Friday, May 27, 2011

A Radical Centrist Manifesto I


Once, while sitting in the back of a class in seminary, I turned to a friend and said, “I’m a radical centrist.” At the time I was mostly just amused by the oxymoronic irony of the phrase. But, upon reflection, I have come to appreciate the term. Properly understood, being a radical centrist might actually be a good thing. One could make the case that that is part of the genius of the Anglican tradition (though, I’d suggest there are ways in which we haven’t always been radical enough). I think the church where I get to be the rector/pastor has tried to embody a sort of radical centrist community (though, again, we could probably be more radical).

I propose to attempt a sketch of what it might mean for a Christian to be a radical centrist beginning today and on subsequent Fridays.

I. What it is Not, Part 1: Not Moderate

Radical Centrist is not the same as “moderate.” I confess that I am congenitally cautious. Thus I find moderation in and of itself an attractive idea. It can be a short-coming for sure. But I am also convinced that there can be nothing moderate about following the one who said things like:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” - Mark 8:34

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
- Matthew 5:44

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” - Matthew 7:14

“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” - Matthew 10:39

“To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” - Luke 6:29

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." - Mark 10:25

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” - Matthew 5:28

“But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
- Matthew 5:22

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." - Mark 10”11-12

"If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” - Luke 14:26

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” - Luke 14:33

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” - John 3:36

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;” - John 6:53

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” - John 14:6

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35

To be a radical centrist means being centered on Jesus and taking seriously the radical challenge of his whole life and teaching. It also means being suspicious of attempts to rationalize or interpret away that challenge in any of the particulars in order to make Jesus safe. And it means being honest about one’s own failure to live into his radical challenge. There’s nothing very moderate about any of that.

Next week: Something else it is not


Greg Estes said...

Should we cut off fromthe church those who are divorced?

There is no room for compromise on
this issue?

I am starting to feel like the rich young man.

Matt Gunter said...

Greg Estes asks,
"Should we cut off from the church those who are divorced?"

A short and incomplete answer would be, “No more than we cut off those who have not loved enemies or turned the other cheek, rich people, or those who have not given up all their possessions. I, myself, am compromised in the latter two areas.

"There is no room for compromise on this issue?"

Good question. While I am wary of trying to compromise with Jesus, on the particular question of divorce, it is fruitful to look at Jesus’ actual context and the peculiar issue he appears to have been asked to address. See:
This article makes some interesting observations along those lines and suggests that Jesus’ injunction might not have been a rigid as it at first appears. Still, Jesus’ expectation in this area as elsewhere is likely to challenge our general inclination to make him conform to us and the way we see the world rather than the other way around.

"I am starting to feel like the rich young man."

The rich young man did have some pondering to do about his priorities as he walked away. The point of posting these “hard” sayings of Jesus is not meant to shame anyone. But, we cannot just ignore or wish them away. And we all fall short.

I will probably say more on this later in this series but, for now, let me just refer you to the post before this one: and this one from April: We are called to single-heartedly follow Jesus and that is not easy or moderate. But, we receive that call in the context of God’s amazing grace as we know it through Jesus himself. Jesus said another very radical thing that I don’t think gets enough attention, “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.”

Does that make sense, Greg?

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.