Thursday, February 16, 2017


The term "radical" is certainly in vogue, whether used as a noun or an adjective.  TV newspersons and pundits, comedians, the social media, whether of the right or left, love throwing this word around; usually - though not always - negatively to describe those with whom they disagree.  "The radical right," "the radical left."  Our former president as well as a presidential candidate, was criticized for not using the phrase "radical Islam" to describe middle eastern terrorists.

Then I saw a meme on Facebook - a photo of a Klan rally with the words "Radical Christianity" on it in bold letters.  My immediate reaction was to comment, "NO!  These people know nothing of what it means to follow Jesus." Then I started pondering the definition of the word "Radical" and what "radical Christianity" would really be.  My conclusions:
            No, the Klan is not radical Christianity!  (It's neither radical nor Christianity.)
            Radical Christianity is what every Christian should strive for!
            Jesus Himself was radical - a radical - perhaps the most radical human being who ever lived!

Before the reader picks up stones, I ask you to hear me out.  First, we should seek to define what a radical is; what does the word mean?  My dictionary (Merriam- Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition) gives a number of definitions which seem almost contradictory.  I believe the following are relevant:

radical (adj.)  [...from Latin radic, - radix root ...]
1:  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root ...
2:  of or relating to the origin:  FUNDAMENTAL
3a:  marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional:  EXTREME
  b:  tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ...

radical (noun)
1b:  a basic principle:  FOUNDATION ... 
3:  one who is radical

How can one word convey both the ideas of getting back to the root and of departing from tradition?  I'm not sure how it can, but I see both definitions in the person of Jesus as He is portrayed in the Gospels - as He walked this earth as the God-man 2,000 years ago and as He preached and taught.  He was radical.

He was radical in His ethics and in His ethical demands.  They were, to use Mr. Webster's word "marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional."  They were "tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ... "  Look at His sermon as recorded in Matthew, chapters 5 through 7:

"You've heard that it was said to the ancients, 'You shall not commit murder ....'  But I say to you that anyone who hates his brother, will be guilty of judgment." (5:21, 22)

"You've heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman so as to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  (5:27, 28)

And on and on with ethical demands that seem to "depart from the traditional."  Read the whole sermon.  Yet a close reading of these radical demands and their Old Testament precedents should bring us to conclude that He was taking us back to "the root," or as He says elsewhere, to "the Spirit of the (Old Testament) Law."

He was radical in His political views.  When His disciples were arguing over who was the greatest among them, He said this:

"The kings of the nations lord it over them and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so with you!  But the one who is greatest among you should become as the youngest and the one who leads as one who serves."  (Luke 22:25, 26)

He was radical in His religious views.  He had no respect for the religious leaders of His day.  He tore into them verbally, telling them that they "shut up the Kingdom of Heaven before peoples' faces" and told them that they weren't entering the Kingdom and they were keeping out those who wanted to enter.  (Matthew 23:13.  Again read the whole chapter.)

And He made radical demands of any who desired to follow Him.  He demanded that the disciple turn his back on all relationships, that he "take up his cross," that he "say goodbye to all that he has."  (Luke 14:25-27, 33)

Jesus was a radical by anyone's definition.  He was an extremist.  He was definitely not a conservative.

So then why are we who claim to be His followers anything but radical?  We are comfortable with the status quo.  We cozy up to those in power, whether religious or political.  We are more concerned about "family values" than about Jesus' values.  We even equate the words "Christian" and "conservative."  We are cautious and afraid.  We run our churches in the same manner as "the kings of the nations" do.
What happened?

1 comment:

Ann land said...

Awesome article Bill��