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27 June 2016

I have been radicalised

I have been radicalised

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about the danger of radicalisation, indeed the government seems set on bringing forward legislation to protect against radical extremism. Now, while I understand the government's motivation, I have a confession to make – I hope it doesn't mean I will be arrested – I have been radicalised.

I was brought up in a Christian home, attended church through my childhood and participated in Scripture Union camps, but by my early teens, there wasn't a lot of faith in my life. However, at the age of 17, something profoundly life-changing happened. I had a summer job at what turned out to be a Christian conference centre, Capernwray Hall, and while there, I heard the life changing message of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. As I accepted the message, everything had to change. I was 'converted', 'radicalised' for Jesus.

Everything changed, not overnight, but in the weeks, months and years that followed, my aspirations for life centred around being a radical follower of Jesus. It seemed Jesus had something to say into every area, not just what happened on Sunday. He was interested in my finances, my relationships, my attitude to the poor, the environment and perhaps most seriously, my plans for the future. How I viewed my life and indeed the world around me had been radicalised.

Of course, my experience is true for millions upon millions who have chosen the path of Jesus - from those fishermen invited to join the team, down through the centuries to women and men who were willing to lay it all on the line, even to the point of death, because of their encounter with the master. I love how those who opposed our evangelical forefathers, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, chose to insult them, calling them "enthusiasts". I guess that's an 18th century equivalent to 'radical'.

Throughout the centuries, the followers of Jesus' relationship with the state has been problematic. In the early years of the Church, it was the powerbase of the temple, those who feared they would lose their authority, who opposed them so vigorously. The 'chief priests' of our modern, secular-humanist society react strongly to the 'enthusiasts' who challenge their powerbase. For them, all is fine as long as we keep our faith private, restricted to Sundays and perhaps have an occasional foray into some social action project. But woe betide us if we challenge the prevailing world views. God forbid we might suggest the Church may have something to say beyond our private individual faith; that God is concerned about the growing divide between rich and poor, the environment, how we conduct our relationships including marriage, corruption wherever we may find it – I could go on.

The 'chief priests' get particularly concerned when we want to make clear the Christian faith's claims about Jesus. Peter speaking to the rulers, elders, teachers and high priests of his day in Acts 4:12 put it like this: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name  under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."

This is a shocking message which the 21st century mind-set finds hard to hear - there is no other way. The other great world faiths or philosophies can't do it. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, humanism just won't do.

So let's be clear, whatever pressure might be put on us, whether by legislation, the media or just social norms, this message can't stay within our church buildings. It has to break out. It's for everyone to hear and for everyone to have an opportunity to accept or reject. So let's ask for God's help to be carriers of this message wherever He would take us. That as we speak what the early Church called the 'good news', we do it as Jesus spoke, not discrediting our message by our attitude or lifestyle, that we live and we speak full of grace as well as truth.

At the Alliance, we remain centrally involved in scrutinising government counter-extremism plans. We are deeply concerned that legitimate fears about security are being used to reduce our freedoms to proclaim and live out the gospel. In partnership with others, we will continue to press the government to clearly define what it means by 'extremist' and to recognise that freedom of religion is a foundation that underpins all our other freedoms and rights.

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