Extremism as a Discipleship Problem

Scripture Focus: Acts 17.4-5
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. 
But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.

1 Thessalonians 4.6
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Extremism as a Discipleship Problem
By John Tillman

Audiences have long been fascinated with extremism and the process of radicalization. In 2018 a TV series retelling events surrounding the 1993 raid that killed David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, served as a reminder that radicalization is not merely a third-world or a Muslim problem.

Radicalization has been imagined in fiction as psychological manipulation, as brainwashing, and as bribery. It has even been sympathetically redressed as the rational actions of those with legitimate grievances. But the radicalization of persons in any religion or belief system often comes down to an education problem. Christians would call it a discipleship problem.

Islamist terrorists such as, Sayfullo Saipov, who carried out a truck attack in Manhattan in 2017, are often motivated by a faith that in the end is little more than a political and ethnic identity.

After acts of violence from their members, many Imams and Christian pastors can be found saying some version of, “That’s not what we teach.” Whether these statements are true or not, they are a confession of poor discipleship which has far wider-ranging effects than the infinitesimal percentage of Christians (or Muslims) who resort to violent attacks.

Poor discipleship in Western faith is allowing Christianity to become little more than a political distinction and in some cases, a racial one. Our brand of moralism is a hair’s breadth off from the Pharisees of the New Testament. Like the Pharisees, we use moralistic interpretations of scripture to justify denying assistance to the needy. We are not ashamed to make embarrassing political alliances to ensure that we don’t lose our place of cultural influence.

We can find hope, however, in today’s readings in Acts. Though the Bereans are called “more noble” than the Thessalonians, it is the Thessalonian church that is more well known to us through the letters Paul writes to them. First Thessalonians is a joyful celebration of those who were left in a difficult situation, without Paul who introduced them to Christianity. (And without Google.) Yet through diligence, faith, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, persevered and blossomed in faith.

Even in a culture dominated by a brutal empire, those willing to devote themselves to prayer, Bible reading, and connecting to the Holy Spirit, can not only survive our culture but continue the process of transforming it one life at a time.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take that splinter out of your eye,’ when you cannot see the great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in your brother’s eye.” — Luke 6.41-42

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 7 (Listen -6:37)
Acts 17 (Listen -5:28)

This Weekend’s Readings
Nehemiah 8 (Listen -4:07) Acts 18 (Listen -4:06)
Nehemiah 9 (Listen -7:48) Acts 19 (Listen -5:47)

Read more about The Church of Acts
The clue Luke gives us is in the title—Acts. They will know we are Christians by our love. By our actions.

Read more about The Energy of Expectancy
The time of waiting is past. The light is here. The starting pistol has fired. The gate is open. The race has begun.

A Berean Palate

Acts 17.11-12
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Reflection: A Berean Palate
By John Tillman                                                                                                                                     
The contrast between the Bereans and the Thessalonians has come up in our devotionals before. Despite the Thessalonians having two epistles in the New Testament, Luke tells us in Acts that the Berean culture was more intellectually mature. Maybe Thessalonica just needed more help.

Truthfully, most of Paul’s letters were intended to be read by all the churches in the area. So Thessalonian letters were likely read to the Bereans as well.

But as for us, there is little doubt that our modern culture is more Thessalonian than Berean. 

The Thessalonians were prone to being riled up by exaggeration and falsifications. Just like we are. From our earlier post on this topic:

“If you think people today are more sophisticated, more cultured, or more intellectual than those of the ancient world, you have been paying attention neither to ancient history nor to Facebook.”

The Bereans’ nobility is specifically related to their openmindedness, and their mature evaluation of new information according to the scriptures. We may need this discipline now even more than they did.

Our social media feeds and the 24-hour news channels we frequent are like a neverending buffet of poorly-cooked, unsanitary, and ill-prepared foods. It is no wonder that uncareful consumers end up vomiting thinly veiled racism or totalitarianist dogma masked as a joke or a critique or a supposedly “logical” argument. We need to develop a more discerning palate concerning the articles, posts, and even memes that form the majority of our information consumption. If the posts we see were all simply political, that would be bad enough, but many posts, especially contentious political posts, either directly or indirectly address theological concepts. 

As Acts and much of the New Testament teaches us, “Fake News” is not new. Mobs and riots are not new. Hate-mongering political leadership is not new. What is new is that too many Christians care less about the facts, than they do about political victory. To this point, we often quote Ed Stetzer, who has said, “Facts are our friends.” 

May we develop a discerning, Berean palate that we not only apply to scripture but to our reading of our culture and our reading of all the information that algorithms and the hysteria factories called “newsrooms” can throw at us.

“Christians need to develop a more Berean attitude about not only the scripture we read, but the news we share. It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible.”

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.” — John 13.34-35

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44) 
Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

Thank You!
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Read more about A Berean Take on Fake News :: Readers’ Choice
It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible.

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It has been so good to hear from many of you about posts for Readers’ Choice, but we still have some room in August for your input.

Share with our community about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

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