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Any Christian at some point will be labeled an extremist. Also every Christian at some point will call other Christians extremists. Even in any given local church, some will label each other this way.

The question is from what Biblical basis can we say 'balance is good', and therefore what kind of extremes should a person avoid?

For example, most Christians would agree that never reading God’s word but just being blown around by the Spirit would be an extreme position. In the same vein, always reading God’s word but denying the importance of the Spirit for understanding the Word would be the opposite extreme. Is this Biblical for me to paint extremes as bad things this way?

What is the scriptural basis for balance and what might be some commonly held views that are considered 'extreme' by most Christians, regardless of denomination?


Note

  • As this is admittedly a difficult question to answer because we all hold different view, I ask that if you have an answer ‘post it’, but try and refrain from promptly adding critical comments to other posts, unless ‘it clearly seems to violate principles supported by this site’.

  • This is what I would describe as an 'inter-faith' question, because although reverting to our own doctrinal rocking horse (which I often do) is acceptable for many answers, this question is with respect to the extremes that virtually any believer might be exposed to regardless of denomination.

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I always wanted to ask this question but couldn't figure out how to word it, good job. –  Greg McNulty Jul 3 '12 at 6:53
    
@Mike The question should be reworded then. As it is currently phrased, you are asking if the Bible supports it, which it does not, as I showed. It sounds like what you meant to ask was: "What arguments are used to support the idea of a 'balance ...'?" ... or perhaps, "What are the counterarguments to 'extremism'?" –  Jas 3.1 Jul 9 '12 at 20:17
    
Of course the Bible supports the concept of balance in some sense, the question I asked is in what way does it do so, and how does it oppose fanatical extremes. anybody can argue in what way it does not, this was not my question. –  Mike Jul 11 '12 at 9:04
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5 Answers

No, the Bible does not support the concept of 'balance between two extremes'. What the Bible supports is walking in God's ways, which means operating within boundaries in some areas, and being as extreme as you can be in other areas. In some cases operating within God's boundaries looks like 'balancing between two extremes', but that is not an accurate description of what is going on.

The idea of "finding the balance" in things is widely accepted by today's society, including the church. Sometimes Christians use this alleged principle to explain doctrines like "drinking in moderation", or "eating in moderation". Since we find it useful, we continue to (erroneously) teach it as a Biblical principle. This "principle" is also used to justify false doctrines like "not going overboard in your devotion to God", and having a "balanced view of God" that includes 'a little love' and 'a little wrath'. Neither of these doctrines are accurate Biblically.

Example 1: The word and the Spirit. We are often taught to "find the balance" between the word and the Spirit - in life, hermeneutics, etc. However, contained within this teaching is what is referred to as a "false dichotomy"; the two are not "opposite" in any way, and therefore do not technically belong on the same spectrum in the first place. We make these spectrums because we like to over-simplify things.

A more accurate view would be to consider each individually.

  • You could make a spectrum between "following the Spirit fully" and "rejecting the Spirit fully", which are actually opposites. Of course, you wouldn't want to "find the balance between the two extremes" once the extremes are accurately defined, rather, you would want to be "extreme" and follow the Spirit fully, as Jesus did.

  • Likewise, we could make a spectrum between "trusting the word of God in every way" and "not trusting the word of God in any way". Once again, we would want to be "extreme" and trust the word of God in every way.

The goal is to do both - "trust the word of God in every way" and "follow the Spirit fully". The problem with placing them both on the same spectrum is that it gives the impression that one comes at the expense of the other, which is not true at all; It is not as though trusting the word of God more means following the Spirit less!

Example 2: Drinking in moderation. As I mentioned, Christians often use this alleged principle to explain why drinking is OK, as long as you don't have "too much." The Biblical picture is very different than a "balance between two extremes", though. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose you drew a spectrum and were going to label the "two extremes" of drinking. One would be "not drinking at all" and the other would be "drinking yourself to death." The idea, then, would be that the best place to live would be in the middle of the two. I see three problems with this spectrum:

  • The Bible does not give us such a spectrum

  • The "balance" between the two extremes may very well be "getting moderately drunk on occasion", which is obviously not the instruction of Scripture

  • The Bible doesn't teach that not drinking is wrong. In other words, one of the "extremes" is not bad at all.

What does the Bible teach? Do not get drunk. That's the gist of it. There is no "balance between two extremes" - only a boundary which we are instructed not to cross. You can drink a little if you want - or you can drink none at all. You just can't cross the boundary.

Summary: Our enemy is not "extremism", but rather "deviation from God's ways".

For the sake of brevity, I'll stop there for now. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see another alleged "balance" argument answered and I'll update my post with an explanation.

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the only problem I find with this is that it leads to the Al-Quada type mentality and unfortunately that is complete darkness. Likewise, I have met Christians who are so extreme they give off a heavy, dark, strained energy. I truly believe that is not how Jesus wants us to be. –  Greg McNulty Jul 3 '12 at 21:21
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@GregMcNulty The goal is not to be an "extremist", but rather, to walk in God's ways "to the extreme." For example, we are called to love others; in the spectrum between "not loving others at all" and "loving others completely", we should strive to follow God's ways to the extreme, and love others completely. However, we are not called to be "extremely dark", because that is opposite of God's ways. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 4 '12 at 4:16
    
(+1) I had to read your post slowly see you you are arguing something similar to me but from an entirely different standpoint. In common day language I still think it is better to be firendly to the word balance though, not many are going to follow your argument. Just my opinion. –  Mike Jul 4 '12 at 23:27
    
@Mike The trouble I have with that is I have seen many, many people use this "balance" idea to justify a lukewarm spiritual life, or a more "reasonable" interpretation of the dramatic claims of Scripture, and so on. This is just simply not a Biblical principle. I think we need to stick with what is actually taught in Scripture and avoid using secular teachings to sugar-coat our doctrine. We really are called to give up everything, die to ourselves, live for Jesus, turn the other cheek, stop sinning, love God with everything we are, etc. etc. People need to hear the actual, extreme truth. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 4 '12 at 23:47
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Excellent point about drinking. I've often thought of this as an example of moderation, but I think you make a case that it is not. It is a bright line prohibition. –  Jay Jul 5 '12 at 6:12
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Ecclesiastes 7 is even more direct:

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness. 16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? 18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

That said, the Golden Mean is primarily Aristotelean in origin. That alone does not exclude it from Christianity, becuase much of Aristoltelean thought was incorporated into the Church's doctrine in the first few centuries of the early church.

Galileo, for example, was really having quibbles with Aristotlean cosmology, moreso than anything in Scripture itself. The notions of perfect spheres and earth-centricity are not found in Scripture, but had been accepted as dogma by the Church, and as such were defended.

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(+1) For Solomon's quote - maybe that kind of wisdom partly filtered down the ages to Aristotle. I know Plato seemed to have borrowed a bit from Genesis in his account of creation (Timaeus), at least that is what I thought when I had read it years ago. Virgil's predictions of a Messiah also seems like it could have come from Hebrew influence. I bet the Hellenistic Jews also gave as many ideas as they borrowed from the Greeks. The world has always been a small place. Cheers. –  Mike Jul 3 '12 at 15:34
    
@Affable Geek: very helpful quote, thank you. –  Greg McNulty Jul 3 '12 at 21:15
    
Although I disagree, +1 for finding a verse that says "Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes"!! I'm curious which translation you quoted? In the NASB, verse 18b reads "for the one who fears God comes forth with both [lit. "all"] of them." –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '12 at 0:03
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@Jas3.1 To be candid, I too actually don't believe that Christianity is compatable with "Moderation in all things" (unless if you include moderation in that). That's why I started pointing out the true nature is that it is a Hellenistic accretion. –  Affable Geek Jul 5 '12 at 1:17
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The Bible does indeed support the idea of balancing between two extremes, even if only indirectly.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Interestingly enough, when I recalled this verse before looking it up, I had this mental feeling that to go to either the left or the right side of the road would be on the path to destruction (likely influenced by this scene in Facing the Giants). However, as I realized when I read it, Jesus is actually talking about two separate roads. So, I had to get the don't-turn-to-the-left-or-right part from somewhere else.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Proverbs 4:27 (NIV)

27  Do not turn to the right or the left;
        keep your foot from evil.

In both of these verses (and at least five others), there is this idea that going straight is the only good way. Hence, this can be combined with Matthew 7:13-14 to say that narrow and straight is the road that leads to life, so to turn away from it is to invite destruction. There is also the fact that turning off a road usually wasn't (and isn't, especially at high speed) a great idea, given all the bandits, wild animals, and other dangers were off the road.

So there you have it. Stay on the road and don't turn to the right or left. Balance between two extremes.


(Note: I didn't answer your secondary question. That could easily be its own question.)

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+1 - That's one way of extracting balance from the Bible. I never thought of it that way before. The use of the word 'crooked' is often used in the bible to denote a wicked way or crooked path, which also supports your method. In this sense anything that is not 'balanced' is in a sense crooked and wicked (left or right). Cheers. –  Mike Jul 3 '12 at 12:37
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Moderation is okay, as long as you don't carry it to an extreme. :-)

Aristotle wrote, "The virtue of justice consists in moderation." While this may be true in some cases, it is surely not in others.

To take an extreme example: There are serial killers in the world, who will murder others on a whim, or for kicks. Of course there are many who would never hurt another person. So is the ideal then to practice moderation, i.e. to only murder a small number of people, or to only murder people who seriously annoy you?

Perhaps you could get around that by redefining what constitutes the extremes. Like say that murder is one extreme and the other extreme is, what, failing to use force when it is necessary to defend the innocent or something like that? Then the mid-point is never committing murder but being prepared to use force when necessary.

But if that's how you have to reason, then the idea of moderation doesn't seem very useful as a moral guide. We're not finding what is virtuous by seeking a mid-point between extremes; we are defining the mid-point based on what we already decided was virtuous.

For a more realistic example: Suppose we apply a "moderation" approach to sexual activity.

You could at least approximate a Biblical standard by saying one extreme is no sex at all, the opposite extreme is casual sex with random strangers, and so moderation is limiting sex to your husband or wife.

But whose to say that's the "right moderation"? One could just as well say that one extreme is limiting sex to marriage, the opposite extreme is causal sex with random strangers, and so moderation lies in having affairs only with people you really care about and only when your wife is out of town.

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+1 for "We're not finding what is virtuous by seeking a mid-point between extremes; we are defining the mid-point based on what we already decided was virtuous." This hits the nail on the head. Great example with sexual activity, too. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '12 at 18:06
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up vote -1 down vote accepted

The bible says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

None of these words tend to draw images of somebody flipping out along an extreme. Love may be the most balanced emotion, in that it alone can direct all other emotions without causing internal conflicts. The word self-control also speaks directly to the subject, for it implies that as humans we are tempted towards excessive behavior, that even moralists like someone else pointed out, the Greeks, condemned.

For example, where self-control is not followed, as in the case of excessive drinking, the Bible contrasts this extreme, as opposite to being filled with the Spirit on account of it:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). 

Interestingly the word debauchery (ἀσωτία) means 'excess', or 'riot'.  Is being excessive not being extreme? This is really what many mean when they say, 'Well that's pretty extreme' often followed by laughter. It means someone hast lost their balance, or 'cool' and is acting to 'excess'. 

Excess often takes the form of excessive emotion that do not seem to match what the circumstances call for. From this standpoint extremism is simply long term emotionalism indicating damaged emotions. Sometimes a perfectionist acting like a theological cop on the beat, is just a sincere person who had a father that did not accept him, so there all stressed out poking themselves into other people business when not invited.

For extremism related to damaged emotions refer to this post as God is in the business of healing us regularly.

What kinds of extremes have I encountered (or have been terribly guilty of)?

  • Too much into God's word, neglecting the fruit of the Spirit that makes a person relaxed and loving
  • Too much into the Spirit wondering if it 'God's will' to buy this chocolate bar versus that one.
  • Too much into church, neglecting family and friends
  • Too much  friends and family time, with no time to meet new people at Church
  • Too much insistence on traditions of a single church
  • Too little respect for anybodies traditions, or the beliefs of previous generations
  • Too many opportunities for sharing the gospel where its actually just rude pushiness
  • Too little concern and sharing with others about God's love in the gospel
  • Too much involvement in politics so that the gospel message takes a back seat while abortion, poverty, etc. grab all the attention.
  • Too little concern  for our community or church, resigning everybody to hell as we whistle and skip along our merry way -Too lazy to get a job or work hard in the crummy one that we have
  • Too ambitious and greedy in our career to stop to think what matters
  • Not believing in the supernatural at all
  • Thinking their is a demon lurking around every corner
  • Giving all you have to the poor but not calling them to repentance and faith in Christ
  • Giving all to yourself and wondering why you don't receive the proper respect for your knowledge and wisdom?
  • Judging yourself by standards nobody has ever lived up to
  • Congratulating yourself for getting out of bed

Anyway the list could go on forever but love avoids all extremes and balances justice and mercy. It made Jesus tough and tender, serious but relaxed, among many other perfect excellencies of virtue.

The fruit of the Spirit leads to a balanced mind and heart, so 'yes' although the word 'extreme' may not have been common in Biblical days, the Bible inherently avoids all extremes. Extremes are to be avoided unless they are extremely good, like total abandonment to faith, love and hope in Christ. Such a person is extremely balanced all the way around.

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someone actually down voted this, how 'extreme' is that?! :) you gotta have humour these days –  Mike Jul 4 '12 at 5:44
    
sounds like you have learned a lot by trial and error. Sometimes it seems like the further I learn about the word the mire confusing things get but I believe ur makes me a better person so it's worth it. –  Greg McNulty Jul 4 '12 at 6:45
    
By the way, just so you know, accepting one's own answer doesn't automatically put it at the top. –  El'endia Starman Jul 5 '12 at 6:54
    
@El'endiaStarman - I often post answers after helping others climb to the top. I do not associate best answers with high upvotes. Some of my best answers have the lowest, or even negative vote. Yet my weak answers get high votes. My real purpose often it to create a link to a standard answer that I plan to refer to in other answers. Not about location on the page, or the votes I happen to get. Cheers –  Mike Jul 5 '12 at 7:31
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