Every truth must be held in balance. It’s like truth sways like a pendulum. One generation emphasizes hell without emphasizing grace. The next generation talks all about grace but never mentions judgement. One generation spends most of its mission budget on international missions. The next generation senses the neglect of the local community and forgets overseas missions. One generation is immersed in tradition. The next generation hates anything that is institutionalized. You get the point.
I think my generation is reacting against something I’ve heard called “churchianity.” And the flow of this movement is toward radical, passionate, self-sacrificing Christianity. It is repulsed by the passive, no-nothing, Sunday-only Christianity. I’d put myself in this category– the desire to live the life that Jesus said is taking up your cross, denying yourself, and following him. It’s extreme. It’s radical Christianity. Is it imbalanced? Is the pendulum on the other side now?
Influential pastors and speakers like Francis Chan and John Piper place a huge emphasis on this kind of living. In America, it is a good message to be reminded of. We are filthy rich compared to the rest of the world (Chan). Many of us do retire and waste the last fifteen or twenty years of our lives on the golf course or the yacht (Piper). They’re right– and it’s a message we need to hear.
The problem comes when we (as pastors or teachers) start either guilting people into radical living by saying things like “There are starving children in Africa right now who don’t have any money for a single square meal today, and you’re spending your money on Starbucks five days a week?”or when we (as regular people) start thinking that regular day-in, day-out mundane (non-radical) tasks can’t be done for the glory of God and therefore are unimportant.
The first problem creates a sort of legalism. As if giving more is a gateway to deeper spirituality. There is a way to live simply and give lavishly for the sake of the gospel. But guilting people into it by telling them about starving people isn’t the way. There are always going to be hurting people here– we can’t always live in guilt about not meeting everyone’s needs. But we can teach that Christ is a far superior treasure than money, and in him there is the kind of joy that frees us to give away what we don’t need. Because Christ is reliable and our treasure is in heaven!
The second problem creates a kind of Christian fantasy world. Recently in my youth group we went through Francis Chan’s video series that goes with his book Crazy Love. It was a good series– challenging and convicting. But one thing I noticed was that regular, disciplined, not-so-glorious steps of obedience like daily Bible reading, consistent prayer, loving your family and friends were shoved to the background. Why? Because these things aren’t radical. Selling your X-Box to give the proceeds to the poor is.
So I tried to counter it by calling the regular disciplines of the Christian life radical. When one of the students said, “That’s not radical” I immediately felt the imbalance. In emphasizing the radical nature of the Christian life we had downplayed the significance of the regular spiritual disciplines that take place in the closet. In this fantasy world, only the extreme acts of sacrifice are radical. Waking up early before school starts to spend time in the Word isn’t– and therefore it’s not as important. A radical outpouring of sacrifice and generosity without the consistent exercise of the mundane spiritual disciplines will lead to a pervasive (and “radical”) shallowness in ministry.
Radical seems to be a buzzword these days. And overall, I believe, it is a good thing. We do need to be radically devoted to Jesus Christ, so we are ready to “sell all that we have to follow him.” But we must be devoted to our Redeemer, not radicalism. If we trade Christ for radicalism we’ll find ourselves with a new kind of legalism– one that says if you don’t sell your 5 bedroom house to live in a 2 bedroom, your not deeply spiritual.
I recently came across a quote by Paul Tripp:
We live in the mundane. If God doesn’t rule your mundane, He doesn’t rule you.
At the heart of the gospel is a sovereign God suffering and dying for a world that hates Him. When the gospel shapes our lives, it will shape us into that kind of character– people who are willing to suffer, sacrifice, and deny themselves for the kingdom. The motivation for radical Christianity is a radical Christ who gives us all we need for a life that bears fruit.
And for most of us, that fruit develops as we go to our knees, Bible open, day-in and day-out, pleading with Him to change us from the inside out.