Should Christians Be Extremists? Absolutely!
Christians today find themselves in a culture that increasingly considers their core beliefs extremist. Do you believe Jesus is the only way? Extremist. Is marriage between one man and one woman? Extremist. Should people try to persuade others to adopt different religious beliefs? Extremist.
How should Christians respond? One response is to try and soften Christian teachings so as not to offend people. This view has some merit. After all, there is no point in unnecessarily offending people.
But at what price do we conform the message? Certainly not at the cost of compromising central, historic Christian beliefs. Remember, even the Apostle Paul said that the gospel is both offensive and foolish to non-believers (1 Corinthians 1:23). Believers should be gracious in their speech and action (Colossians 4:6), but let us not forget that the gospel itself, which implies that human beings are sinful and separated from God, is offensive to human pride.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also lived in a time when basic Judeo-Christian beliefs (about the equality of every human being regardless of race) were considered extremist. At first, Dr. King was disappointed at this designation. But he soon changed his mind. In his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, King explained why:
But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.
Was not Jesus an extremist in love—“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”
Was not Amos an extremist for justice—“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ—“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Was not Martin Luther an extremist—“Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.”
Was not John Bunyan an extremist—“I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make butchery of my conscience.”
Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist—“This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”
Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
So, the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is absolutely right—the key matter for Christians is not whether we should be extremists or not. That question was settled when we signed up to follow a crucified and risen savior. The question is what kind of extremists will we be.
Will we really take the teachings of Jesus to heart in a loving, gentle, and yet uncompromising manner? I sure hope so, even if many in our world consider this extreme.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.