Book Review: Third Way Allegiance: Christian Witness in the Shadow of Religious Empire

At times, it is quite complicated to separate who is doing the narrating: Is the church narrating what it means to be an American, or is American narrating what it means to be the church? It is not always easy to know.       – Tripp York,  Third Way Allegiance

This question an other challenging thoughts that Tripp York presents in The Third Way Allegiance have been refreshing, yet challenging to me. I resonate strongly with York’s difficulty in discerning what defines our culture. Living in America, we all experience moments when the lines between church and state have been less than clear, and those in America that claim Christ as their King have an obligation to think critically about those lines. Does the path of the church run parallel to the path of America? Are the people of God meant to also be the people of a man-made nation? To whom do Christians swear allegiance? These are the questions York asks us to consider.

Considering allegiances, I believe it will be helpful to start with a familiar story from the life of Jesus. After Jesus had entered Jerusalem he came to the temple courts to teach. At one moment, the Pharisees raised a question to Jesus with hopes of trapping him. They asked, “What is your opinion? Is it right to pay takes to Caesar or not?” Jesus asked to see a coin for paying taxes and asked whose portrait and inscription was on the coin. The denarius bore the portrait and mark of Caesar. Then Jesus responded, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

At first glance this appears clear enough, but when we reexamine Jesus’ reply, doesn’t it hold quite a large contradiction. Of course Caesar lays claim to taxes, but our faith informs us that all the wealth of the earth, along with every part of creation, has come from God. Jesus’ answer is simple, but to discern what it means is not. For it appears to me that Caesar and God both desire our sacrifices.

Considering our allegiances is a very personal subject. Certainly the foundations in which we put our trust will make a deep mark on our character, and when those foundations are questioned, it is natural for us to be defensive. Because of this I have often found books and articles that deal with Christian allegiance in a black and white manner to be unhelpful. They can be instructive but they often feel too rigid for interaction. On the contrary, I have found Tripp York’s writing to be very interactive. When I read this book I found many parts of my foundation called into question, but I did not ever feel resentful of York’s words. Instead, with each chapter being followed by a section for reflection and discussion, I feel that York is promoting conversation and critical thinking, instead of simply shouting his ideas.

York addresses issues ranging from our politics and peacemaking to our treatment of holidays and non-human animals. Looking for a thoughtful summer read? Consider Third Way Allegiance by Tripp York.

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