How Radical is Radical Enough?

Today I would like to direct your attention to a growing trend in evangelicalism.  Within the past half-decade or thereabouts, we have seen several books from well-known evangelical leaders that attempt to shake us out of what they see as comfortable, middle-class, Americanized Christianity.  These books include Radical by David Platt, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, and others.  Perhaps you have read one or more of these.

These books dominated the Christian bestseller lists when they came out, and they still do.  This speaks to a growing sense in evangelicalism that our pursuit of a comfortable middle-class existence and the American dream is causing us to miss something in our Christian life.  In response, these authors attempt to jar us out of our perceived lethargy.

This is not just limited to books; a growing number of preachers are taking up the message as well.  Here is a quote from Matt Chandler’s Easter message:

So let me translate this in a way that I think probably some of you won’t like but I’m gonna love you enough to say. That believing in Jesus means that you’ve declared war on the sin in your life and that you’re serious about growing in your knowledge with God. Look at me, and if those things are not true about you, you do not believe in Jesus. You hear me? If there’s no seriousness about sin in your life and no desire for you to grow in an understanding of who God is and who Jesus is, you don’t believe in Him. You believe in Jesus like you believe in some sort of historic figure but you do not believe in Him in regards to eternal life.

In other words, it is not enough to believe in Jesus unless such belief is accompanied by visible and lasting life change.  Whether it be getting serious about fighting sin in your own life, getting serious about spreading the Gospel in other parts of the world, or getting serious about fighting poverty and brokenness in our own communities, the message is clear:  The Gospel’s demands of life change are real and far too many believers fail to satisfy these demands.

Matthew Lee Anderson has written a feature piece at Christianity Today entitled “Here Come the Radicals!”  In this piece Anderson notes the rise of the radical message and offers his own critique of where this message is lacking.  He notes that there is a lot of emphasis on what it “really” means to follow Jesus.  Most Christians don’t need to be told that they fall short of the mark in Christian discipleship.  But no one is talking about what sort of belief actually counts.  In other words, we don’t know how radical is radical enough.

The language of the radicals is filled with intensifiers; it is no longer enough to “trust and obey, for there’s no other way”.  Instead we must now really trust and truly obey.  But regardless of how you slice it, the problem is still the same because the burden of Christian discipleship lies squarely upon our own will.  It is up to us and our own efforts to move the ball forward.  Whether our decision is to receive Christ or to get serious about growing in the knowledge of Christ, at the end of the day we still have to make a decision.

There is no room in the “radical” message for the the common and the mundane.  There is no room for the possibility that a single mom working ten hours a day to provide for her family is honoring God in her vocation.  Instead it seems that being “radical” is a luxury that is only for those who can sacrifice their upper-middle-class status because–duh–they already have it!  Neither is there room for failure.  The whole point of sacrificing it all for the sake of the Gospel is for the sake of the Gospel success that will inevitably follow during your lifetime.  There is no room for the idea that God is doing something that the person who sacrifices it all for the sake of the Gospel will not see the fruits of during his or her lifetime.

Anderson then goes on to compare the present “radical” movement with prior holiness movements in evangelicalism.  The present “radical” movement is not directly connected with any of those past movements, but there is nothing new under the sun.  He closes by noting a critical irony in the “radical” message–that the call to forsake a comfortable middle-class existence and engage radically with the cause of Christ is given in the context of a community that is conformed to middle-class American culture in its worship and community practices.  For instance, it comes to us through the Christian media/conference/book industry, a lucrative culture that by its very nature is forced to think and act with profits in mind.  He closes by noting that for us, growing in Christian discipleship is not about giving up everything and moving across the world or to a poorer part of town, but in doing whatever good you can as you go through your normal life, wherever that may be.

Because I am not afraid to shamelessly pimp my own material, here is something I wrote a few months back about Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and its view of Christian discipleship.