Monday, May 27, 2013

To Be (Radical) or Not to Be (Radical)? That is the question...

There is a bit of a debate going on in the Christian cyber world, and it has caught my attention and sent me pondering.

On the one side, there are those who ascribe to the ideas expressed in books like David Platt's Radical, believing that true Christ followers are called to live lives that are, well, radical--that is to say, lives that are self-sacrificing, sold-out, hard-core, and intentionally missional for the kingdom of God. For these people, it is simply impossible to conceive that one could respond to the gospel of Jesus with anything less than everything.

On the other side is a viewpoint which contends that the push to become "radical" or "missional" is the new legalism in the church. This side believes that the basic command to love God and love others is radical enough, and that the world needs more Christians simply living lives of love while doing normal jobs and living in regular neighborhoods. The author of the article posted here says:
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 Thessalonians 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 have a strong opinion on the subject, which is actually the main idea behind the book that I am writing. While I eschew legalism in all of its forms, I believe that American Christians, in general, are a LONG way from becoming legalistic about living radically in response to the Gospel. At the same time, I do not believe that first-world suburban living is necessarily at odds with radical Christianity. Being "radical" is more about passion than postal code. Radical living certainly is NOT about having something "spectacular to boast about," nor is it about a glamorous job. And as for being an "ordinary person," well being missional certainly doesn't suddenly make one extraordinary. It might, however, reveal an extraordinary God.

I realize that what our family did --moving to France and becoming missionaries--is easily identified as "radical;" however, on our recent trip back to the States we were absolutely blown away by how some of our dearest friends and supporters are living extremely radical lives right where they are!

We had dinner with a pastor and his family who are active in sharing their faith and their lives with their daughter's high school friends. One of those friends had just recently put her faith in Jesus and she was invited to dinner the same night that we were--so that she could meet the missionaries from France. But all evening long, it was David and I who were learning about radical living. We watched this family gently and lovingly answer this new believer's unending questions about everything from homosexuality to evangelism to dating relationships to discerning God's will. It was clear that the young girl trusted them and felt loved by them. It was so amazing to see the fruit of THEIR mission field! David and I left feeling humbled, blessed, and inspired! They are living radically and missionally in Portland, OR.

Another friend of mine--a friend who has four children of her own--had taken in a young woman who came out of the foster care system. Though she is of legal age and even a college graduate, this young woman has the emotional maturity of a pre-adolescent. She has never known the love, security, and acceptance of Christian home, so my friend and her family took her in. Her presence in their midst caused a great deal of stress and turmoil, and many of their friends questioned the wisdom of their decision. But my friend, motivated by the grace of Jesus, knew that God had called her and her family to share his love in this way. They are living radically and missionally in the suburbs.

Other friends, living in Spokane, have started a non-profit organization to serve an orphanage in Africa. Several close friends have adopted children of all ages from across the globe. We know people--many people--who live simply and give generously so that missionaries (like us!) can move internationally to share the Gospel. These people are living in the first world, working in "non-glamorous" jobs, and would say that they have "nothing spectacular to boast about!" To me they are heroes of the faith, living radically for the kingdom of God!

That being said, there are many believers in North America who would rather be comfortable than missional. I fell into that category for many years, so I speak with first-hand experience. I was quite happy to go to church and serve when it fit into my schedule. I read my Bible every day and went to (even TAUGHT!) Bible studies, so I assumed I was growing in my faith. I was even on staff at my church--and I suppose I equated being a vocational Christian with being a missional Christian. But it simply isn't so.

As God started to make me aware of the completeness of his call on my life and the totality of his sovereignty over my life, I began to be bothered by a holy discontent. I started to feel like I was "playing" Christian much in the same way that I had "played" house as a young child. By the time God called us to France, we realized that he had already been hard at work in our hearts, developing a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. We jumped when he finally showed us that the answer to our longings was a total abandonment of life as we knew it. Moving to France was just the evidence of something that God had long been working on in our souls. It is not becoming missionaries that made us missional--it was becoming missional that made us missionaries.

And being missional  is what makes our friends share their faith radically. Or open their homes radically. Or give their money radically. All Christians are called to live this way, regardless of vocation or location. Of that, I am sure.


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  2. Incredible writing with a gut-stirring message. Keep wordsmithing, Jenn! That TOO can fall under the heading of "radical".

    1. Thanks, Ronna! I appreciate your encouragement, and your wordsmithing as well!