This term has bounced around social media and news outlets a lot over the last couple of months.
Most people use it to refer to ISIS – a militant, radical Islamic group who established a caliphate in regions of what you and I call Syria and Iraq. The leaders of ISIS embrace a form of Sunni Islam called Salafism. From what I understand, this classification level would be comparable to a particular denomination in Christianity, such as Methodist or Presbyterian.
President Obama and many others have referred to ISIS as not representative of true Islam. Perhaps the problem is that ISIS doesn’t ascribe to the same branch of moderate Islam that many in western culture would prefer.
Our western culture prefers to keep religion moderate. It’s OK to believe in God as long as you don’t actually talk to Him or think He speaks to you as well. Then you’re a fanatic. Helping the poor and less fortunate is a good thing… unless you give them too much of your time and resources. Then you’re obsessive. Reading a Bible is valuable literary understanding, but don’t let it affect how you live or view the world. Then you might be an extremist. You may believe whatever you want – just keep it to yourself and don’t try to impose it on anyone else.
Members of ISIS, however, are doing those things. They are studying the Koran and other ancient writings. They are letting it transform how they think, view others, and live their lives. They are praying to Allah daily – several times a day. They are sharing their message with others on a massive global scale as thousands of young people from all over the world pour into the region to join ISIS. They’re religious extremists; whether you like their form of Islam or not doesn’t change that.
When Islam is taken to extreme measures, ISIS is what it looks like. And it is massively changing our world.
But any religion may contain extremists. Christianity does… and should.
Balance is critical to so many areas of our lives. Wise financial sense balances income with expenses. It spends an appropriate amount on charity, bills, savings, and a little entertainment. A balanced diet includes mainly fruits and vegetables, some dairy, meat, and grains but also knows a little chocolate now and then is a good thing. Peaceful time management utilizes available blocks of time to accomplish tasks but also realizes we need a little rest every now and then. Moderation and balance is good in life.
Except in one area… Religious extremism is a good thing.
Shocked to hear me say that as the blood of 21 Christian martyrs soaks into the sands of Tripoli? Or, as the ashes of 45 Iraqis blow through the streets of al-Baghdadi, Iraq?
Religious extremism shows us the true nature of the religion.
What does Christian extremism look like?
As I walked through my journey to learn balance in most areas of life, I found two areas where balance isn’t acceptable. They are all or nothing kind of deals.
First the “All”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
We can’t love God moderately. No balanced approach exists for loving God. You are a three-part being. You have a heart or mind that relates to others. You have a soul or spirit that links with God. You have a body (“strength”) that connects to the physical world. We love God with all three parts. We love others unconditionally and sacrificially. We tenderly love our world – His creation. We love Him unashamedly.
Then the “Nothing”
“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
We can’t avoid sin moderately. No balanced approach exists for dabbling in sin. The world likes to pull us away from God physically, mentally, and spiritually. It does so through desires that feel good to our body and our mind. It does so through the prideful self-exaltation of our own spirit over God’s.
But we mess up
I get it. I’m right there with you. We can’t love as unconditionally, sacrificially, tenderly, and unashamedly as God loves. We can’t avoid sin’s pull on our mind, body, and spirit completely on our own.
They aren’t going to happen.
That’s the beauty of God’s grace and forgiveness – two concepts unique to Christianity among religions. I’ve written about them before and I’ll write about them again. Today, they’re not my point though.
ISIS takes the practices of Islam to extremes; the world is rapidly becoming a different place because of it.
As Christians, now is not the time for moderation. Now is the time for our own version of religious extremism. Now is the time to take the teachings of Christianity to extremes and show the world what it looks like.
Extreme Christianity loves sacrificially. We follow Jesus’ example of love that gives until the last breath and extends to every soul on the face of His creation. We love even when it means we deny our prideful rights. We love even when loved one’s actions tear our hearts into pieces. We love because He loves us.
When Christianity is taken to extreme measures, it looks like Jesus. And it can massively change our world.