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. To be a Christian is to place the life and teaching of Jesus at the center of one’s life. This is the first is a series of posts in which I will explain what I think that means – and doesn’t mean.
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 is nothing moderate about following 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
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
– Luke 14:33
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
If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
– Matthew 6:14-15
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
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others.
– Matthew 23:23
You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
– Matthew 25:41-46
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
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
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
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
– John 14:6
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
– John 14:15
For more, see What Jesus Commanded
To be a radical centrist means being centered on Jesus Christ 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.