I’m in the middle of reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. It’s an apologetics, of sorts. I’m not certain he would classify it that way. But that’s what it feels like. I’m also in the middle of re-reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity with our Tuesday morning group. And the two works cross over at almost every other paragraph. The idea I’m writing about today comes from Keller’s chapter entitled The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice.
We all know people we would call religious fanatics. We’ve all been impacted by them. These are people who express very clearly and very loudly their calling as Christians. But they live it — manifest it — by lashing out against society. They spend a great deal of time and energy screaming against the other political party, against homosexuality, against evolution, against abortion, against other religions, against the doctrines and practices of other Christians, against the world’s values, against anything and everything — anybody and everybody — who doesn’t conform strictly to their idea of “truth” and Christianity. In your face!
The fanatic is the extreme. A fanatic is one who over-believes or over-practices his Christianity, a major turn-off to those on the outside of our faith looking in. These fanatics do great damage to our efforts to expand the borders of God’s Kingdom. Nobody wants to be around people like that. Who can blame them? To the world, especially to someone who’s experienced these fanatics personally or seen them on TV or read about them in the papers, “the best kind of Christian would be someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believes it but is not too devoted to it.”
The problem with viewing Christianity that way is that it assumes the Christian faith is basically a form of moral improvement. If that’s what Christianity is — a way of improving your life and/or living your life in the right way — then the fanatics would certainly be those who are intense moralists (Keller’s term). Pharisees.
Pharisees are people who “assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the essence of what we think of as fanaticism.”
But what if Christianity is really all about salvation from God in Christ? What if our faith is really all about grace and love and forgiveness? What if Christianity is really all about being saved not because of what we do but because of what God through Christ has done for us? A belief that you are forgiven and accepted by God only by his sheer love and grace alone (the essence of our faith) is profoundly humbling. So, the people we would call fanatics are not that way because they are too committed to the Gospel but because they’re not committed enough.
“Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding — as Christ was…What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.” (emphasis mine)
I know I’ve thought about this many times. I’ve thought this about other people. And in moments of true reflection and scary clarity, I’ve noticed it in myself. How empowering, though, to point out to doubters and skeptics that these rigid, hard, insensitive, loud, overbearing people who call themselves Christians do not represent the teachings or the purpose or the goals of Christianity. That ain’t us! That person claiming to be right about everything does not represent Christianity. That person who refuses to bend is not acting like Christ. That person standing on the street corner and screaming condemnation to passers-by is not what our Lord and Savior is all about.
Those people are not too Christian. They’re not Christian enough.
There are 75 more days until the Dallas Cowboys kick off their historic 2009 football season — historic only in that this is their 50th NFL season, not historic in that anybody’s predicting great things. To help us count down to that first game in Tampa Bay on September 13, we’re recognizing the second-best players in Cowboys history by jersey number.
Today’s #75 is defensive tackle Tony Casillas. He only played in Dallas five years. But he was a vital part of that super quick defensive line in the early ’90s and was in on the two Jimmy Johnson Super Bowl wins. He left for bigger money and two weird years with the Jets, which cost him a third Super Bowl ring and a lot of respect. But he did wrap up his career in Dallas with a couple of mediocre seasons in ’96 and ’97.
(Phil Pozderac was never a possibility. Besides, if I’d named Pozderac and Flozell Adams in back to back days, I’d be looking at 3rd and 20 and a quick-kick.)