If you are involved in churches… especially Evangelical Churches, you have probably seen them… conferences (especially youth conferences), camps, books, and such that promote:
- Extreme Faith
- Radical Faith
- Radical Commitment
- Extreme Christianity
You get the idea. The motive is to get people away from Christianity as it is usually experienced and practiced. The problem is that both terms are as likely to be wrong as right. It is like in politics where people say: “WE NEED CHANGE!!” or “WE PROMOTE PROGRESS!!” It is certainly true that we need change, but we probably need a lot of things to remain the same… and even for things that need to change, some changes clearly do not improve. The term progress is hardly more satisfying… it simply means change that we think is better than they way things were before. Thus, all change that is instigated by a group is, by definition, progress– at least for members of that group.
Now, lets take the image above. Consider two circles. One is “Where We Are” or “WWA.” The other is “Where We Need to Be” or “WWNTB.” Extreme means to push the boundaries or do what we have always done… but with more intensity. In other words, Extreme is a First Order Change… change that does not involve a new strategy, but a new intensity: trying to do the same things as before, but better. The arrow pointing to the edge of WWA would be extreme.
Radical on the other hands is to change strategy, or try something new. That is a Second Order Change. The arrow that goes from the WWA circle to the orange circle could be described as a radical change.
The problem is that Extreme change and Radical change provides no guarantee that the situation is improved… only that it has changed.
Let’s Take the Example of the 1800s. in the United States. At this time there was a lot of “spiritual” dissatisfaction. This led to many seeking change. Some sought to go in the direction of Extreme versions of the Christian Faith, while others to radical changes. The revivalism that swept the US in the 1800s was certainly a form of extreme change, along with the “Holy Roller” movements. Other examples include the various communes that formed such as the Harmonians, Shiloh, and more, and various apocalyptic groups. With these, the goal was to be the same, but more extreme. This extremeness may involve being the same but more emotional— or being the same but more “holy.” or perhaps “submissive.” Radical movements also were common. These were movements that replaced old answers with new theories. These include Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as Spiritualism, Theosophy, and so forth.
The 1800s should have served as a warning that seeking to be “Extreme” or “Radical” in one’s faith is not, in itself, a solution.
The 1970s and early 80s repeated the same cycle with various groups that sought Extreme or Radical answers with the belief that being different from “Where We Are” means “Better Than We Were.” But worse is always a possibility. We will look at some of that Worst in the next post.