Are You Radical?

Are You Radical?

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Do you aspire to be a "radical" Christian? After reading several articles about the "new legalism" beginning to pervade Christianity (hint: it involves saying you want to be a "radical," "missional" Christian), I'm revisiting some of my thoughts on books like Radical. You might be familiar with this book, and ones like it, that say God's call on our lives should "challenge us to take a look at our lives and to forsake everything for the Gospel." Many people, including many young people, have jumped on the bandwagon and sought ways to abandon everything about their typical, suburban life in favor of pursuing extreme missions for the sake of following Christ.

As with any new perspective or book-selling phenomena, others will eventually come along to challenge the idea. As some begin to question the concept that true Christianity involves giving up our average American life, I read this viewpoint from Anthony Bradley, associate professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College:

"Being a 'radical,' 'missional' Christian is slowly becoming the 'new legalism.' We need more ordinary God and people lovers… I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today's Millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don't do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they 'settle' into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thess 4:11 says, "aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands." For too many Millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about."

I find myself agreeing, in large part, with this sentiment that 20- and 30-somethings continue to feel the pressure of "doing big things for God." Our interconnected, social-media-driven world allows instant access to global happenings. With that access comes much greater awareness of — and desire to make a difference in — the tragedies and desperate circumstances that many people are in across the world.

While some of this awareness is good, it can also lead to a generation that begins to feel bad about living a "normal" life and are inadvertently "encouraged by well-intentioned religious leaders inviting people to move to neglected cities to make a difference, because, after all, the Apostle Paul did his work primarily in cities," Bradley says.

Of course, in defense of those who believe a "radical" Christian life is the only way to regain the essence of true Christianity, I would agree that being challenged to think carefully about how comfortable we're getting in this life — and how much our lives look like the secular world around us — is a good thing. But we also need to acknowledge that many of us are called to work normal, 8-5 jobs; live a normal life with our families; and in the midst of that normalcy, pursue ways to show God's love to the world around us by the way we live our lives.

I'm curious to hear where you stand on this: Do you lean toward the idea that you need to forsake everything in your familiar life and go serve God in a large city or across the world? Or do you feel like this type of radicalism forgets that God calls many of us to live simple, peaceful lives that are intentional about showing God's love to the people around us? 

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  • Interesting. I'm sort of writing a draft about this very idea now. I'm only a few chapters in, but we'll see what comes of it...

  • If you haven't read David Platt's book "Radical," I would recommend it to every Christian. It speaks the hard truth into our pampered Christian lives. I believe that a lot of people decide to be radical Christians and sell everything because they want to appear to be amazing in the eyes of others, or because they are guilt-ridden, not necessarily because God has called them to that. But I also believe that if we don't keep our plans and possessions in an open hand, we are missing the point. God specifically calls certain people to certain things like overseas missions for example. He is not powerless to speak into our lives, and we as true followers of Jesus Christ have to be ready and willing to give it all at any time for His glory.

  • I have to say, there needs to be a distinction between followers of the radical Christianity movement and between those talking about it. I would be very surprised, for instance, to hear the idea that Francis Chan is opposed to someone living a godly life in their neighborhood. But yes, there is a very distinct problem of people being judgmental about others not being 'radical' enough. I can remember getting into some very frustrating discussions with people who wanted to say that my decision to study theology and want to discuss that was somehow less important than being 'loving'- a term that was never well defined, and never had anything to do with talking to someone about Christ.

    At some point in time, people decided that Paul saying that people have their own role within the Body of Christ no longer mattered, and I find this incredibly distressing.

  • This post goes to the heart of one of my favorite quotes from Paulo Freire: "Sectarianism, fed by fanaticism, is always castrating. Radicalization, nourished by a creative spirit, is always creative. Sectarianism mythicizes and thereby alienates; radicalization criticizes and thereby liberates." Freire was speaking about different kinds of Leftist movements in South America, but I think the same holds true for all religious and political movements across time. Is the need to "abandon everything about [the] typical, suburban life in favor of pursuing extreme missions for the sake of following Christ" fed by radicalism or sectarianism? I'm not familiar with the movement spoken of, but it sounds sectarian rather than radical. I would say it is more radical to "acknowledge that many of us are called to work normal, 8-5 jobs; live a normal life with our families; and in the midst of that normalcy, pursue ways to show God's love to the world around us by the way we live our lives."

  • It is a balance between the two extremes, a balance that is not easy to find. Both sides have important points. I think one big risk with the radical movement is that there's a strong temptation to be motivated more by the desire for excitement and glory than by the desire to follow God. A "normal" life will be more mundane and won't inspire people to be in awe of our dedication and sacrifices. A martyr complex is much more convincing when one is living a radical life. It's not wrong to want an interesting life or want people to notice our efforts, but it shouldn't be our #1 motivation, and those desires can quickly get out of control.

    I'm sure that many radical Christians have their motivations in order, but it is good to be careful of strong temptations.          

  • It comes down to the question of calling.  We need to be where God calls us to be.  He calls some to the mission field overseas, but he also calls some to the mission field right at home, whether in a formal role or in a a secular occupation.  Imagine if everyone in the first century travelled around like Paul; he wouldn't have had local churches to which he wrote his letters.  If everyone left the local church to pursue a special calling, there wouldn't be a local church.  There are many lost people overseas, but there are also lost people here to be reached (and probably more than we think). So there is a place for living the so called "normal life" (although we certainly are not called to conformity with the culture, and certainly as a culture we do not know the meaning of "self-sacrifice").  

    The problem comes down to actual practice.  How many of us do all that we can where we already are?  We don't.  I fail at this every day.  It's part of our fallen nature.  We are called to use the talents we are given, whether it is 10 or 5 or 1; we are not called to try to use someone else's talents.  Jesus, at the end of John 21, tells Peter to not worry about what John is doing, but to "follow me."  This is what we need to do.  We need to follow where we are called and do whatever we do to his glory.  

  • When I was younger I thought I would be a social justice lawyer who would defend the rights of the poor and oppressed and would change the my city.  Didn't happen.  Instead I'm working at an airport, and I love it.  I know this is where God wants me (at least for now).  I've never felt that I have had so many opportunities to share what God has done for me.  I never imagined God would be using me in the ways He has been, and it's just so awesome.

    The bottom line is listen to good Christian media, get connected to the right people, and obey whatever God has for you.  And he will bless it, anywhere you are.

  • Woke up today struggling with this. As a single 32 year old woman in a 9-5 office job, my life often feels small. I volunteer in church- but it never seems eough. I feel like I should be doing something grand... like how is my job as a project coordinator building God's kingdom? I am comforted that Jesus has the answer to my questions. He ordained all my days (Psalm 139:16) so He knows what I should be doing. Even if I quit my job and went to serve in a poor place, if He hadn't asked me to, it would still not please Him. Jesus said "I only do what I see the Father doing" (John 5:19). He did a lot of good things, and yet it was under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

  • I agree with "SCaruana".

    I would absolutely consider myself a "radical" Christian, as you put it. But I had already moved to one of the poorest countries in the world before ever hearing of Platt's book. (I'm more of a John Piper gal myself.) I didn't come because I wanted to do big things for God. I came because I wanted to meet Jesus.

    At the heart of the matter, it's not about "doing big things for God." If that's my motivation, then my motives are flawed and yes, borderline pharisaical. Radical Christianity is about living as a disciple: obeying the teachings of Jesus. In the words of Oswald Chambers, it's about "denying my right to myself" and living in holy fear of God... becoming less, so that God can be more, even when it makes me uncomfortable.

    I think the problem you're seeing has to do with a flawed interpretation of the "radical" idea, with people seeing it as a way to earn their salvation -- definitely like a kind of new legalism, and very disturbing!!! But God is so wise and merciful... if anything, this so-called radical lifestyle has made me more deeply aware of my own sinfulness than I ever was before. Apart from Christ, I am incapable of doing anything good. I am incapable of making any sacrifice pure enough for a holy God. All of my righteous acts are as filthy rags. After spending three years in Africa, I finally "get" what the apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians 3. I, in myself, am so sinful that I had to give up everything before I was finally able to see that God is more than enough.

    So... I see the radical lifestyle as a journey of discipleship. And I get really enthusiastic about it because I want everyone to know Jesus the way that I know Him. I'm grateful for this post, because it's made me more aware of how my words might be interpreted as legalistic, judgmental or condemning of lifestyles different from my own, something I definitely want to be careful of from now on!

  • I'd been thinking about this as a teenager before I'd even heard of such a movement, and now it's very much on my mind these days. One time a young man was interested in me, I turned him down because I knew his goal for the future was a little wife in a nice house with a nice lawn, nice cars and a couple kids and enough extra cash for Disney vacations. Fast-forward 6 years and that is exactly what he has. I dunno, I just felt I was meant for more, and less. More than living for myself and the comforts of this life, less than 3 cars, less than a house with more bedrooms than residents.

    I was raised in a Christian home, grew up going to church all my life...but never ventured outside my spiritual and physical comfort zone. I'm living in Japan--a very unchristian country--now, but still working a 9-5 job and lulled by living standards higher than back home in the U.S. I don't know what I should do. I try to be a witness to people around me, but I fail so much of the time, I think because my motivation is out of place. My life looks so different I think from the early saints in the New Testament, from Jesus's life, who told us to lose this worldly life and follow Him. "all claim to live in him must walk as Jesus did." My motivations right now are rooted in feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  Sometimes I think I have no more than a "demon's faith" that knows Jesus but doesn't love or follow Him. It breaks my heart. I'm just a rich white girl who doesn't have to go through any real hardship but also doesn't taste the fullness of God's presence and grace. "Why did You make me like this!?" I want to scream sometimes.  I'm just waiting and praying for God to change my heart.

  • I would highly recommend reading Follow Me, David Platt's sequel to Radical --in that one he expounds more on he meant by radical living.

    I believe the point is simply that we who claim to be true followers are actively, consistently pursuing Christ and whatever He calls us to, wherever He calls us. That He is our treasure and prize, not possessions, not money, not status, and we use those things for Him and to further His kingdom, not our own pleasures. Living the mundane, 8-5 job in a godly manner is a perfect opportunity to show Christ to the world just as selling all and moving to Africa is. Even Paul worked as a tent-maker on his missionary journeys--he used his everyday job for God. Radical living is not a matter of location or vocation--it's a matter of the heart.

    Do we need more people willing to sell all and move to Africa for the gospel?


    Do we need more people willing to live quietly with an 8-5 job and show their neighbors and coworkers who Christ is and how He is worth it all thru their everyday loving and living for the gospel?


    So as we follow Christ, and lay down our lives before Him, He'll show us which example our lives should be. Living faithfully for God in a pagan culture is radical, whether that culture is overseas or right in your own country.

  • This post resonates with me a lot. This would be a great round table discussion for the podcast!

  • I'm a teen that has for the most part thought I need to be radical to serve God well, but I'm thinking maybe that's a bit 'radical'; maybe I need to just be normal for Christ :) We shouldn't refrain from doing big things because of doubts that God will help us do what He calls us to, but it definitely shouldn't be a legalism thing where "I must do [ 'big' thing ]" to be a good christian.

    This mostly sounds like a case of  "I am not a hand therefore I'm not a part of the body" scenario. Some are meant to start revival tours and go overseas (what we tend to call 'important') but maybe its more important for someone else just to cry with someone who is hurting. It's not that either one is less-spiritual; we just all have different roles to play in God's kingdom.

  • I've sensed this trend in young adult Christian culture for a long time, and think Dawn hit the nail on the head very well. While we are all called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength - however that may demonstrate itself in our life - we certainly don't need to bonk others over the head for not having the calling we deem to be most holy. I first encountered this my first year out of college at my new church's "college ministry," which was entirely peopled by post-college-age young adults (myself as well, obviously!). Most of them had parked in this town after working one summer, convinced that God had called them to work a minimum wage job and bounce around from one basement to another while attending endless ministry bonfires and occasionally making a foray into the local community to do something indefinite and "loving." I loved my new friends, but they made me feel so guilty for having a college education (and worse, for having really enjoyed college) and a remunerative job. My first year in the working world was a big adjustment, and being guilt-tripped for working a regular job with regular people - serial divorcees, adulterers, and embezzlers, along with hurting people - really infused a lot of doubt into something that was already incredibly difficult - being salt and light in a very dark, BORING workplace.

    Money is not bad in and of itself, and earning money is not bad. 1 Thess. 3:10 says that you should work if you expect to eat. The LOVE of money is where the sin comes in! I grew up in a poor family and have struggled with feeling almost a kind of survivor's guilt over being able to afford to pay my student loans and have health insurance. But I've come to realize that these are actually good things! God has blessed me with them now; He may not always choose to do so, in which case I would still be called to contentment and thanksgiving. But while He has, I shouldn't be hanging my head and feeling bad over His grace!

    We also shouldn't look down on another person's interests and talents. I love this one passage in The Screwtape Letters where Uncle Screwtape warns Wormwood that he has known many a man converted by a simple taste for tripe and onions. The simple, real ways God designs us to connect with the world he has placed us in are powerful. It is so hurtful to a person's spirit to assume that whatever their doing is less important than painting classrooms in Nicaragua at a cost of thousands of dollars a week! Or to righteously inform them that you, too, once liked history, until you had an epiphany and realized that it "doesn't help anybody."

    I watch the sharpening definition of my generation with dismay; we seem to be more interested in intense, short-term, non-committal "projects" than foundations or companies, more interested in "love" and "peace" than articulation of any sort. And I realize I sound judgmental as I write these things - they may be good, but if they are, it is because they're called, not because they have a high hipster quotient.

  • I wonder if this feeling of guilt from our generation comes from our childhood? Doing "m" work seemed to become very popular in the 90's. Our church constantly had people from around the world come to share about their m work. Guest pastors would ask people to dedicate their lives to that work. Learning about other countries and encouraging diversity became "cool" as the world became increasingly "flat." And the m's were often glorified as people who sacrificed everything...

    Like several people have said, I think it comes down to calling. What skills do we have? Where have we been placed? What passions does the Lord place on our hearts? I think we can look at examples in the Bible, too. While God called Moses to give up his riches and wander the desert, he called Joseph to eventually be very powerful with much wealth. God used both men for His purposes.

    I'm actually living overseas right now...People have put me on this pedestal, which I really hate. They tell me, "Oh, you're so brave! I could never do what you do!" But I want to tell them--"And I could never do what you do!" I'm not an accountant, or a nurse, or an el ed teacher, or a mother, etc. I have friends who are amazing with numbers and all sorts of things, and they've built great friendships with many of their colleagues and neighbors. They are living faithful lives to God, and by doing so, they are witnesses to others around them.

    I think there might be a Screwtape Letter where the one demon says something about convincing the man that what he does is insignificant to the Kingdom because he is 'only' a layperson...If not, there should be. Many people have believed the lie that what they do as a __________ (fill in the blank with name of profession) is insignificant. Rubbish! 1 Cor. 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

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