus in Heaven?” by his offhanded comment:
Before ending this chapter I thought, for the Evangelicals reading this book, that a few other witnesses to this idea of inclusivism might be helpful. In the early church Jusin Martyr was said to have been an inclusivist. Ulrich Zwingli of the Reformers and, later, John Wesley, were inclusivists. C.S. Lewis held an inclusivist perspective, as was beautifully illustrated in the judgment scene in The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia (110).
I am guessing that there are people who disagree with the way that some of these witnesses are characterized. I was surprised to see Wesley’s name in the list, as that would not have been my immediate impression of someone who talked so frequently of hell and described the first Methodist societies coming together because people wanted “to flee from the wrath to come.” Aside from referring to a fiction story that C.S. Lewis wrote, Hamilton offers no citations or evidence to support these claims. He maybe correct, but I wanted to hear more, especially regarding John Wesley. Perhaps, given the scope and purpose of his book, the best thing to do would have been to simply omit this passing reference.
Ultimately, I enjoyed reading this book. Adam Hamilton seems to have Midas’ Touch, from the standpoint that everything he says receives widespread attention. As an outside observer, my perception is that he is genuinely trying to use his power and influence in the most faithful way that he can. In his own denomination, the United Methodist Church, people on different sides of many issues do seem to be talking past one another more and more and even beginning to despise one another. We sometimes seem to be a very divided church. If Seeing Gray is able to succeed in helping people to take a deep breath, step back, and recognize that the people they disagree with have sane reasons for their beliefs and convictions, then it will have made a substantial and much needed contribution to United Methodism’s ability to stay united.