What’s the difference between Islamic extremists and Christian extremists?

Picture of Extremist

Islamic extremists take something false and go so far with it that they damage themselves and others.

Christian extremists (and I find myself among them at times) take something true and go so far with it that they can also end up damaging themselves and others (NB. though, of course, never with such evil motivations nor such deadly consequences).

And most of us have this tendency to extremism. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

1. Nouthetic counseling: Jay Adams identified the problem of so many sinful behaviors being psychologized away. His solution was nouthetic counseling, a counseling methodology that confronted people with their sin and called them to change. But some took this truth to such an extreme that everything became sin and all psychology and physical dimensions to problems were dismissed or even demonized. (Confession time: I’ve got a tendency to react to that extreme by going to the other!)

2. Redemptive-historical preaching: Advocates of this kind of preaching identified the problem of “practical” or “topical” preaching which tended to preach purely applicatory sermons from small bits of Scripture without connecting it to the original context or the larger picture. Their remedy connects every text with the broad sweep of redemptive history. But does every sermon on every kind of biblical literature need to follow this pattern? Is breadth always better than depth? Is practical application never to be the main emphasis of the sermon?

3. Consecutive expository preaching: I referred to the pros and cons of this increasingly popular preaching model yesterday. Again, it identifies a problem, and proposes a good solution. But it can create another problem if it is taken to the extreme of making every sermon conform to this pattern.

4. Christian hedonism: There’s no question that John Piper has been used of God to recover a vital truth for the church. (His book, The Pleasures of God, revolutionized my own ministry about 10 years ago.) But problems arise when that truth becomes the only truth, or the main truth. Interestingly, Piper has since published two extremely helpful books, When I don’t desire God and When the darkness won’t lift, both of which bring a much greater balance to his important message.

5. Gospel-centeredness: I’ve expressed some concerns about this before (Less Gospel, More Christ please). Dane Ortland helped me understand the context of this movement better in a comment to that post and also here. However, again, the danger is that in a well-motivated desire to move away from moralism, even away from a Christ-as-example moralism, we lose Christ and Christ-empowered morality. Joe Thorn put it well:

There is more in God’s word than the gospel. God has given us his law to show us the way, uncover our corruption and condemnation, and point us to our need of redemption. There are commands to be obeyed, there is wisdom to learn and practice, and affections to feel and be moved by. But, the law itself is unable to create within us new hearts, or empower us to obey its demands. So let me say it this way: The gospel is the main thing, it is not the only thing. However, it is the only thing that brings life, power, and transformation. The gospel isn’t everything, but it does connect to everything, and preachers and teachers in the church must be able to show that connection lest we allow the church to drift (or even be lead) into various kinds of hopeless, powerless legalism.

6. Indicatives v Imperatives: This is related to #5. Yes, there has been too much “imperative-style” preaching, especially imperative-style preaching (you do this) that’s not rooted in the indicative (Christ has done it). However, as Kevin DeYoung has warned, although unintended, an over-emphasis on the indicatives may result in us losing the moral imperatives altogether, and in leaving people with only the duty to believe rather than to “trust and obey” as the old chorus goes.

7. Family Integrated Church: It’s great that so many leaders and churches are moving away from separate church services for different age groups, and the multiplying of ministries tailored to different ages that split churches into so many age-segregated cells. However, in the commendable desire to unite families and churches, is there not a danger of going to the extreme of having no age-appropriate teaching and activities?

8. The Full-quiver Movement: Again, it’s wonderful that Christians are swimming against the current of the age in fulfilling the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply above 2.3 children. However, there’s another side to that mandate that is often forgotten: “Subdue, have dominion, and rule.” But, in the worthy desire to fill the earth, some are physically, intellectually, and emotionally unable to provide for their families and have a controlled, disciplined, and orderly home and family life.

 9. Technology: I’m so glad that I’m living through the digital revolution. I’m so enthusiastic about how Christians are using technology to reach out with the Gospel via blogs, videos, mp3′s, etc. However, in our enthusiasm for this good gift of God, we are prone to trust in technology rather than the Holy Spirit, to substitute Facebook for face-to-face, and to have more fellowship in Twitter than in the local church.

10. Personalities: Again, I’m so thankful to have such unprecedented daily access to the blogging, tweeting, writing and preaching ministries of well-known Christian teachers. But our extremist hearts so easily and quickly turn them into Popes and substitute them for our Pastors.

All these things are good things; but if carried too far (often done more by the followers than the leaders), they carry us over the cliff to our hurt (and others).

As I’ve got my own extremist tendencies, especially in the things I’m most passionate about (maybe even in this post?), I want to keep praying: “Lord, I am such an extremist. I can take true things and good things, and take them so far that I end up turning them into falsehoods and sins. Please save me from my extremist heart; help me to live a life of biblical balance; and help me to stop running off the cliff with good and true things in my hand.”

  • arlene veenstra

    so true!!! we definitely need the Holy Spirit’s help to keep us balanced. Thanks for your posts..they are very helpful and up building..gives much food for thought!!

  • R. Graham

    Another way to go to the extreme is to oversimplify and try to bring opposing issues to a balance when this just might not be the prudent thing to do. We have all heard the expression “throw the baby out with the bath water” which I think is an expression that might fit in extreme situations. A problem arises when we put things into this extreme paradigm that do not necessarily belong there. I find then it becomes easier to use this paradigm in form with our own opinions.

    For instance, there are many things regarding doctrine that would be well suited into this ‘extreme paradigm’, for instance, church government, eschatology(end times), the Sabbath, and yes, even baptism, to name a few. Many of these things cannot simply be put into a ‘balance’ like paradigm, as that some of the above cannot, depending on ones opinion.

    So, just saying that things need not be so extreme or go to such extreme does not really help much because we need so much more to discern this issue.

    Also, the title and even the comparison fits right in to the ‘extreme’ that is being spoken of here. Should we not speak more balanced and even or is the rhetoric what we need to open our eyes and ears?

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