Is Christianity a Radicalized Religion?

by Tom Terry

CNN’s Belief Blog presented four signs that a person’s religious beliefs might be radicalized. This stood in contrast to a TED presentation showed that 75 percent of the world’s population live in countries that impose legal restrictions on religion.  

It was CNN’s Belief Blog that described four signs of radicalization are so broad that virtually any religious founder, or significant leader, or even people attending evangelical churches might be considered radicalized. Here are the four signs that, according to CNN, your religion might be evil:

         1.) I know the truth and you don’t.

         2.) Beware the charismatic leader.

         3.) The end is near.

         4.) The end justifies the means.

How broad are these “signs?” Consider that under these wide-ranging statements, Jesus would be a religious radical meeting three of the four criteria. The Apostle Paul would also fit the bill. In fact, many, if not most evangelical pastors would fit the bill, for three out of four signs. Yet, ironically, the Pew Research Center’s data on worldwide religious restrictions notes that 3/4th of the world’s population live under restrictions on religious expression. Ironically, most of those countries that have such religious restrictions are those imposed by truly radical religious influence or regimes. These include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Tunisia, China, Syria, Burma, Yemen, and others. In fact, “During the latest year covered in the study, there also was an increase in harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups. Indeed, five of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study—Jews, Christians, Buddhists, adherents of folk or traditional religions, and members of other world religions—experienced four-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments.” (1)

Let’s go back to CNN’s idea of radicalization. How do your religious views measure up to CNN’s Belief Blog article? Here’s my self-evaluation:

1.) I know the truth and you don’t.

Chalk up one for CNN. I’m one of those Christians that believes that I know the truth and some people don’t. Where did I get this idea? I got if from Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8:10). And who can forget this, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:44-45). This is Jesus way of saying, “I know the truth and you don’t.”

Exclusivity in religion is nothing new. The early Jews believed in it. Jesus believed in it. Even Islam’s Mohammed believed in it. Subscribing to exclusivity in truth claims does not make one radical except to the person who believes that all truth claims are false (which would itself be a truth claim), or that all truth claims are “personal” and hold no weight for a larger community for the sake of the modern day notion of tolerance.

2.) Beware the charismatic leader.

Jesus was a charismatic leader. “No one ever spoke like [Jesus]” (John 7:46). In fact, he was the leading charismatic figure of his day. “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). “A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick” (John 6:2).

There are many charismatic religious leaders and personalities today. Being charismatic or a clever orator doesn’t make one radical—even if that person is noted for bad theology like many of today’s Prosperity Gospel teachers. I find it interesting that many of the Bible’s most interesting characters demonstrated charismatic leadership.

Not to boast, but when I led Eagle TV in Mongolia I was known among many of our staff as a charismatic leader of sorts. Of course, I’m a type A personality. In terms of my work that means I feel an overwhelming desire to conquer and win at what I do. That means taking risks, sometimes big risks, and leading others to take them with me. And follow they did. So, when it comes to two of CNN’s four criteria I’m batting a thousand.

3.) The end is near.

Who said the end is near? The Apostle Paul. Speaking of the second coming of Christ, Paul said, “Salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Romans 13:11). The Apostle Peter was no different. “But the end of all things is at hand: be you therefore sober, and watch to prayer” (I Peter 4:7). Even Jesus noted his soon return. “I come quickly” (Revelation 22:7).

Where do I stand? Jesus is coming soon. By soon I don’t mean in another 2,000 years. I mean soon, as in our modern generation. I’ve no clue when that will be. But the signs of fulfilled prophesy in the last 70 years seem to point to sometime before the end of this century. So where am I on CNN’s Belief Blog? Three for three.

4.) The ends justified the means.

Here’s where I, and the vast majority of true Christians, part with CNN. The ends does NOT justifies the means. The Bible teaches nothing of the sort. However, the Bible does teach us that God is sovereign and can do whatever he pleases with what and who he has created. “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Romans 9:19-22).

Have you read the book of Job? After a lengthy complaint about his trials God’s answer to Job may be summarized in this simple sentence, “Who do you think you are?”

Yes, the Bible has some hard passages for Christians to consider. God ordered the wholesale slaughter of entire people groups in Deuteronomy 20:15-17, “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

Speaking of a prophesy concerning Jerusalem in Ezekiel 9:6, the Lord said, “Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women…” (read the whole chapter for a proper context). What would happen to the Jewish nation that oppressed foreigners? God told Israel, “My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:24).

These are hard passages to accept. This is not a case of the ends justifies the means. Rather, these are cases of God doing in history what he has the right and intention to do according to his knowledge, will, plan, and righteousness. As Paul said, “Who are you who answers back to God?” 

In contrast, nowhere in the scripture are Christians given a command that applies for all time to kill or destroy for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Romans 5 instructs us that Jesus died for us while we were yet still God’s enemies.

Does the ends justify the means? No. But where sin, judgment, and God is concerned we can say that the means justifies the end.


So where do we stand on CNN’s radicalization criteria? Three out of four. Does that make us radicals for those who believe the Bible and worship Jesus? If so, count me in.


(1) RIsing Tide of Restrictions on Religion, Pew Research Forum



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