December 22, 2014

Radical Enough? (part one)

rock-climbing-sport-10

Note: You may want to read the Christianity Today article, “Here Come the Radicals!” by Matthew Lee Anderson in conjunction with Dan’s post.

Thanks to Dan for sharing these perspectives with us. Check out his blog at Sliced Soup.

* * *

A dozen or so years ago, I took my youth group to an event called, Acquire the Fire.  For those unfamiliar with ATF, think of it as Promise Keepers on steroids.  14,000 teenagers jammed into Michigan State’s basketball arena for a weekend of music, videos, drama, and, especially, preaching; all of it had one theme: You are not radical enough in your devotion to God.

At the next church service, the teens gave testimonies of what spiritual impact the weekend had.  Andy, one of the student leaders summed up the challenge to the youth group and the church as a whole with this warning: “Listen, if you don’t want to be completely sold out and filled with the Spirit…run!”  It was a shot across the bow, letting everyone know that lukewarm Christianity would no longer be tolerated.

Andy has grown into a fine young father, wise beyond his years, and I am sure he looks back on the episode with a wince and a wink.  For no-one ran, but neither did most change in the long run.  That weekend (and more like it) served to up the ante of what it means to be a Christian, but only a few students actually changed their behavior for more than a month or two.

I thought of that event (and Andy’s bold warning) today as a read an article on the glut of new books aimed at making Christians more radical in their commitment to Christ.  The article is the cover story of the March issue of Christianity Today, and is titled, “Here Come the Radicals”.  Matthew Lee Anderson surveys the books which have come out and offers a rather nuanced critique.  I have broken up my comments into three posts. This one, the first, will basically be a summary and analysis of Anderson’s article. The second and third will deal with my own critique (for what it’s worth) of the new call to radicalism.

rock-climbingAnderson begins by focusing on David Platt, pastor of a mega-church in Alabama, who in both his books and his sermons is renowned for calling Christians to a more radical commitment to Christ. At the heart of Platt’s message is that we often turn the “radical Jesus of the Bible…into the comfortable Jesus of 21st century American culture. Our luxury and self-focus have blinded us to the lost and the hungry around the world.

The article then lists other men who are writing in a similar vein.  Altogether, the books he engages with are:

  • Radical (David Platt)
  • Radical Together (David Platt)
  • The Irresistible Revolution (Shane Claiborne)
  • Not a Fan (Kyle Idleman)
  • Crazy Love (Francis Chan)
  • Greater (Steven Furtick)

Noting that all of these books have hit the Christian best-seller list (and most are still on them), Anderson writes:

In other words, the radical message has found an eager market.  The books have their theological and pastoral differences, but the thrust of their rhetoric moves in the same direction. They have both incited and tapped into a widespread dissatisfaction with many American’s comfortable, middle-class way of life and the Christianity that so easily fits within it. These pastors may not be saying much new about the Bible or Jesus, but their message says enough about us.

Anderson notes the dominant theme (you’re not really committed to Christ unless…) by highlighting typical phrases:

  • We radical abandonment to Jesus
  • We need to understand what it means to really follow Jesus
  • We need a desire for ‘more God’, even if we are surrounded by people who have ‘enough God’
  • we need to have a ‘serious self-inventory’
  • we need to have a ‘define the relationship’ talk with Jesus
  • we need to put everything in our lives on the table before God
  • counting on the sinner’s prayer for salvation is superstitious
  • a lot of people who call themselves Christians are dangerously deceived

The common warning is that a stunted belief in Jesus that does not result in radical obedience is either missing the point of the Christian life or is missing salvation itself.  Those who are held up as models of the Christian life are those who made radical life changes to follow Christ, like becoming overseas missionaries, or moving into the inner city. Anderson writes, “It really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end”.

rock-climbing (1)What to make of this?  Well, before getting to Anderson’s critique (and later my own) let me just honor these pastors for taking up the trumpet and sounding forth the same needed note played by many others in previous centuries.  Every generation needs its own prophets reminding us, in the words of Bonheoffer, that the call to the cross is a call to come and die.  For the seminal period of my own life, A. W. Tozer played this role for me, just as Kierkegaard, Andrew Murray, and countless others did for people in their time.  Perhaps we need this trumpet call more clearly in our culture than even in times past, since the usual cacophony of the world is increasingly joined with the strident songs of the prosperity preachers.  I continue to believe the greatest heresy of the modern American church is the monstrous notion that the gospel is primarily about making us succeed in this world’s terms.

So I take my place on the side of these men.  I count them not only as my brothers, but models of Christian commitment that I can learn much from.

But every emphasis needs both clarity and balance, and Anderson offers an irenic but helpful critique of the new call to radicalism.

First, he points out that the medium is constantly working against the message.  He notes that the message of self-denial and of radical concern for the poor “occurs in massive church buildings in middle-class surroundings, spoken to people who shop at the Gap, on platforms called stages rather than pulpits. In order to inject the message with more meaning and more power we revert to the language of the theater—one of our cultures favorite pastimes.”

In the same vein, he writes:

What’s more, the radical message comes packaged in the Christian-conference-publishing-celebrity-industrial complex… [which] has to think and act with profits in mind.  The really radical path for a mega-church pastor these days would be to refuse to publish, to take a smaller church, to not podcast sermons, and to embrace a more monastic witness.  The irony is that if they tried, we’d probably turn them into larger celebrities and laud their humility.  The desert fathers had a similar problem. But if the message is going to critique the American dream for the people in the pews, then we need pastors willing to show us the path of downward mobility in their lives.

A second corrective Anderson gives relates to the difference between an interior and individualized faith (based mainly on personal intensity) and a public, culture-changing, multi-generational faith-movement.  As he puts it, “The urgent rhetoric of preaching the gospel to the billion unreached and helping the poor right now leaves little space to create the institutions and practices (art, literature, theology, liturgy, festivals, etc.) that can transmit such an inheritance to the next generation, and to form belief in deeper and more permanent ways.”

To use an analogy of my own, while the founding fathers of our country needed a fighting army, they also needed to create, perfect, and sustain institutions, practices and ideas so that the freedom fought for lasted for more than one or two generations.  The radical commitment of the infantry soldier will take a different form than the work of the state representative. In focusing on radical commitment rather than faithfulness , the heroic rather than the mundane, these pastors risk undermining the ways that most people can better serve Christ; they are at risk of divorcing spirituality from the everyday (even as they proclaim a holistic commitment to Christ).

Anderson’s warning, I think, is fair and needed.  It is not that a call to deeper commitment to Christ is bad, of course; rather, that call needs to be interpreted in a way that everyday people can follow over the long haul.

That last sentence brings us to the brink of my own critique of the new radicals (to use CT’s phrase).  But that will be in part 2.

Comments

  1. My gut reaction after reading the title: “Come on, this again??”

    But I was very pleased to read such a nuanced, sensible, giving-credit-where-credit-is-due assessment while not holding back the tough critique exactly where it is needed. Great job – wish I could have read this 5-6 years ago to save myself and those around me some grief. I look forward to the follow-ups.

  2. Damaris says:

    This is excellent, Daniel. I’ve been thinking similar things in my own field of education — how not just to break up what’s wrong, but how to perpetuate what’s right. I can’t wait for your next post!

  3. Robert F says:

    If you think changing the behavior and dedication of a bunch of kids is difficult, just try creating “institutions and practices that can transmit such an inheritance to the next generation, and…form belief in deeper and more permanent ways..” Such an effort, to be successful, would require a huge heroic effort on the part of the church(es), something akin to the huge heroic effort of the founding fathers of our country in overthrowing British colonialism and devising a coherent and sustainable democratic republic. Bad example, since to emulate it would require exactly the high level of personal commitment and radicalism (were the founders not radical?) on the part of multitudes that the post suggests is not really possible or advisable.

    • Robert F says:

      What I’m questioning here is not the diagnosis that emphasis on producing “radical” anything lacks sobriety; I agree that it does. You can’t program radical commitment. The Founding Fathers did not produce the American Revolution by designing educational programs to radicalize the colonial peoples of America. The historical situation made such an option of revolutionary commitment and action plausible and practicable. But I am questioning the plausibility of the churches being able to create “institutions and practices that can transmit… an inheritance….” of “….belief in deeper and more permanent ways…” I don’t see that the will or energy or focus required for such an endeavor exists presently, or could be manufactured or programmed; in fact, I think that trying to program such a feat participates in exactly the same sort of mistake that trying to program radical faith in young Christians does.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You can’t program radical commitment. The Founding Fathers did not produce the American Revolution by designing educational programs to radicalize the colonial peoples of America.

        No, that’s more the style of Marx’s fanboys — and look at the kind of Revolutions they produced. And their aftermaths.

        • Werther says:

          Burke praised the American Revolution for its conservatism, noting that its leaders had honestly tried to negotiate a compromise and preserved what they could of their customs; but wrote scathingly about the French Revolution, whose radicalism he predicted would collapse into mob violence and then military rule.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        I guess it’s a good thing Christ said, “_I_ will build my church.”

  4. Richard Hershberger says:

    I was pleased to see the reference to Bonhoeffer (albeit misspelled). His “The Cost of Discipleship” is rightly a classic on the subject.

    I was also pleasantly surprised to see how much I could agree with from the subject of this post: “At the heart of Platt’s message is that we often turn the “radical Jesus of the Bible…into the comfortable Jesus of 21st century American culture.” There is nothing there I disagree with in the least: quite the contrary, this is a valuable message that should be repeated often.

    Then I get to this:

    “The common warning is that a stunted belief in Jesus that does not result in radical obedience is either missing the point of the Christian life or is missing salvation itself. Those who are held up as models of the Christian life are those who made radical life changes to follow Christ, like becoming overseas missionaries, or moving into the inner city.”

    The equivalent in Luther’s day was the idea that becoming a monk was the only way to be a good Christian. Luther came to realize that this is empty legalism, tending toward Pelagianism. Luther’s radical Christianity was to leave the monastery.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And once you’re a monk, “Can You Top This” sets in and you end up gargling lye along with St Rose of Lima.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      I would like to suggest that monasticism, in its original motivation at least, was an attempt to provide a long-term structure for being “radical,” and is not a bad idea at all. Unfortunately, and forgive yet another reference to Max Weber, but the “routinization of charisma” is very real, and any institution, no matter how vibrant it initially is, ends up with hardening of the arteries.

      • Damaris says:

        Exactly right, Randy. Surely our tendency toward sclerotic bureaucracy was the reason for God’s declaration of the Jubilee year. We and all our institutions need frequent shaking up. What a shame that we’ve never observed it.

      • Werther says:

        Monasticism is the traditional way of responding to Christ’s command to “sell all that you have and give it to the poor…” but it has never been intended for everyone, despite certain rhetoric heard mainly within the monastery. At the same time, monks and nuns are no more gung ho as a group than say, a group of soldiers in the army. You get all types, and just as soldiers tend to role their eyes at recruits wanting to play Rambo, ordained religious react similarly to postulants who come across as overly pious. Eventually it becomes an ordinary life.

        Many mainline Protestants would emphasize the virtue of prudence, which would mean, for example, only donating to charity only after meeting the needs of one’s family (notwithstanding several contrary stories from the gospels). I struggle to imagine pep rallies in celebration of prudence and moderation. What would the slogan be, “5 percent for Jesus, and take it from there?” Hard to get enthusiastic over something so practical!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I would like to suggest that monasticism, in its original motivation at least, was an attempt to provide a long-term structure for being “radical,” and is not a bad idea at all.

        I thought it was because living with other monks provides a reality check against the strangeness they got with isolated hermit monks. (Some of those Desert Fathers got pretty WEIRD.)

  5. Jennifer E. says:

    Just thinking out loud here…but these phrases:

    We radical abandonment to Jesus
    We need to understand what it means to really follow Jesus
    We need a desire for ‘more God’, even if we are surrounded by people who have ‘enough God’
    we need to have a ‘serious self-inventory’
    we need to have a ‘define the relationship’ talk with Jesus
    we need to put everything in our lives on the table before God
    counting on the sinner’s prayer for salvation is superstitious
    a lot of people who call themselves Christians are dangerously deceived

    I find it difficult to believe (because of my own life experience) that I can manufacture a radical abandonment, desire for ‘more God’, a ‘serious self-inventory’, etc., etc., in and of myself. I just don’t want to. I may WANT to want to, but this kind of action on my part takes some very painful dying to myself that I cannot do apart from the work and grace of God. When I have had times of dying to myself, it’s been extremely painful and it has been a work that God has brought me into bc I won’t willingly go. For me, it takes nothing less than a Dark Night of the Soul to produce what’s being called for here. To ask me to do this, is to put a heavy yolk on me. Am I alone in this thought?

    • Jennifer..you have put it so well & I could not agree more! You are not alone…

    • Michael says:

      No, you’re definitely not alone. On the one hand, it is definitely not good to become complacent in your faith, which is the point they’re trying to make. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to point out that there is potential for a really oppressive legalism to take hold here.

      We can screw up grace by making it cheap and being lazy. We can screw up serious discipleship by becoming legalistic, Pharisaical, and opposed to the heart of Jesus. We careen from one error to the next. And this is why we say, “Lord have mercy.”

      • Jennifer E. says:

        I understand the tension between the extremes and the need for the prophetic call as Daniel in his post so stated. And I’m sure he’ll address the problems with how the prophehetic calls have been put forth. At any rate, I guess between the extremes, I think a call for radicalism is just too much for me; too mature a call for too immature a Christian. It’s like asking a child to drive a car. I’m not ready yet. I may never get there. That said, I think the best call for someone such as myself is one to faithfulness: more clearly put, a call for trustfulness. I need to learn to trust God. That’s how I can best die to myself where I am at. That’s where the rubber will meet the road of my life. I can believe in Him all I want, but until I practice that belief, it remains just an intellectual assent on my behalf. Even in the trusting, I will realize that it’s His work in my life as I die to myself. But if I can learn to trust Him, working with Him to grow in that trust (which will be a struggle), I can live a very different life than I have been. One that looks less like complacency and more like following.

        • Scooter's Mom says:

          Jennifer E – I couldn’t have said it any clearer than you did. I feel EXACTLY the same.

        • Thank you for articulating so well what I’ve been thinking/feeling/stressing about for months. I having a hard enough time learning to trust Jesus in everyday life. Forget about about anything “radical”.

        • Jennifer, thanks for being so open and honest. I am what most would call a mature christian (middle-aged pastor) but I have the same reaction.

          Perhaps the next two parts of this post will be helpful.

          • Jennifer E. says:

            Daniel, I’m looking forward to what you have to say. Recently, I’ve thought a lot about being “ordinary” or “enough” in a culture in which nearly everyone strives to be “extraordinary”. I wonder how much this part of our culture has crept into our church when we can’t just be ordinary Christians because we have to live up to a “radical” standard.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I think a call for radicalism is just too much for me; too mature a call for too immature a Christian. It’s like asking a child to drive a car. I’m not ready yet.

          Reminds me of the Christian Celebrity Treadmill — Celebrity walks the aisle, gets saved(TM), then is immediately shoved into some High Profile On-Fire-for-the-LOORD Christian Ministry. Usually followed by Christian Celebrity Burnout.

          And a lot of churches with a Gnostic view of Sanctification have the idea that once you’re Saved(TM), God immediately and miraculously Gifts(TM) you Spiritually(TM) with all the experience and maturity you need in your Radical Christian On-Fire-for-the-LOORD position. Christian Monist has written about this attitude several times.

          • James the Mad says:

            I can’t remember how many I’ve seen crash and burn after being trotted out onto the “Christian Celebrity Treadmill.” I can only think of one who didn’t go that route: Hanoi Jane. As little love as I have for her, I have to respect her for that.

        • I really appreciated this comment- it describes where I am at also. Thank you for your honesty!

        • “That said, I think the best call for someone such as myself is one to faithfulness: more clearly put, a call for trustfulness. I need to learn to trust God…. working with Him to grow in that trust (which will be a struggle), I can live a very different life than I have been. One that looks less like complacency and more like following.”

          Thank you for saying this. As a critical radical sympathizer, thank you for saying this. I’m with you.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      No, you are not alone. Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

      – radical = “being saved”, really?
      – radical, who gets to define & quantify it? thirty-something mega church preachers?
      – have any of these authors had a career outside of a church building?
      – radical for some folks is just making it to the next AA meeting.
      – wow, this is one big guilt bomb

    • @ Jennifer: I don’t like heavy yolks put on me either….hard to wash off after they’ve dried. Nice reply. Martin Luther’s last (recorded) words: “We are all beggars….this is true.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I find it difficult to believe (because of my own life experience) that I can manufacture a radical abandonment, desire for ‘more God’, a ‘serious self-inventory’, etc., etc., in and of myself.

      The Jacobins, Bolsheviki, and Khmer Rouge manufactured a radical abandonment for The Revolution, and the Taliban did their best to manufacture a Radical Abandonment for Islam…

    • “To ask me to do this, is to put a heavy yolk on me. Am I alone in this thought?”

      No Jennifer, you are not alone.

      • Jennifer E. says:

        I am glad I’m not alone in my thoughts. Makes me feel “less crazy” for not going along with the crowd.

        • Josh in FW says:

          Jennifer,

          I agree with the other commentors. Thank you for the insightful remarks.

    • thank you for this. Please keep on commenting !

    • Caleb W says:

      I see this kind of language as indicative of the fact that the American church is deeply embedded in its consumer culture. This is the language of capitalism and its marketers – we need more, more, more. We need to be faster, bigger, louder, more extreme. We need to make you doubt something about yourself, right before we tell you how to fix yourself. Remember to buy the book and attend the branded conference for an emotional experience that will fulfill you for a week or two…..What does it even mean to want “more God”?? Change some words around and you have a superbowl commerical, or Oprah, or bad informercial on Saturday morning television. I find it kind of ironic that these calls to be radical often aren’t all that politically radical and they attract a politically very conservative suburban middle class laity. This isn’t really surprising.

      Sure, they’re onto something when they talk about the need to build community and relationships. But American evangelicalism (evangelicalism itself if often very emotional in this way) can’t seem to get above its own consumer capitalist context in the way that it speaks and operates.

      So no, Jennifer, you aren’t alone :)

  6. Great post, Daniel. I have some good friends whose pastor did a sermon series on Platt’s first “radical” offering, read the book, and were guilt-ridden and confused about the direction of their lives afterwards. These were two career school teachers, who were great witnesses amongst the faculty and students they served. Their thought was, “Should we really sell all we have and give it away, quit our jobs, and move ourselves and our children into the mission field in order to be truly Christian?”

    I have to be cautious as I address this issue…I don’t want to be a stone thrower, saying Platt and some others are less than Christian because they’ve made a quite a healthy sum off of their books, and from the megachurches they lead. Obviously they’re gifted in ways I’m not, and for me to point the “You’re the one whose not a real Christian” finger at them would be just as bad as someone saying those two aforementioned teachers aren’t “radical” because they don’t leave their jobs.

    I would recommend that folks read Brennan Manning’s “Ragamuffin Gospel” as a companion to any of these books. You know, the truly “rotten” among us can be just as “saved” as the rest of us. If I’m not Father Damien or Mother Theresa, is God really disappointed in me? I mean, is He displeased in my offering of trying to be a good dad and husband, a Sunday School teacher, and a guy who really tries to do a good job at work every day…Even though he spends too much time on Internetmonk while at work?

    I’ve taken students to conferences like Daniel mentions, and everyone responds to the altar call, because the word “teenager” is actually a collective noun. They’re responding to the raw emotion that is engulfing the room more than the actual message. It’s like the first girl at the altar has the Jesus mono, and starts kissing everybody else in the room, even the ones who aren’t really into kissing. Or mono. Everybody wants it, because everybody else in the room wants it. Or at least they think they do.

    Fact is, most of us aren’t “radical”, at least according to the terms by which some of these authors describe it. Most of come to Christ as broken and bruised, really messed up individuals. It bruises us more when we realize we aren’t “radical” enough to really say we love Jesus.

    What’s truly interesting to me is that all of these writers are a part of a movement that shuns Catholic and Orthodox tradition as being works-based, but they are telling us that we aren’t truly following, and this can be defined by our works. Where is grace in their message?

    I’ll close my rambling with this thought from Manning…

    “My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

    Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that’s really worth following in this world or the one that’s coming.”

    Now, that’s radical…

    • Michael says:

      I will be stealing the phrase “Jesus mono” and sprinkling it into my spiritual conversations as often as possible. :-D

    • + 1 on Ragamuffin Gospel

    • Lee, thanks for your good thoughts. The idea that some books (or sermons) would simply leave us with more guilt is indeed a tragic thought.

      So I agree that these types of books serve best when they are paired with books that strongly emphasize grace (Capon’s “From Noon to Three” is excellent). If the focus ever becomes more about me and my efforts than about Christ and His grace, we are done for.

      Btw, your description of the teens is hilarious.

      • Lee, I love Manning’s statement about grade: “It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility.”

        Thanks for posting it.

    • Knitting Jenny says:

      Lee, The Ragamuffin Gospel was the first book I read this year. It helped lift so many burdens from me. Truly a breath of fresh grace. If anyone here hasn’t given it a read, I highly recommend it.

    • Great stuff Lee

  7. Josh T. says:

    This issue of being ‘radical’ enough is one of the things that has always been difficult for me to deal with. Many of the essays and posts by both Michael Spencer and Chaplain Mike have been a really good corrective in this area. One of the big ones is Michael’s classic Wretched Urgency (http://www.internetmonk.com/articles/U/urgency.html).

  8. Marcus Johnson says:

    Personally, I’m dying to see us take radical evangelicalism one step further: who’s ready to literally be on fire for Jesus? I’m talking self-immolation, folks. No longer will we wait for the gays and the liberal media to burn us at the stake for being martyrs; if we are truly “on fire” for God, we should actually be on fire…for God.

    Now, I’m sure the naysayers and the lukewarm Christians are going to protest with their complaints:
    1. This type of radicalism is impossible to sustain for a long period of time without slipping into legalism.
    2. Self-immolation doesn’t necessarily motivate nonbelievers.
    3. Gas prices are too high to completely douse ourselves in fire.
    4. Fire hurts.

    When will we stop with the excuses? God demands that Christians should be doing stuff, all the time. If we aren’t making converts at the gas station, at the grocery store, at the bus stop, etc., then we are failing to really do the work of the gospel (which is a work that we do, not a work that the Holy Spirit does in us). So, come on, folks! Quit being lukewarm! Take a leap of faith! Set yourself on fire! Inspire other folks to do the same! Do it in groups, too! We don’t need no water, let our brothers up and burn!

    Phew, that’s a lot of energy. I’m going to take a nap now.

    • Jennifer E. says:

      I can’t stop laughing. You need to start a Christian version of The Onion. But what to call it?

    • Ichabod says:

      Perpetual immolation sounds like a D.L. Moody sermon:

      “One great trouble is that people come to special revival meetings, and for two or three weeks, perhaps, they will keep up the fire, but by and by it dies out. They are like a bundle of shavings with kerosene on the top. They blaze away for a little, but soon there is nothing left. We want to keep it all the time, morning, noon and night

    • Reminds me of this video, for those who haven’t seen it:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLGLBVSpBzY

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I watched that video three times. Now I’m going to have a “prayer latte” and pray that God raises up a generation of flamers.

    • Josh in FW says:

      :-)

    • dumb ox says:

      I think that is the heart of the problem: the “radical” folks WON’T take what they are saying to the logical conclusion. They’re like the guy standing on a ledge shouting, “I’ll Jump! I’ll Jump! I mean it!!!”, but never does; rather, it’s just a sad cry for attention. There’s nothing different here. They can write books about living “radical” (i.e. you’re no good), but apart from the jet-set lives of church appearances and promotional tours, their lives are quite ordinary – not all that different from yours or mine. Radicalism is and always has been suspiciously self aggrandizing. It’s like that commercial where the guy goes from bus-boy by day to famous get-rich-quick motivational speaker by night. The emperor has no clothes. Nothing to see here…unless you’re into looking at naked emperors.

      It’s like something I saw posted on Facebook about the two most popular articles in certain magazines: “Love yourself the way you are” and “How to lose twenty pounds”. That in a nutshell is the messed up world of moralistic-therapeutic deism, which radicalism is merely a symptom.

  9. Someone please help me with this…but over at Wartburg Watch we were discussing David Platt a while back. In his book “Radical” it uses a late middle age couple who sold their belongings and moved abroad (if I remember correctly…) to be radical for Christ. Well it didn’t work out, they came back to the US and had to start their life all over. Get a new job, acquire furniture, dishes, clothing, and build up equity as they sold their home, etc.. They had to re-acquire basic life necessities because they gave it all away. It changed their perspective about faith and God and they became incredibly cynical. Now the couple involved wrote about this on a blog somewhere on the Internet, or they have their own blog. It’s a really sad story, and from what I remember reading they spoke about how tough it was to restart life in their 50’s.

    • Good story, and quite believable. The problem is, they are among the very few who actually take this kind of teaching seriously enough to apply it literally. The rest of their fans are living in denial, convincing themselves that if they just try a little harder they will achieve the radical lifestyle. Perhaps it’s a blessing from God that they don’t realize that it’s an endless treadmill. Either way, IMO, this kind of teaching leads to the destruction of faith generally. It makes Christianity becomes all about an impossible ideal you’re supposed to achieve, rather than a miraculous redemption already won for you.

      • “It makes Christianity becomes all about an impossible ideal you’re supposed to achieve, rather than a miraculous redemption already won for you.”

        Well said.

        • +1

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I grew up with too many Impossible Ideals to ever want to take on any more. And a lot of out-of-balance Christianity involves Impossible Ideas, whether Sinlessness, Perfect Will of God, or Spiritual Perfection. When I was involved in various aberrant splinter churches in the Seventies, all they did was load me with more burdens. I was already obsessed with trying to live up to Impossible Ideals, they just upped the ante still further adding pleasing/disappointing God to the mix.

          (For a mass-media example of a perfectionistic crackup, I refer you to Twilight Sparkle in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic second-season episode “Lesson Zero”. I crack up in exactly the same way.)

      • Of course, one of the things we can do is to hire out our radicalism to others, you know, like Stunt Christians who do all the hard and dangerous work for us.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Reminds me of the Campingites last year (or was it the year before?) who got Radical for Christ by selling all they had (and giving it to Camping’s ministry to announce The End of the World) and went out Witnessing to get as many as they could on the Rapture Fire Escape before Camping’s calculated date.

    • Damaris says:

      Eagle — Your story makes me realize that we don’t have a common definition of “radical.” Like the couple you speak of, in 1998 my husband and I, with our three kids and one on the way, sold everything and moved to Central Asia as missionaries. But honestly, although it was a lot of work, it wasn’t “radical.” In many ways we did it because it was fun for us, and it fit with our goals for child-rearing. We didn’t feel like people on fire for God. Inside ourselves we were still struggling with faith, trust, spiritual growth . . . To someone of my personality, really radical commitment would have more to do with daily discipline, daily death to self. And that kind of radical life wouldn’t look like anything to the “on-fire” Christians who are so concerned that God must be disappointed with everyone.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And that kind of radical life wouldn’t look like anything to the “on-fire” Christians who are so concerned that God must be disappointed with everyone.

        That reminds me of something I read on other blogs about the Massachusetts Puritans. A lot of their personal journals survived, and many of them show this obsessive morbid introspection. “Am I truly one of the Elect?” “Was that thought just now Sin?” “Am I Saved?” “Did I just Sin?” over and over and over in obsessive self-analysis. Like “On-fire” Christians (which in their own way they were), concerned that God must be disappointed with everyone including themselves.

      • Josh in FW says:

        Good point.
        It seems that holding off on sexual relations until married to someone of the same faith and opposite gender, having children, raising children, not using artificial birth control, supporting yourself via diligence in the workplace and frugal living, regularly participating in your faith community, and staying married to that person until death would count as ‘radical’ in our current society.

  10. I find this call to be especially dangerous, this claim that you have to be “radical” or all “sold out”. There’s nothing wrong with having or being passionate. However, I think the danger of all this is that it makes assumptions about people and where they are at. This is like saying the person who is not jumping around in a fundagelcial church, having an orgasm to Hillsong is not worshiping God because they are quiet or sitting reflecting on what they are hearing. How can you possibly know where a person is at in their heart, or the steps that are taking forward?

    One person who plays to this “drug” in a different way is John Piper with his book “Don’t Waste Your Life”. I read that when I lived in Milwaukee and it helped laden me with so much guilt. I thought unless I did something great, grand, etc… for God I thought my life would be a total waste. This coming from a 30 year old guy at the time. So it became a strong contributing factor to moving from Washington, D.C. from Milwaukee. I thought I was going to be a missionary in D.C. and that I would fulfill my life. Well that didn’t happen. Instead I hit brick wall, I struggled with my job, different church experiences, had some bad theology in my system, and I went off the radar. I hit bottom in my life in 2009, that’s when it kept coming and I was hit with one challenge after another until I finally said “enough”. I walked away from church angry, threw out a chunk of my material, and worked hard at burning bridges with the fundagelicals I knew.

    Now here I am several years later trying to put my life together. Its been hard and I feel like I am starting life all over as I am working at building new community, building new faith, being cautious to make sure I don’t get sucked into anything unhealthy, and slowly moving forward. I’m determined to avoid the extreme theology. I mean here I am 38….and I think of the people I know who thought they had to do something radical for God who are burned out, had a spiritual crisis, or just walked away from it all.

    BTW…I think when it comes to churches I think I found a winner. I’ve liked how they have approached difficult trigger topics for me. Last Sunday they started a series on Origins. I cringed when I learned they were doing that topic of creationism as I feared a literal 6 day teaching and tieing it to faith. Had that happened that would have been devastating given the steps I had made to get out of this hole I am in. Well in the first sermon on Origins the pastor explained that the book that inspired the series is Wheaton professor John Walton’s “The Lost Origins of Genesis” I was sitting in the church and they had no reception so I couldn’t research John Walton on my Android. After the service I got back to my car, had internet reception and started Googling John Walton. One of the first things that came up was a denunciation by Ken Ham on John Walton’s book “The Lost Origin of Genesis”. I was so happy when I saw that! Then the other day someone told me that John Walton is involved with Francis Collins Biologos. AND that made my spirit soar.

    Soooooooooooooooooo…..I didn’t do my little dance in the church parking lot because I would have looked like a nut. But after learning what I have learned I will do a little dance and celebrate this news this Sunday. Thanks for your prayers guys!! :-)

    • Eagle, I too have been left with more guilt than help after reading some books like these. Sometimes I hear people describe themselves as “beat up” after reading a certain book or hearing a certain sermon. I suppose sometimes we need the occasional kick in the pants, but as for me, guilt and feelings of failure are a much bigger road block to loving God than anything else.

      I am so glad you have found a church that is accepting to you, and that seems to value truth and good exegesis. I can’t say enough good things about Walton. He really helped open my eyes.

      Steve Taylor once wrote a song about his own doubts (“Harder to Believe than not to”). He emphasized that it would be easy and natural to throw away a faith that seemed to have so many problems, like a cloak with a bunch of holes. But the harder (and better) path is to sit down to the hard task of mending the holes, instead of throwing the cloak out. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you for taking the harder path.

      Video here if interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUxwE0_uc6E

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Eagle, I’ve been through a similar time over the last several years, minus the geography changes. And I think that getting a book like “Don’t Waste Your Life” and following it actually does lead you to the place where God can show you his grace, but only because he uses the idol to destroy itself. Joshua Harris and Elisabeth Elliott were toxic for me at a point in my life where they were the last thing I needed, but the toxins also helped kill the gods I’d created. Only then could the real God begin to show himself to me. So, in a way, the title of the book served its purpose — you’re not wasting your life on the hamster wheel.

  11. Robert F says:

    In the first centuries of the church there were many martyrs who gave their lives in witness to Jesus Christ, but there were a far larger number of Christians who met in secret places to worship and celebrate the sacraments and quietly act as salt and light in an often dangerous, hostile world; they were witnesses as well, and their witness was no less important than the witness of those who died in the arenas or under torture. The church would not have survived without them. Not everyone is called to make heroic sacrifice, even in troubled times when evil prevails; Bonhoeffer did not expect the young seminarians he counseled during WWII to resist conscription into the German military because he recognized that the path of resistance he was called to was not something everyone had the strength or duty to undertake. He made a distinction between those who were responsible for leading (he knew himself to be one) and those who were not. Most are not called to lead or undertake grand heroic actions.
    When your health is failing, when you are unemployed and can’t pay your bills, when year after year you are unable to overcome sinful tendencies despite sincere prayer and effort, when your spouse is dying and needs constant care and you are at the end of your rope and energy, in all these and many other situations, it takes enormous, quiet, unheralded courage, even heroism, to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, go to church and sing “This is the feast of victory for our Lord.” This too is witness, this too is a kind of martyrdom.

    • “This is the Feast,” eh? Sounds like you’ve been going to church with your wife. :P
      Personally, I find high-church worship much easier to bear in hard circumstances. You don’t need to put on much of a smiley face to sing “Lord have mercy.” It’s the pep rallies for Jesus that are tough to face when you’re not feeling the “Joy of the Lord” ™.

      • Robert F says:

        Yes, Miguel, I spend far more time among ELCA Lutherans than among my fellow Episcopalians. My wife has drafted me to sing in the choir, so I’m there every Sunday morning as well as assisting her in other ways at other times. I spend more time in the theologically thin parish library than any of the members of the congregation, and more time in the church than any but the pastors and the sextons (does anyone spend more time in a church than its physical caretakers, who are often taken for granted, even more so than church musicians?).

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In Medieval times, Radical Enough?(TM) meant taking vows in a Monastery or Convent, the stricter and more Contemplative the better.

    When Asceticism and Mortification of the Flesh became Radical Enough?(TM) you had St Rose of Lima, whose “Mortifications” (including tearing at her face until all that was left was scabs and scar tissue and gargling lye to destroy her vocal chords when she was complemented on her beautiful voice) wrecked her health and killed her before age 30.

    More recently, Martyrdom on the Foreign Mission Field (originally Darkest Africa(TM)) became the definition of Radical Enough?(TM).

    And then “Can You Top This?” sets in and the Radical Enough?(TM) becomes more and more Radical Enough…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Those who are held up as models of the Christian life are those who made radical life changes to follow Christ, like becoming overseas missionaries, or moving into the inner city. Anderson writes, “It really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end”.

      That heresy is called Clericalism — only “those who made radical life changes to follow Christ, like becoming Priests, Monks, and Nuns — preferably in a Separatist, Strict, and Contemplative Order” are REAL Committed Christians, the rest of us nothing more than “Pay, Pray, and Obey” Lukewarms that Christ will spew out of his mouth on the Last Day.

  13. I just re-read this by Headless Unicorn Guy — from yesterday’s post “The Simple Texts”:

    Remember St Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way” of finding God and holiness in everyday routine?

    A Christianese culture that focuses on the “EXCITEMENT” of What God Is Doing would have thrown St Threrese under the bus as they sped off to the Next Big Movement Of God.

    Just for perspective. Thanks, HUG.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That perspective actually comes from a French nun who died of tuberculosis at 24, leaving behind a journal of her “Little Way”. The first public release of her journal was heavily Bowdlerized to make her more “saintly” in the plaster-statue definition of the time; later the original uncut journal was released and took off.

      • Donna G says:

        Some people might find Therese’s “Little Way” a huge relief. That nineteenth-century Carmelite nun understood a thing or two.

  14. I think this paragraph from the article captures well one of the main issues :

    “Replacing belief with commitment still places the burden of our formation on the sheer force of our will. As much as some of these radical pastors would say otherwise, their rhetoric still relies on listeners “making a decision.” There is almost no explicit consideration of how beliefs actually take root, or whether that process is as conscious as we presume.”

    So the complaint is that we practice an empty believeism. Should the solution then be that we replace that with an empty activism? How long can someone actually keep that up? Not saying we shouldn’t “do” stuff but perhaps the content of our belief should be looked at as well.

  15. It’s been highlighted here at IM before, but I would recommend “The God of The Mundane” by Matt B. Redmond as an antidote to the guilt the “radical” message can heap on someone’s soul.

  16. I think Christians who have been abroad or have experience outside the American church are less susceptible to this kind of propaganda. Unless a kernel of corn die, and be put in the ground, it can bear no fruit. In many Christian traditions around the world it is understood that the Christian life is one of dying to self. This “radical” bit is just American self-empowerment philosophy with a Christian bow on top. Like (some) “contemporary Christian music”, or those t-shirts that look like Abercrombie but say “A Bread Crumb and Fish”, it feeds our desire to be cool, powerful, and part of the in crowd. It is affirming.

    The older I get, the more I see my walk of faith consisting of, “God, be merciful to me; a sinner” – of loving mercy, and doing justly, and walking humbly with God. It isn’t something I can psych myself into doing, being, or thinking. It organic and slow and dirty, like most things God created.

    • will f. says:

      John, thank you for this post. very helpful. Personally, I always thought being ‘radical’ is a young man’s game, and looks embarrassing once you hit forty. and boy francis chan for example is exhausting just to even think about…

      “This “radical” bit is just American self-empowerment philosophy with a Christian bow on top”

  17. I tried to read the article in CT and it gave me a teaser and then told me I had to subscribe to read to rest of the article….I guess I’m not radical enough to pay for the subscription…
    I look forward to the balance of these posts..

  18. Caveat Emptor

    We uprooted our house and home in 1990 to join “A Bunch of Radical Christians.” Eight-and-a-half years later we left due to some unresolved and continuing problems with leadership, problems which became even more evident after we had left. The experience ended badly, casting us spiritually adrift for a number of years and permanently affecting our children’s now-non-existent faith. So if you do decide to be “radical” for Jesus, be careful where you go and what you do with it.

  19. Randy Thompson says:

    The only thing that’s really “Radical,” it seems to me, is God’s love in the love of Jesus on the cross. If I am ever to find myself “radical,” it will only be the result of absorbing this humble love and humbly living it out. Such love does not rant about lifestyles; it simply breaks our dry, hard hearts to powder until our humbled hearts, moistened by the Spirit’s presence, are soft enough to dimly reflect God’s glory and the love of Christ. This kind of “radical” generally can’t be manufactured in spiritual pep rallies.

    Find someone who spends a lot of quality time with God, and you will find someone who is “radical.” The really great thing is, they won’t know they’re radical.

  20. Rick Ro. says:

    This post and most of the comments here are like a breath of fresh air. Praise God.

  21. Robert F says:

    But I hope we are not condemning the work of people like Jean Vanier and certain Catholic orders that make their witness by living among and with the poor and those in need. There is a place for such witness, not because we are vain enough to think that the church can cure all the ills of the world, but because Christ told us that we can find him especially among the poor and afflicted, and we want to follow him into those places to see him even more clearly than we do in our suburban enclaves. It’s all a question of whether our witness is a result of our love, or a sense of obligation.

  22. Stuart Boyd says:

    So, the choice comes down to Radical Commitment or Justifiy Non-Radical Commitment?

    I think we need to be very careful not to always react by swinging to the far poles of extremes. The Radical Movement is a REACTION to the Couch Potato Christian Life, and, honestly, there are lots of Couch Potato People out there, so the REACTION has merit. It is just that the REACTION can easily become a call to the opposite pole of Sliced, Diced, and Fried In Hot Oil Potato Life.

    How does one teach people not to go and set up camp and then live their lives at either extreme as a way to JUSTIFY themselves, which both extremes end up doing if not constantly evaluated and examined?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It is just that the REACTION can easily become a call to the opposite pole of Sliced, Diced, and Fried In Hot Oil Potato Life.

      Communism begets Objectivism.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I often struggle with the same balance and pendulum swinging, but my recent experience and Jesus-following has led me to believe we need to err on the side of avoiding “Radical Commitment”-speak. Radical Commitment almost always comes with Judgmentalism. A person who isn’t “Radically Committed” (often defined as “getting involved in THIS or THAT church activity”) isn’t really a Jesus-follower. I think a lot of people here at iMonk have been burned by Radical Commitment, by the judgmentalism associated with Radical Commitment, by the need to WORK WORK WORK in order to SHOW SHOW SHOW Radical Commitment. So I think Radical Commitment is more of a man-made law/works-based spirituality, rather than a Jesus-Shaped spirituality.

      Yes, there are a lot of Couch Potato Christians out there. I’ve been one, and at times I still am one. I think there is a time and place and method for offering ways for people to get off the couch…but I’m not sure it’s through Radical Commitment. Actually, I think it’s through something I’d call Radical Grace…a grace that is beyond all comprehension, that can only come through the love of God, the blood of Jesus, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

      So instead of hitting people with a message of Radical Commitment, we should be hitting people with the message of Radical Grace.

      • stuart boyd says:

        Hitting people with Radical Grace often leads to Couch Potato-ism. And hitting them with Radical Committment often leads to burn-out via judgmentalism. And that’s the problem. People are not cookie-cutter potatoes, so they have to HEAR & SEE a balanced approach which includes Radical Committment AND Radical Grace. A Body that choose one or the other is probably not a healthy Body for the long term.

        Our desire is to want to gather with people who all are in the same place we are in terms of maturity and commitment, who share our desires for resting or radicalness, and who have a similar level of brokenness or at least share our type of brokenness. It’s easier if we don’t have to adjust whatever outlook we’ve determined is correct. That lets us measure ourselves based on what we see around us–be that couch potatoes or deep fried potatoes. And we can then justify WHATEVER form of potato-ism we feel is correct. Burned potatoes like to gather with other burned potatoes, too, because the feedback loop we give ourselves allows us to avoid examining whether or not it is time to stop focusing on our burned-ness. Without rubbing up against people who haven’t been burned, we may not see the need to re-engage. And those who’ve not been burned never learn to stay clear of hot oil if they don’t rub up agaisnt people who’ve been burned to a crisp.

        We need to be spurred on at times and we need to rest at times. We need to not create heavy burdens for people, but we also need them to know that Jesus does, in fact, give us His yokes to wear–we are not completely unyoked to do whatever we want to do or not do whatever we don’t want to do. But since we almost always gather with people who are mostly just reflections of our own selves, we end up swinging to one extreme or the other based on the overall group dynamic because there is no one around to push us back in the other direction when needed. And, let’s be honest, being spurred doesn’t feel like a nice, warm hug. But we also need to be honest and admit that we’d often not do anything if we weren’t spurred on to do something.

        Sometimes we end up gathering with people who aren’t reflections of ourselves, and we find ourselves as the odd duck within our group. We tend to be the ones reacting against WHATEVER pole the group has determined as “correct” and the “true definition of a Christ-follower” which can be couch potato or deep fired potato. And often that is just as problematic since, again, it becomes a battle for extremes. People who have been “burned out” by Radical Commitment want to curl up on the couch, but how does that affect people who haven’t been manipulated by some pyromaniac’s “true definition” of what being a disciple is? Those people find themselves as the odd duck amongst those who never want to get up off the couch. They can suffer just as much as those in the burn unit since the Body at rest tends to stay at rest.

        There is a time for everything under the sun. A time to work and a time to rest. The danger is that we’ll choose one or the other, not both.

    • Jennifer E. says:

      Just musing out loud again…what if the answer isn’t about our actions and justifying the ones we take (sitting on the couch vs. living radically)? What if the answer to complacency is about a state of being or engaging God and allowing Him to help us grow more into the likeness of Jesus? I think I’d rather just relate to God and let Him tell me what my commitment to Him should look like rather than living up to some pastor’s (that I don’t even know!) version or standard of what a committed follower looks like. I don’t have the answers, but I can’t help but wonder…we are all different people at different places in our spiritual lives with different experiences, vices, giftings and wounds. Doesn’t it stand to reason that what God would expect of me in terms of commitment might just look different than what he might expect from other followers? I have 2 daughters. They are different ages with different personalities. Given their strengths, weaknesses and developments, I cannot always reasonably expect of one what I might expect of another. Doesn’t make them less my daughters or worthy of my love if one cannot do what the other can. I guess my point is, for me, commitment to God at this point in my life looks less like doing something for God, and more like listening or looking for what He wants to teach me at this point in my life. It means leaning into the pain of the growth and trusting Him for the outcome.

      • stuart boyd says:

        True, we need to be very careful not to let some pastor or congregation tell us what a committed follower looks like because the danger isn’t just burnout; stagnation and rot can happen just as easily.

        I did not grow up in a Legalistic church, but as an adult I became part of a church that was made up of many people who had been burned to a crisp by Legalism. They took to the couches early on based on message after message after message after message of Grace, and now 20+ years later, many of them are still on the couches. The message was that “we do nothing to earn our salvation,” and that is true, but after a little while, that message got internalized to “we do nothing, nothing at all.” AND since those burnout people became the foundation of the church, they set the overall tone of the Body and how it operated, meaning the vast majority of people who came later on simply sat down on a couch, too, people who’ve never even been even remotely close to a match, much less an inferno.

        This is probably what the various calls to Radical Commitment are reacting to–too many people who’ve NEVER been burned out are living in a state of total complacency. The Radical Commitment is a pushback to remind people that they are to work out their salvation (not just justification) with fear and trembling, as well as faith without works is dead.

  23. Robert F says:

    Has anyone here heard of a newish theological orientation in the Anglican world called Radical Orthodoxy? Are they in or out? What of theologian John Milbank, Radical Orthodoxy’s trailblazer?

  24. Robert F says:

    And it’s “On Christ the solid Rock I stand” not “From Christ the solid Rock I hang.”

  25. Josh in FW says:

    Thanks for the great climbing photos. They remind me of my younger years. Hopefully my body will still work well enough to enjoy the sport again when my boys are old enough to don a harness.

  26. dumb ox says:

    The typical interpretation of Bonhoeffer needs to be challenged. Grace is not “costly” by adding works to it.

    G.K. Chesterton really covers the subject well in his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi:

    “He was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing.”

    There is that odd story in the gospels of the ten lepers who came to Jesus for healing, and Jesus sent them away to be examined by the priest (for ritual acceptance back in the fold after being healed of their uncleanness); nine rush off to the priest, and only one returns to thank Jesus. In this story, the nine who never return are the “radical” – going off to do stuff to be accepted and praised; one returns to Jesus out of love and bottomless thanks. It also made me think about last week’s sermon on the letter in Revelation from Jesus to the Ephesian church, who were plenty busy doing stuff and filling their heads with knowledge about God, but who had lost their love and intimacy with God. That, too, is the danger of radicalism.

    To the man from whom Jesus cast the legion of demons into a herd of swine, Jesus told him to not follow after him but to go back to his village and tell his people what Jesus had done for him. Living a normal, quiet life in love for God and ones neighbor is “radical” because it is so rarely done.

    • I’ve never heard that interpretation of Bonhoeffer before. I’m Lutheran – is this perspective something that is common outside Lutheran circles?

  27. I’d bet my bottom dollar that the leaders of ATF do not believe in the true presence of Christ in Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper.

    When that is the case, it will ALL inevitably revolve around YOU. It all becomes an inward focused spirituality/religious ladder-climbing project…with no end…and absolutely no assurance.

    End result…pride…or despair.

  28. I’m just working on the Sermon on the Mount. Let me get a handle on that first . . .

  29. Danielle says:

    Very helpful post — Daniel, I look forward to the follow-ups.

    “Anderson writes, “It really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end”.

    For me (and I suspect for others), this is the poison in the drink. The call away from complacency is certainly needed–and the call of middle-class church members to something outside their usual material/cultural comfort is certainly needed. However, when this “Radical” Christianity(TM) is set in terms of, “Maybe you are not a Christian. Only the super-Christians are Christians. Here is what I want you to do to be a super-Christian…” then we’ve backed straight out of a state of trust and gratefulness, and the lively action that can foster, to a state of fear. Maybe I’m no Christian. Maybe I don’t measure up. I have to do something to make up for my failings. What if its not enough? Well, then, I’d better try harder…

    This sort of fretful state might be preferable to happy, complacent pew-warming, but in my experience it also tends to deemphasize the value of daily dying and rising, in the ordinary life paths, and an acceptance of one’s failings and the hope one might have despite their persistence. If I succeed in performing “radical action” leading to a new life-path, I’m now too invested in relying on it and imagining it as great and radical; if I lack it, I turn to self-absorbed worry. Either way, there’s a lot of fear simmering beneath the surface, and love and self-forgetfulness seem to flourish best when such fear is driven out.

  30. I haven’t been here in long while nor commented, but this caught me. I guess I just want to offer that I’ve been radically changed. Not by exhortations of preachers nor good books. My transformation came at the point of utter brokenness and despair. In that moment, I cried to God to be real. And I did find my help in Him alone. So I did come to know God deeply and with a realness I’d missed all the years prior. I was so loved, I changed naturally in radical ways. I often say that though I wouldn’t choose my pain, it’s what brought me to finally know the real Jesus and God the father. Truthfully, my life is radically different but I had to suffer to be so loved and moved to so love. It’s a beautiful mystery, I think.
    Peace.

  31. As a CT subscriber, I read the article last week and really enjoyed it. I have to say though, I found the actual article and the title of the article to be opposed to each other. When I read the title, to me, it clearly implied that Platt and Chan aren’t going far enough. But then the article does not say that. So, I found that part a bit odd.

    I have to say that as someone who really likes the message of Platt and Chan, I found the article to be outstanding, even though in many ways it presented a challenge to their ideas. Near the end of the article, the author makes an outstanding analogy. He says something to the effect of……”the good Samaritan wasn’t there to help the beaten up man becuase he had moved into that dangerous neighborhood along the road. Rather traveling that road was a part of his normal course of life. But in his normal course of life, he was attuned to caring for those in need as he met them.”

    Like I said, I really like Platt and Chan. There are simply too many verses in scripture that support their message (if any would come after me he must deny himself, he who loses his life for my sake will find it, if anyone does not hate his father and mother he cannot be my disciple, all who desire to live a Godly life will be persecuted, if you love me you will keep my commandments, and on and on). In this day in age of rampant antinomianism / easy-believism and an American church that is ten miles wide and one inch deep, theres is a timely message. But at the other end of the spectrum, I see some who go the mission field, or move into a “bad neighborhood” but still aren’t any closer to God, don’t know Him in a deeper way and at the core, are still the same person they were when they lived back in the safe suburb. Like I said, I loved the article and believe it was extremely well written. A very good challenge, but not a flaming rebuke of Platt/Chan.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I loved Chan’s “Crazy Love.” I highlighted just about every other sentence. It was what I needed to hear at the time I read it, a God/Spirit thing to get me off the couch/pew and put action to my faith. It spurred me to take a risk in a ministry area, and I have seen some fruits of that. I’ve defended Chan here on other posts and I won’t knock him now. But I can certainly see the problem of pushing “Radical Commitment” too far. Some people aren’t ready for it, spiritually or emotionally. That’s okay. And right now I’m actually in a season of non-Radical Commitment. If I read “Crazy Love” right now, I might find it too extreme and pushy. I think it’s cool (if a bit strange/mysterious) how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit can work in a person’s life, like it has in mine.

  32. “It is not that a call to deeper commitment to Christ is bad, of course; rather, that call needs to be interpreted in a way that everyday people can follow over the long haul.”

    I realize I’m late here, but since nobody seems to have used this word yet (I’m looking at you, HUG), I actually have something to contribute here: “Stakhanovism.”

    I’m gonna go on record here as a (critical) radical sympathizer. Because that was me, too: growing up in a diffident mainline church with a lot of company suits and Sunday churchmen, wanting to live this half-grasped, half-read Gospel the rest of the week and having no idea how. (It took the grace of God and ten years to sort out the worst of the Pelagianism.) I get some of the logic behind their position, and I agree with some of it.

    The problem I see with it is how it interacts with American consumerism and Taylorism. I get that the Gospel has consequences, and I do wish more people would work on living those consequences; but there’s a real danger in trying to make superheroic the new minimum threshold.

  33. A book not mentioned in the list was Right Here Right Now by Hirsch/Ford. They make a more balanced point, I think, in the “radical” discussion. They point out that “radical” looks different for everyone – that the Spirit might compel one believer to sell all they have and give to the poor, but that He might bless another with the gifts of management and generosity and prosper them to have great resources for helping the Church in her mission; the Spirit might lead one to be celibate, and another to be a patriarch of a godly family; etc.

    In this approach, then, the point is for us to surrender to be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered to take up our unique role in God’s radical plan, whether it’s to be a simple housewife gifted with hospitality or a truck driver gifted with evangelism or a mega-church pastor gifted to exhort thousands to consider what radical might look like for them.

  34. dumb ox says:

    When a car commercial also uses the normal-isn’t-good-enough shtick, I think it’s safe to say it is merely a worldly appeal to the sinful nature and not a basis for a relationship with God..,unless your god is an idol, like a car.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXak5RG5MvY

  35. Perhaps every generation needs its prophets, as you say, but a prophet calls out sin and demands repentance. Living a normal life is NOT sinful. Tying crushing weights on the backs of people and not lifting a finger to assist, well, Jesus called that sin when the Pharisees did it. Maybe the Pharisees needed a better publicist.

  36. Not sure just how “not a fan” Idleman is himself. He is calling for major sacrifices in following Christ but yet he has put his 700,000 home (a lot of home here) on the market and is looking to buy 85 acres in an upscale county. He also has a very comfortable 6 figure salary from his mega gig not to mention book royalties and speaking gig income. Perhaps he should practice what he preaches?