Camden Theological Library

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Lost in the Middle? / Found in the Middle!

Posted on 24 January 2011 Gavin Glenn

Reviewed by Reinette Black

 

These two authors have produced a pair of easy to read, very helpful books. Wesley Wildman is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Boston University. He is ordained as a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia, and has had seven years full-time parish experience in “moderate” Christian churches. Stephen Garner is the senior pastor of the United Church of Christ in Norwell, Massachusetts. Focusing on the role of the first-person narratives in sermons, he has recently completed his D.Min. in homiletics. 

Both books are relating primarily to the American Christian experience, but I found them very relevant to the Australian experience also. They are well set out, so that if you need to leave them for a day or two, you can easily pick up the train of thought again by running over the headings. Each book is divided into five major parts, each with two or three chapters, which are in turn divided into sections. As a one-time Methodist, I do like to see things set out methodically! 

Please read Lost in the Middle? before Found in the Middle! Lost? describes the “who” and “why” of the problem of living and worshipping as a Christian between the extremes of conservatism and liberalism, hinting at solutions. It expounds the need to develop a strong sense of identity, with deep theological convictions rather than waffling between the two ends of the spectrum. The book covers existential questions, identity, political and social tensions, and the sociological and historical backgrounds of conservatism and liberalism. The occasional touch of humour is appreciated. 

Found in the MiddleFound! is the “how” for “moderate” Christians, with practical suggestions for both personal and congregational development. It is written specifically for ministers, theology students, and lay leaders, and is relevant for all Christians wishing to further their understanding and participation in congregational life. It covers the basics of theology, Christology and church life for those Christians who, as before, are neither strongly evangelical nor strongly liberal, but who are partly both – in the middle. The last part, “Guide for the Perplexed”, has two very practical chapters – but don’t read these first! Each book has resources for further study, and the suggestion that this may be done in groups. 

Four words, from both books, that settle in the memory are “humility”, “inclusivity”, “radical”, and most importantly, “love”; these form the basis of a grounded position in the middle, and the action that comes from this.  

When I picked up the books from the library, they were in pristine condition; I doubt whether they had previously been borrowed. It is my hope that if I need to pick them up again, they will be showing all the signs of serious study by many people – dog ears may develop, but please try to avoid coffee stains!

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