Jesus Freak. Though they’d never say it aloud, that’s how my family perceives me. I suppose it’s our dirty little secret. As a college student of the 80′s, I abandoned the Lutheran church of my youth and defied convention by attending a non-traditional church. Not only did I ”attend” meetings at this non-denominational church, but I also began to study the bible on my own. I started telling people what I learned about Jesus. I wanted to live my life for Jesus. It was exciting. I was alive. In fact, Jesus had changed the direction of my life. I could no longer keep silent. I had to tell people what Christ had done for me and what He had to offer them. My raw zeal was unsettling for those closest to me.
Once my family accepted that this change was not some passing fancy or childish whim, I began receiving Christian placards and knick-knacks as gifts. One wedding gift, a wall clock bearing the inscription “We are one love together,” typifies a common born-again stereotype. My faith had been reduced to refrigerator drivel. (Sigh) But worse than framed platitudes is that my family considers me to be a religious extremist. Honestly, that makes me cringe. Who in their right mind wants to be known as or called an extremist? Not me.
You see, I want people to like me, but more importantly to like Jesus. I like to hear what is going on in folks’ lives. I want good things for those I care about, and nothing could be better than knowing Jesus. I don’t always talk about my faith. No one likes a pushy person, but when I do talk about Jesus, I hope that people will want to listen – to just give him a chance. After all, if I am sharing Jesus with you, it’s because you are important to me. So, if that makes me a “Jesus Freak,” an extremist, then that’s alright with me. Or so, I console myself.
One problem though, religious extremism has been blamed for societal ills for as long as religion has existed. There are historical reasons for this. From the brutal child sacrifice of the Chaldeans to right-wing acts of terror against abortion clinics, from Colonial slave trade to American racial segregation, from the savagery of the Spanish Inquisition to the near genocide of Native Americans, and from the Salem Witch Trials to the exploitation and oppression of women, such terrors and destruction are all done in the name of religion. This list could go on ad nauseum. Indeed, these atrocities have all been committed in the name of religious fundamentalism. That sort of terror is what typifies extremism. But is this a fair assessment?
In the article, Taming Religion, Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, addresses the trend to tame the religious extremists of today, whether of Islam or of Christianity. He observes the perception that both religions, practiced to the extreme, are a societal threat both to democracy and to religious freedom. Indeed, the horror and mayhem of “9/11″ confirmed this assertion. This is not just a view held in the United States, but worldwide. Galli remarks,
Many Africans are concerned about religious extremism, including within their own faith. Indeed, many Muslims say they are more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism, and Christians in four countries say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.
In the Galli article, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior Russian Orthodox Church spokesman, concludes that the danger with religious extremism is that it “results in deaths.” In his editorial, Galli agrees. He points out that a particular extremist from Galilee died as a result to of his extremism. In fact, Galli goes as far as to call this Jesus of Nazareth, The Extremist. (Jesus, an extremist. Say what?)
Galli further notes that many extremists “take care” of themselves. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. dared to stand opposed to segregation. King dared to equate this civil injustice with “sin,” calling it “unrighteous.” He dared to stand by the truth of the Bible. Defiant, King brought God’s perspective into the political arena. His extremist actions of civil disobedience and protestation led to his own death. (I see where Galli is going with this.)
Christians agree that Jesus was wise – a man of peace. Milk toast moderates pick and choose what parts of scripture are valid. Galli points out that Jesus, The Extremist, did not just bring words of peace and joy. He brought words that separate and divide.
”I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matt. 10:34–35)
Or words like:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:19–20)
Pretty divisive words, huh?
Radical Living Gets Noticed
Jesus was an extremist, and so were those who followed him, men like Peter, Paul, John, and the rest of the apostles. More extremists followed their path of radically living out what they preached. Many deaths resulted. Remember the Christian martyrs like Stephen who died in Jerusalem, or the thousands more who died in the Roman Colosseum, or still yet, those who were burned at the stake for putting the Bible in vernacular language, men like Tyndale, another extremist. More deaths followed. What about those Christians who are today’s martyrs? Those extremists are reportedly imprisoned and slain in places like China, India, and all throughout the world for their beliefs. More deaths will surely follow.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1Peter 4:12
Seemingly, man must suppress the piercing words of the one true Extremist, Jesus Christ. People use various methods to hold down this truth. They use force to stuff it down – to silence it. Perhaps, they fear its power to change. It’s power to give civil equality to all regardless of race or gender. For the the Bible tells me, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” Some kill those who proclaim it, while others mock and make fun of those who follow Christ. Yet more, use clever scholastic means to distort the truth. They pick and choose what is relevant or worth living, because if one had to live as Christ did and as he preached, then the life that one believes he is owed would be impossible to live. Botta bing, botta boom. So much for Western individualism and the pursuit of happiness.
Many reason, “Oh, that nice, lamb-hugging Jesus really did not mean that I need to love my neighbor as myself.” But what if he did? Then what? That means a life lived with the interests of others being foremost. You are no longer the center of your own life. In The Wrath of Khan, Spock once said, “The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the one.” Looks like that dear, old Vulcan was on to something radical. The audience swoons at his nobility. Spock too was extreme. It led to his death. Something that extraordinary, that fantastic must lead to verifiable deviation from the path most taken. People take notice when you live out what you say you believe. People can tell when you take the path less trodden.
If you’re like me and want to tell the “Old, Old Story of Jesus and His Love,” don’t be embarrassed to stand out. Tell His Story. If friends and family think they’re insulting you by calling you an extremist, wear the label “Jesus Freak” with honor. Know that you are in good company with people who just can’t keep quiet about Jesus – people like the apostles and those currently persecuted and imprisoned for their faith. People whose stories are told in the Jesus Freaks Books by dcTalk.