Special Features

In Search of the Third Way: Wisdom Beyond the Either-Or

By Chris Tiegreen

Jesus was the master of the third way.

Whenever people tried to force him into an either-or choice, he pointed out a third option they had not considered.

When his disciples asked him whether a man was blind because of his parents’ sins or his own, Jesus declined both options and told them the man’s blindness would become a stage for God’s glory.

When religious leaders asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes, Jesus bypassed the legality and urged them to give Caesar what belonged to Caesar and give God what belonged to God.

When the legalists brought an adulterous woman to him and tried to push him into the false choice of either obeying or denying the law of Moses—to stone her or not—he upheld the law but shifted the focus to their own guilt, recommending that the person without sin should go ahead and throw the first stone.

The examples are numerous, but his response is remarkably consistent. He blew up the logic of false constructs when people tried to press him into one.

Jesus’ followers have not done this very well. We are called to be like the Master but find ourselves sucked into all kinds of limited, either-or choices that leave out the truth.

We need to learn to look for the third way.

This is especially important in an increasingly polarized society that demands allegiance to one side or the other on almost every issue. Far too often, we fall for that trap—pro or con, these people or those people, this party or that party, this side or that side of a particular party, and on and on the choices go, further into narrower and narrower positions.

In the process, we’re losing the ability to look at the other side of an argument and to recognize what God is doing in a particular situation. And we’re not looking very much like Jesus.

Wisdom steps back and looks at the bigger picture.

If you need help with that, imagine how Jesus would respond to many of the social and political issues of our day. Can you envision him getting caught up in legal arguments? Protesting or counter-protesting? Putting his considerable influence behind a particular candidate? Yeah, I can’t either.

I can much more easily see him standing at the side, offering a perspective no one has thought of yet.

It isn’t that the legal system, protests, and candidates are irrelevant. They have a place. But they usually come from a ground-level perspective, and we can’t afford to fix our focus there permanently. Ground-level activity always needs to fit the overhead view.

We need to be able to see life from outside and above the narrow arguments.

Again, if you need help with that, look to Jesus. Envision his response to today’s either-or constructs. Better yet, ask him what he thinks. He’s still very much present and able to speak.

And he’s still the master of the third way.



© by Chris Tiegreen

Chris Tiegreen is an award-winning author of more than 60 books and discussion guides that have been translated into more than 40 languages and read by more than 5 million people worldwide. He is also a collaborative/supporting writer for other communicators (what was once inaccurately called ghostwriting) on more than 40 book projects. As a journalist/photojournalist, he has written hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles covering city and county government, sports, and education. His experiences in media, ministry, and higher education bring a unique perspective to his writing, which often focuses on cultural commentary and devotional themes. He and his wife, Hannah, currently live in Atlanta. His website is chris-tiegreen.com.

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