Digging Deeper

Unearthing the surpassing riches of Christ

Christian Conviction v. “Christian” Fanaticism

What is the difference between a Christian who is very convicted and the “Christian” who is fanatical?  The difference is that a Christian who has convictions consistent with the Christian faith will have a character shaped by the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.  The fanatic has a character shaped by a very limited section of biblical truths.  Adopting only a limited section of the Scripture, their fanaticism is fundamentally non-Christian. 

Tim Keller, in his book The Reason for God (page 57), describes the difference:

Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from “nominalism” at one end to “fanaticism” on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and perhaps barely believes is. A fanatic is someone who is through to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believe it but is not too devoted to it. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the Christian faith is … basically a form of moral improvement. …

What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.

Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. . . . What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.”[1]

[1] Timothy J Keller, The reason for God : belief in an age of skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 57.


February 18, 2013 - Posted by | Christian Worldview, Convictions, Following Christ, Living the Faith


  1. […] Christian Conviction v. “Christian” Fanaticism (seanwhitenack.wordpress.com) […]

    Pingback by Christian Missions through the Lens of the 14th Century | MMM -- Munson Mission Musings | February 25, 2013 | Reply

  2. I give them grace….they are yet growing. I will never discourage zeal and commitment but encourage growth in the midst of it. Good post.

    Comment by Kris | March 26, 2013 | Reply

  3. I suspect that it is a mistake to set fanaticism up as an opposite to Christian maturity, because I have seen mature Christians, individuals who were at least mature by many measures, who appeared to be quite fanatical about certain parts of their faith. I have seen several of these individuals to be severely conflicted as a result.

    Any definition of fanaticism contains a dimension of irrationality. In many settings, Christian missions in particular, it takes on a form of a lack of balance regarding God-ordained commitments that the Christian has already entered into, even life-time commitments. These include mismanagement and even abrogation of marriage, parenting and filial roles in pursuit of mission goals.

    Philosophically a strong case can be made for Christian fanaticism being the mistake of presuming that Christianity is idealistic in nature. One of the key risks in the house-of-cards idealism that develops is an unwillingness for the idealistic Christian to deal constructively and proactively with key human relationships that they have because they find that their relationships by nature are messy, dirty affairs, full of self-failure, mutual sin, and a deep need for humility and mutual forgiveness for those relationships to persevere. It is much simpler to withdraw, or attack others for their lack of mutually idealistic views. Maturity leads one to the conclusion that relationships are hard work, and not solved by retreating from them, piously or otherwise.

    Unless the importance of pursuing healthy and truly grace-based human relationships becomes a priority in Evangelical theology, we will not see an end to the accusation that Evangelical theology is fanatical at its core. Frankly, as currently construed, Evangelical theology _is_ fanatical at its core, and is deeply flawed for a lack of community/humility/relationship dimension.

    –Joe Burney, jburney76@gmail.com, Member – Green Pond Bible Chapel, Rockaway New Jersey USA.

    Comment by Joe Burney | April 12, 2013 | Reply

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    Comment by Kristan | January 15, 2015 | Reply

  5. thank you for your deep article . It is humbling and enlightening.

    Comment by Surbhi Kapur | September 13, 2015 | Reply

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