Issues Facing Missions Today 34: ‘Radicalized’
A peculiar word, ‘radical’. The English word really relates to the word ‘root’ (Latin, radix)—getting to the heart or root of what something truly is. But we hear the word used differently: someone who is ‘radical’ is ‘out there,’ ‘on the edge,’ even ‘dangerous’.
The word is now being used in the media’s phrase, ‘radical Islam.’ If someone commits murder as a Muslim the Western press will say that this isn’t real Islam but a radical form of Islam. The person is said to have been ‘radicalized.’ The question is, ‘Is real Islam the opposite of radical Islam, or is radical Islam real Islam?’ Are these radicals getting to the root of their faith, or are they departing from it? As far as politicians and the press are concerned, it would be terribly inconvenient in a politically correct world to identify radical Islam with real Islam.
So much for confusing the word ‘radical’ with the opposite of its original meaning.
The question I would like to ask is, ‘What if you became radicalized?’ What if your thoughts, words, and actions were guided by your most basic convictions rather than some compromise of them? Is the problem departing from root convictions or following the wrong root convictions? Almost daily in the news we have to reckon with people who are led to perform shockingly evil things as they follow a radical path set by their most basic convictions.
Jesus called his disciples to radical discipleship. He criticized the religious groups of his day for failing to be radical enough. If you are going to live by your most basic convictions about God and His kingdom, you will be ‘out there’ in your thoughts, words, and actions as far as society is concerned. Jesus said to his disciples,
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
He also challenged the Jewish priestly class, the Sadducees, for not getting to the ‘root’ of faith in God. They failed in their understanding of Scripture, God’s Word, and they failed in their understanding of the power of God. For them, religion was disconnected from its authority and faith in God. It was a collection of ideas that need not bother someone too deeply, except in the exercise of religious duties. Their religious activities did not touch their convictions about finances, politics, or trust in God. They only required ritual acts that gave them a cultural identity and secured their positions of power and respect in society. So Jesus indicted the Sadducees with words that could be spoken to many a church today, saying, ‘you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God’ (Matthew 22:29).
In the West, politicians, the press, and the public square do not appreciate radicals, whether those living according to their root convictions or persons ‘out there,’ taking their convictions in the ‘wrong’ direction. Far better, it is thought, to hold everything loosely.
But what if Christians were radicalized? Because Jesus Christ crucified is at the root of Christian convictions about God, radicalized Christians would not and do not strap explosives to their bodies and blow up a crowd of innocent people. They do not join an army to attack their enemies. They do not put people to death for blasphemy but tell people that Jesus died for their sins. They do not riot in the streets, destroy property, and steal every time some real or imagined racial injustice occurs. Instead, like relatives and members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, they forgive the hate-filled murderer (17 June, 2015).
The radical Christian picks up his or her figurative cross to follow Jesus, who himself went to die on a real cross (Luke 14.27). The radical Christian does not attack enemies but prays for them (Matthew 5.44-45). The radical Christian ‘seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6.33). The radical Christian does not seek unity and tolerance as cardinal virtues because his or her commitment to God and his Kingdom could even divide families (Luke 12.51-53). The radical Christian forsakes home comforts and reasonable responsibilities that might postpone the call to follow Jesus in God’s mission throughout the world (Luke 9.58, 60, 62).
What might happen if you were radicalized—if you dug deeply enough into your root convictions and lived accordingly? Would you pursue hate-filled convictions that destroy any opposition in your way? Or would you discover that you do not even have any convictions of consequence so that you can live a self-gratifying life?
More to the point, what if you became a radicalized Christian? You would first discover that the radical Christian life is the only, real Christian life. The disciple of Christ indulges himself or herself in no private religious imaginations that make little difference in life.
As a Christian—a radical Christian, a real Christian—what mediocrity in life must you forsake? What self-sacrificing, suffering cross would you raise to your shoulders to follow Jesus? What earthly pursuits would be set aside for God’s rule and mission? What passions of the flesh would you crucify in order to receive the resurrection life of Jesus? What passing pleasures would you relinquish as you ‘press on to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3.14)? What if you became radicalized? Your root convictions, your faith in Jesus Christ, would transform your thinking, speaking, and actions. And you would, as a consequence, be ‘out there’—radical—but in a far different way from those who do not find Jesus at the root of their very being.