Today I want to put forward a concept for us all to consider: the radical middle*. It’s a concept (like many of my beliefs) that starts with Jesus. Throughout his time here on Earth, Jesus did a remarkable job of not falling into extremes, despite being under remarkable pressures about who he was and what he should be doing. For example, the religious extremists expected Jesus to start a rebellion against the Romans, to stand against the injustices the Jewish people were suffering under Roman rule. Instead of this, Jesus told people to respect the authorities whilst at the same time obeying God. Jesus had multiple opportunities to overthrow the established order, but he didn’t – he advocated a different way. He showed us a new way to be human (thanks, Switchfoot). He showed us how to be radical without falling to extremes.
The word radical is normally associated with pushing boundaries, moving far away from established norms, and into a realm of extremism. I’m a firm believer that there’s a time for radical actions, ideas and responses, but the real challenge in life is often resisting the urge to fall to one particular side of an argument, getting pulled more and more in a particular direction. Often we end up falling into dogmatic radicalism about an issue we passionately believe in, refusing to consider even for a moment the other side of a debate – that’s the kind of loveless, heartless attitude that we need to avoid.
Going to extremes certainly seems to go against the grain of what Christ showed us. Jesus accepted and mingled with people whose views and practices often were in direct conflict with his character (thieves, prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors) – and that’s a challenging thing to consider, as we often don’t spend a lot of time with people who disagree with us. Yet in his way of living, Jesus found a way to be radical – to resist berating those he disagreed with (mostly religious leaders), and to stay away from the isolation of extremism in all its forms. Just like Jesus, we need to find a way to live that stays true to a vibrant faith, challenges injustice and inequality, but also refuses to intentionally isolate those we disagree with, even in our faith communities.
I’ve spent my adult life following Jesus, finding my way in a church culture that’s riddled with power struggles, an obsession with wealth, and a cycle of chasing the latest hot-button attitude that’s offended our moral senses. I believe Christ loves the church, warts and all, and I’m determined to do the same. But it’s time for us to depart from extreme thinking and step into the example of Jesus, who showed a radical way to live that fights against the pattern of extremes we see around the world.
That’s the radical middle.
*Credit here to Ps. David Dishroon of Changepoint Church in Tauranga, who first put this concept forward.