This week, the Barna Group released a new study that reveals that a growing number of Americans think Christians are extremists. Barna President David Kinnaman wrote,
“The perception that the Christian faith is extreme is now firmly entrenched among the nation’s non-Christians. A full forty-five percent of atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated in America agree with the statement 'Christianity is extremist.’ … The research starkly demonstrates the ways in which evangelicals and many practicing Catholics are out of the cultural mainstream. In fact, skeptics and religiously unaffiliated are now much closer to the cultural ‘norm’ than are religious conservatives."
As a pastor, this deeply concerns me because I don’t want to be out-of-touch with the culture I’m called to bless. But it also concerns me for another reason: namely, that this is news — that Jesus-followers would even consider the possibility of being mainstream. You see, I don’t think we should fear when our neighbors look askance at us; I think we should fear they might not.
The truth is that Jesus intended to create an unconventional movement. Despite today's bloated institutions of Christendom, the original intent of Christianity was radical and countercultural. Jesus appealed to those on the margins, and he asked for his followers to engage in fanatical practices. Jesus replaced the rule of law with the power of grace. He subverted social orders and broke cultural barriers. He advocated risky obedience and revolutionary love. Nothing Jesus promoted was mainstream.
The problem that concerns me is that we haven’t been extreme enough. We haven’t gone to the extreme of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). We haven’t gone to the extreme of dying to ourselves (Luke 9:23). We haven’t gone to the extreme of selling our possessions and giving to the poor (Luke 12:33). We haven’t gone to the extreme of visiting the criminal, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, slaking the thirsty, caring for the sick, or welcoming the foreigner (Matt. 25:31-46).
When our culture calls Christians extremists, I hope they’re right. But I’m afraid we’re just as mainstream as everybody else.