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?