A public figure recently called a public official “extreme” for his religious views.  Who the figure and the official are doesn’t matter.  I don’t want to identify those individuals.  I don’t want to dive into the particular pool they belong to.  I don’t even want to dip my toes into the waters of that pool.  As I have told you before:

In fact, they are rather interchangeable.  There was a similar incident more than a decade ago when a different public figure called a different (but similar) group of people “radical” for their religious views.

And my reaction to the “extreme” comment today is the same as it was to the “radical” comment then.  I think that comment is ridiculous.  I think both those comments are ridiculous.  I think those comments are ridiculous not because I think they are incorrect.  I think those comments are ridiculous because those terms are incorrect.  Those terms are flat out inane, in fact.

When it comes to faith (or “religion” for that matter), there is no such thing as extreme or radical, not in the way those public figures were using those terms.  There is only right and wrong.  Either God said something or He didn’t.  Either God told us to do/not do something, or He didn’t.  To think/feel/believe He said/told us to do something He didn’t doesn’t make you extreme, radical, conservative, fundamental, liberal, or any of the other weird terms we use for such things.  It just makes you wrong.

Or it might make you weak.  That is the term Paul used for such a situation (people thinking God said something He didn’t).  Not conservative or liberal, extreme or moderate, etc.  Weak or strong.  He does so in Romans 14.


That, then, is what such a person is: weak.  Failing to correctly understand the will of God (and yet not rejected by God, who is gracious and kind and does not find fault with His children).  And that is how they should be treated: they should be accepted.  Not allowed to dominate.  Not become the tail that wags the dog.  But accepted.

That’s what they are if they are incorrect, anyway.  If they are correct, if they have correctly discerned the will and word of God, then they aren’t weak.  They aren’t even wrong.  You are.

In any case, these terms are inaccurate and unproductive.  They are also completely illogical (if there is a God who interacts with us, why would we not be extreme about Him?).  And they thus ought to be abandoned.  There is no such thing as “extreme” or “radical” in The Faith.  Let’s stop saying there are.

A Sliding Scale

I told you yesterday about the “advance” I had with men from my congregation and a few other congregation.  I talked about the petition “Lead us not into temptation” from the Model Prayer of Matthew 6/Luke 11 at that advance.  As part of my time, I explained to the men that there were two ways to live, each of which went to a different destination, a fact I illustrated with this picture:

As I said yesterday, the men often spoke up during my time, asking me questions or even challenging my conclusions.  One of them did just that, telling me that instead of depicting the “lead us not” concept as the choosing of one destination over another I should depict it as a sliding scale.

This same idea came up at a discipleship group I led last night.  We read Matthew 12:22-32 to start the group, and one of the guys there said Jesus’ teaching about “whoever is not with me is against me” reminded him of this sliding scale concept.  He said that the more he walked toward Jesus, the less he walked toward both the negative acts of temptation as well as the neutral things that are just “not Jesus”.  He also said it worked the other way as well, that the more he walked toward either negative or neutral things, the less he walked toward Jesus.

And I wholeheartedly agreed with that.  I think discipleship is a sliding scale like that.  Or, to use a term I like even better, it is a spectrum.

By nothing more than the very nature of things, the more you move toward one end of a spectrum, the more you move away from the other end of the spectrum and vice versa.  It is not puritanical, patriarchal, Victorian, or any other negative adjective that might be (and often are) thrown at it.  It is just the nature of things.

That being the case, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:30 about whoever not being for Him being against Him seems less harsh and much more sensible.  It is nothing more than a fact, nothing more than that sliding scale or spectrum.


And that, again, shows just how good and important this “lead us not into temptation” idea is.  Temptation is on the other side of the scale/spectrum from Jesus.  If we walk to it, we are not just “sinning”; we are moving away from Jesus, from God, from the Kingdom.  The central question, then, becomes not “What can I get away with?” (which was the question me and my peers were always asking in youth group” or “Why is God so black-and-white?”, but rather, “What side of the scale/spectrum do I want to be on?”

Or, to put it another way:

Right But Wrong

My daily reading took me into the book of Job.  I heard the story of Job when I was in Sunday School.  That is, I heard the first part of the story of Job in Sunday School just like I heard the first part of the story of Jonah there.  But I didn’t hear the whole thing.  When I finally read the book for the first time at the age of 18, I was surprised to discover it was 42 chapters long and that the part I knew was over by the second chapter.  Most of the rest of the book were lengthy speeches by Job and his friends.  When I learned in Bible college a couple years later that most of what Job’s friends say is “wrong”, I was even further surprised.

My third surprise came when I did my reading just a few days ago.  I was in chapter 5, which is part of Eliphaz the Temanite’s first speech.  Most of that speech was new to me.  I had read the book several times since I was 18, but not much of it had lodged in my memory.  And then I found something I recognized.  It was verse 13:


I knew those words.  I knew them as 1 Corinthians 3:19:


I knew Paul was quoting something there in 1 Corinthians 3, but I didn’t know what it was.  You can imagine my shock, then when I discovered that it was not only from Job (being one of only two times Job is quoted in the New Testament) but from one of Job’s friends’ speeches, one of the “wrong” speeches.  Paul, I realized, was quoting something that was wrong.  He was quoting something that was wrong as if it was right.  It was quite the theological problem for me.

And just as soon as I identified the problem, I identified the solution.  It isn’t that Eliphaz was wrong in what he was saying there.  It isn’t even that Eliphaz and the other two friends were wrong in most if not all of what they were saying.  It isn’t that they were wrong in what they believed or “knew”.  It was that they were wrong in the way they were applying what they believed or knew.   They were taking a general truth or one truth (God punishes wickedness, which is indeed a general truth/generally true) as the only possible truth.  They were applying that truth across the board to every situation.  They were misapplying that truth in other words.  This is how they word can be “right enough” (for lack of a better term) to be quoted by Paul yet “not right” as God says in Job 42:7.

Now that was an interesting insight, and I could stop right there.  But I don’t think that’s what God wants me to do.  My Lord Jesus has made it clear that I should be far more concerned about the logs in my own eyes instead of the specks in others’ eyes (Matthew 7:3-5).  Therefore, I can’t just stop at what other people are doing wrong (though that is also so easy to see and thus so tempting).  No, I have to push on to whether or not I am doing the same wrong thing.

And I imagine I am.  I’m not sure where or how I might be doing this (that’s part of the problem; the friends couldn’t see that they were doing this, and we often can’t, either), but I have to imagine that I am doing it somewhere/somehow.  And I need to keep that in mind.  Next time I’m so sure that somebody is wrong/has done wrong, next time I get righteously indignant, next time I point the finger, I have to consider the possibility that I might be “right but wrong”, that I might be misapplying a truth and, like the friends, angering God in the process.