On Being Labeled "Extreme"

by Richard Peachey

Regent College theologian John Stackhouse certainly caught my attention with his recent statement in the BC Christian News (June 2010, page 14):

“No one needs to be alarmed about Catholic bishops, or the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada . . . What does disturb me . . . is the fact that extreme forms of evangelicalism — the creation-science, hysterical-prophetic, health-and-wealth, visionary-charismatic, culturally-imperialistic, all-or-nothing forms — seem indeed to have purchase on significant figures in Canadian political life.” (Bold print indicates emphasis added.)

Stackhouse was commenting on Marci McDonald’s inflammatory new book, The Armageddon Factor, which frets about Christians (allegedly) having undue influence over the current Conservative federal government. Stackhouse placed creation science at the head of a list of what he considers to be troublesome deviations lurking within the broad framework of evangelical Christianity. These views or positions, Stackhouse labels “extreme” — clearly in some pejorative sense. He evidently finds them “alarming” or “disturbing.” His end-of-list descriptor “all-or-nothing forms” seems intended to characterize the whole group of views as uncompromising, unreasonable, and unacceptable.

As I was pondering this label “extreme,” I turned to my Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary (1989). Definition #1 read: “Being of the highest degree; exceedingly great or severe. . . .” Definition #2 said: “Going far beyond the bounds of moderation; exceeding what is considered reasonable; immoderate; radical; . . . also, very strict or drastic. . . .” There were several other definitions, but they all involved literal or technical usages, with neutral connotations, so I had to suppose that Stackhouse’s thinking ran along the lines of those first two definitions when he called creationists “extreme.” (By the way, this same dictionary defines “extremist” as “One who advocates extreme measures or holds extreme views.” If our views are truly “extreme,” then we can rightly be termed “extremists”!)

Next, I turned to Roget’s Thesaurus (1988). Along with “extreme” were listed such adjectives as “inordinate,” “excessive,” “outrageous,” and “preposterous.”

The word “extreme” clearly has many negative connotations. Theologian Stackhouse may not have been thinking of all of those meanings when he used the word, but his readers could easily understand him to say that creationists are immoderate, unreasonable, drastic, and preposterous, as well as dangerous, alarming, and disturbing. What should our response be?

We should recognize that in the minds of many people (even Christians), creationism is indeed an “extreme,” “fringe” view. If you believe it because you want to be popular and accepted, especially among “intellectuals,” think again! The creation science position is definitely based on biblical truth and sound scientific information, but becoming a creationist is not likely to win you friends among those who consider themselves “thought leaders.” We do in fact “exceed what is considered reasonable” (by compromising evangelicals). We really are “radical,” “strict,” and “drastic” (in the world’s sight). We genuinely are “all-or-nothing,” just as the apostle Paul showed himself to be in Romans 3:4 — “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”

On the other hand, we can rejoice in the fact that our view truly is “extreme” — in a good sense! Many advertisers are now using “extreme” as a word that conveys excitement, challenge, dedication, and high quality.

• “Extreme Fitness” advertises its “health club culture” as “all about quality, results, and passion for exceeding our members’ expectations.” “We are dedicated to continually improving our clubs and ensuring that our programs and services provide excitement and motivation to inspire our members to make positive changes in their lives.” (http://www.extremefitness.ca/about_us) [This URL now obsolete.]

As creationists, our spiritual and intellectual lives can also be “extreme” in the sense of high quality, dedicated, excited, and motivated.

• “Extreme Pita” proclaims, “We’re fast, fresh, fun, and full of flavor. Besides all that, we’re EXTREME when it comes to our commitment to creating a unique product bursting with ingredients that are healthy.” (http://www.extremepita.com/about-us)

Creationists are “extreme” in their commitment, too, and it’s because we also have a “product” that is uniquely healthy, fresh, and flavourful. Our teaching is sound, healthful, and life-giving: it lines up with biblical truth (as well as scientific reality) and, accordingly, it produces increased confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, our great Creator and Redeemer.

(Note: No particular endorsement of the above-mentioned companies is intended in this article. We simply note their positive use of the word "extreme.")


POSTSCRIPT

After writing the above article, I came across this very pertinent quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. (found in his famous "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," written to his fellow clergymen).

And now this approach [of using nonviolent direct action to fight against racism] is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. . . .

In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.


POST-POSTSCRIPT

On February 12, 2011, an article on the Creation Ministries International website dealt briefly with the labeling of creationists as "extreme." A correspondent objected to CMI's "extreme brand of Christian faith." Lita Cosner (writing with Gary Bates and Jonathan Sarfati) responded as follows:

What is extreme about it? Our ministry distinctive is to support the Genesis account of origins, which, as I have just shown, is necessary for understanding the very gospel itself. So, I rather prefer "biblical" or "orthodox" over "extreme" to describe our "brand" of Christian faith. We take the Bible to be the actual word of God which is as useful and relevant for the believer today as it was when the constituent documents were first penned (2 Timothy 3:16). If that is "extreme", then I will take the designation as a compliment! If anyone professes to be a Christian, but does not accept the Genesis account, then I would think that is less logical (one might even say 'extreme') as there is not a consistent basis for their need for salvation.