Christian Extremism…

I am really enjoying a casual read of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. He says things in ways that make such sense that I find myself saying, “Yeah — that’s what I always thought.”

For example, Keller writes:

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to Christianity for the average person today is not so much violence and warfare but the shadow of fanaticism. Many nonbelievers have friends or relatives who have become “born again” and seem to have gone off the deep end. They soon begin to express loudly their disapproval of various groups and sectors of our society–especially movies and television, the Democratic party, homosexuals, evolutionist, activist judges, members of other religions, and values taught in public schools. When arguing for the truth of their faith they often appear intolerant and self-righteous. This is what many people would call fanaticism.

Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from nominalism at one end to fanaticism on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and perhaps barely believes it. A fanatic is someone who is thought to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believes it but is not too devoted to it. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the Christian faith is basically a form of moral improvement. Intense Christians would therefore be intense moralist or, as they were called in Jesus’ time, Pharisees. Pharisaic people assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This naturally leads to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various other forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the essence of what we think of as fanaticism.

What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed enough.

Think of the people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding–as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self-improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.
~Tim Keller in The Reason for God, pp. 56-57.

In addition to feeling this way about the ethic/moral pharisees I’ve known, I always felt this way concerning strongly Calvinistic/Augustinian thinking.

Man — if you really believe that, then relax!

πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

2 thoughts on “Christian Extremism…

  1. When arguing for the truth of their faith they often appear intolerant and self-righteous. This is what many people would call fanaticism.

    Friend Steve, I used to beat this gong all the time, until I realized that I was just tempting faithful Christians to compromise their witness. Maybe some people take their opinions too far, but it has to be said that it is impossible in today’s day and age to be faithful to Jesus and not be seen as intolerant and self-righteous, especially in regards to feminism, homosexuality, and abortion. The world wants the Church to shut up about parts of God’s word, and these criticisms are just another example of peer pressure to that end.

    Do you really think that the “biggest deterrent” to the faith for the average non-Christian is all the fanatics they know? Where are all these fanatics? If fanatics have anything to do with it, it is because the few fanatics left out there remind us that Jesus’ call on our lives requires that we are willing to be hated by men and women, to give up some of the opportunities to make money that come our way, and not be ashamed of our Lord and Savior.

    Christian friends, please take your direction from God’s word, and not from unbeliever’s opinions. Make sure your humility is before God by being quick to do what He says, rather than before men. The world is disingenous – just look at the post about atheism two below. Jesus is faithful and is not ashamed to call us brethren.

    Hope you’re enjoying your sabbath. Love,

    Matt Hoover

  2. I think you’re right about the potential to tempt Christians toward sin. And I think you’re right about those who are not followers of Christ making excuses based on these considerations In fact, I can imagine some pious non-Christian reading that post and saying, “Yep — that’s why I don’t believe in Jesus,” all the while speaking from the same self-righteous position as the “Christians” who they blame for their lack of faith.

    Still, I feel I have witnessed what Keller is talking about in this text, and it makes me sad. πŸ™

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