Doctrinal Obsessions

The Plague of Fanaticism

Why do people who have been influential in the evangelical world passionately advocate a cause, pull back, and then sometimes take the opposite stance with equal energy?

The answer, I think, is found in the word “fanaticism.”

Not all who fall are fanatical. Not all who fall from leadership end up denying the Lord or the Word. People like Bill Hybels, James MacDonald, or Mark Driscoll have succumbed to various sins (some more serious than others). As far as I know, these men still profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, others could be described as fanatics and may completely reverse themselves.

Festus probably considered Paul the Apostle a fanatic when he said to him, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26:24).

As followers of Jesus Christ in a world that labels sin as normal and righteousness as abnormal, those of us who pursue righteousness and shun sin can easily be called “fanatics.” Most of us have been so labeled. I will try to explain what I mean by the term “fanatic” as I use it in this article.

Zealous Christians can cross the line between zeal (which is a Biblical virtue) and fanaticism (which is a vice). The difference in not found in Webster’s dictionary, but the fruit of observation. In my mind, zeal is a function of conviction. Fanaticism is a function of personality. People are zealous because of what they believe. Fanatical people, however, will usually find something (sometimes anything) about which to be zealous.

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