Go back to normal view
There is growing concern in the western world about the radicalisation of young people. At the moment it is associated with a type of religious radicalism, especially when this results in young people growing up to hate and despise the society in which they live. Over the last century, other very secular ideologies have attempted to implement the same strategy, always with disastrous effects for the wider peace and well-being of their society. And yet, we can equally see that in the relatively recent past, radically-minded people have played an essential role in bringing about vital social change. William Wilberforce would be one such example, in his work on overturning slavery. We can think of many other nineteenth century social reformers to add to his illustrious name, who sought rights for children, for orphans, for prisoners, rights for workers and so on. Left to vested interests, these reforms might never have taken place. Sometimes we therefore need radicals, to force us to challenge our prejudcies and attitudes, and to challenge injustice, discrimination and oppression.
So radicalism needs a context to explain itself and the context helps us to determine what kind of radicalism we are dealing with and whether or not it is helpful or harmful to the better working of civil society.
When I read the gospels, I have no doubt that many who witnessed the ministry of Jesus thought of him as being a radical. He certainly challenged the staus quo and he made enemies as a result. That can happen when you tell God's truth. It can happen when you reach out to those on the margins of society and thereby alienate the self-satisfied and the self-righteous. Jesus did all this and more. But Jesus wasn't for overturning governments and rulers. He was no politician, neither was he a rebel or an anarchist. He had come to establish a new Kingdom, but not an earthly kingdom as we know it. Jesus came 'to seek and save the lost' and to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, whose citizens would be drawn from every 'tribe and tongue.' It would be a new humanity, who had heard his call to follow him. After his death and resurrection, Jesus would impart His spirit into the lives of all who believed. They would be changed from the inside out, starting with a new heart. That is what His church was and is still meant to be, a people who have been transformed by His gift of faith. And yes, His people were given a world-wide mission to change the world through the gospel message of His redeeming love, not by the sword of the Crusaders of any age. That is a terrible corruption of His message.
At its best, the church is truly radical when it returns to its Biblical roots and takes Jesus seriously by following His example. We are to forgive others, including our enemies, whom we are also to love. We are to count others needs before our own; we are to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed and the marginalised. We are to be pure and holy, just as He is. In fact, we are to grow to be like Him. A tall order for any of us, but then God's ways are not our ways, as Isaiah the prophet reminds us. God's purpose for the world, is not to force it to its knees, not to threaten with gun and bomb, not to frighten, bully or abuse. The way of Jesus is far more radical than that. We are to win hearts and minds with something much more powerful. It is the most powerful force in the world - unconditional love! That's not unconditional approval - that must be said. Evil is evil and there is no legitimate excuse for groups who use violence for their own ideological ends. Christian radicalism has a very different outlook. It will not agree or accept as right, what Jesus clearly teaches to be wrong. What it does means, however, is that even if we don't like the ideology or belief, we still must love the believer, or the unbeliever for that matter.
Jesus calls his followers to live out a love like that and to be truly radical. His call is to change the world not through the exercise of power or might, but to change it by self-giving love for friend, neighbour and even enemy. Anything less, he wouldn't recognise. Measure all things therefore by the true Prince of Peace.