I work with college students in Birmingham, AL.  Many of them sit under David Platt’s teaching, and have read his book, Radical.

I have also read it.  I am so appreciative of David’s ministry in our city, so impressed by what God is up to at the church he leads down the road from my house.  I am very grateful for the challenges God is supplying us through David’s preaching and writing.

As a guy with a book out there, and as someone who also regularly preaches, I know that the writer and preacher cannot fully control how the words from pen and pulpit are received and applied.

One of the problems I am noticing while working among young people is the romanticizing of the “radical.”

“What are you doing this summer after classes?” asks a student to another student late in Spring semester.

“Well, I’m working with an electrician.”

“Oh, okay.”

“What about you?  What are your summer plans?”

“I’m actually gonna be living in an orphanage in Africa, loving on those kids and doing some community development stuff.”

“Oh….”

I have engineered this brief dialogue, but conversations like the one above occur on college campuses, and it is likely that the 19-yr old working with the electrician will feel spiritually inferior to the 19-yr old who has plane tickets in hand for Kenya… and there is also the tendency for the guy with the ticket to feel as though he is a bit more sincere in his devotion to Jesus.

Believe me, I do not wish to discourage young people from boarding flights to Africa.

I also do not wish to disparage electrical work as spiritually insignificant.  I do not wish to eviscerate tedious, less “spiritually” glamorous tasks of their meaning in God’s Kingdom.

But mowing lawns seems so much less radical than spending the summer in an orphanage.  Waiting tables seems so much less radical than digging wells for remote villages.  Less radical, and also less romantic.

My impulse is to be radical.  Especially when it comes to my faith.  And I have done some pretty radical stuff—trying to heal a quadriplegic on a busy street in Brazil (he was not healed); refusing to work after college so that I could just pray and read the Bible all day while trusting God for my needs; beginning a round-the-world trip with only enough money for 180 degrees of the planet (not 360); tracking my girlfriend down in some village in the Andes Mountains to propose to her….  Radical is on my resume.

But I have also worked for four different lumber yards and for two little construction companies.  I have mowed many a lawn and dug many a ditch with two little landscaping companies.  While tossing lumber onto my forklift or pulling Bermuda grass out of some rich guy’s flower beds, I wanted to sprout wings and bolt off into the glorious blue.  I wanted to fly off to something more awesome.  Something more significant.  Something epic.

Something radical.

(Something biography-worthy).

(Something that would get me some press).

(Something exotic and, well… impressively cool).

Now, I am confident that David Platt would discourage the unhealthy motivations underlying the romanticization of the radical.  This romanticizing is happening, though, so those of use with his book in hand must be responsible recipients of the challenges.

Right now in my life, I am finding that radical is quite unromantic.  In fact, being radical is quite ugly.

My perception of God’s call in my own life is directing me to an overseas move.  I am taking my family of 6 and moving them to England for me to begin doctoral work in biblical studies.  I want to teach and preach, pastor and shepherd, with the highest degree of training possible.  I want to be able to assist in theological education for untrained but God-called pastors in developing world villages.  I want to prepare seminarians for a life of faithful pastoral ministry.

But doing the PhD in England is costing so, so much.

I used to view a sacrificial move overseas as spiritually romantic.  But the romance is gone for me.  There is nothing romantic about ripping your little kids out of the elementary school they love  There is nothing romantic about hearing your wife reason that we may never be able to own a home again.  There is nothing romantic about trying to look your 93-yr old grandmother in the eye and say, “I am leaving you, and will likely never see you again.”

(Is God really calling me to do this?  Is “calling” part of the luxurious speech of middle- and upper class Westerners whose social status permits us to daydream about what we want to do when we grow up?)

The de-romanticizing of “radical” is not a bad thing, though.  The spiritualized exoticism of our life-decisions really needs to be obliterated.  In a society that is enamored with the extreme (Bear Grylls) and captivated by the audacious (Lady Gaga), it would be easy for Christians to neglect faithfulness in the small things, persistence in the ordinary, devotion to the local.

So… a prayer to close—my Lord and God, you can have my romantic ideals of serving You.  You can have my fantastical daydreams about my calling.  You can have them and break them apart.  Amen.

 

[CLARIFICATION 1: For the record, this post is in no way designed to be a Platt-bashing or Radical (the book)-bashing post.  Just want to make sure that is clear.  But some readers have already expressed some struggles re: their reading of Radical.  As my wife says, no book can say it all or cover all the bases (other than Scripture).  So books need to be complemented with other writings/sermons/etc.  My good friend Joel Brooks has an article that might be a good complement for Radical over at Gospel Coalition… good stuff if you want to check it out.]

 

[CLARIFICATION 2: Note that in this post I am not saying that serving in an orphanage is a bad thing.  I am just concerned with de-romanticizing dangerous motivations.]

22 thoughts on “The Un-Romance of “Radical”

  1. Thank you for this. It’s what has been going through my mind and has been my struggle. I love the idea of being radical, living ‘out there’ on extreme mission for Jesus. Being radical is a wonderful a thing, or concept. But when actually done, it can be a very challenging thing to grasp,,,a ‘crucify my flesh’ kind of thing. But in day-to-day life, it’s not the radical things that really matter so much, it’s the medicore…and we need to be ok with that. We need to learn to be radical in the ordinary things, because God uses even those, and probably more so than we know. Thank you again.

  2. Great post, Andy! I totally agree. “Radical” should really be re-defined as “obedient” (though you’d have a tough time selling a book with that title). And if being obedient means working as an electrician, then by all means, wire away and think about Colossians 3:17 when you do.

    1. I totally agree, Jason: “obedient” is better than “radical.” Of course, obeying Jesus is indeed radical, even if it means being an electrician who demonstrates Christ-likeness and pays a fare wage to workers, etc. Which can indeed be radical. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Such an important word here – especially for our generation. I often desire to do the noteworthy, captivating, and extreme while forsaking the necessary, mundane, important work the Lord sometimes calls me to.

    May we be a generation that longs to be radical as the Lord desires us to be – whether in corporate positions or serving in Uganda – focusing on doing His will, not glorifying our own lives.

  4. I think its good to say too that there isn’t any more God in Africa than at the lumberyard. I think a lot of times people seek those things out because they feel that somehow “ministry” is a road to intimacy with God. But in reality, there’s only one road to intimacy and thats Jesus. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek out and be obedient towards more radical seeming things, I’m just saying that sometimes I think God will leave you in the lumberyard until you learn that your identity and intimacy are because of what He has done and no amount of crazy service will make you able to receive that..its just a faith thing.

  5. I appreciate the ideas and sentiments expressed Andy. Radical came out right after spending two months in Swaziland working with orphans and AIDS victims. It was an intense struggle for me to stay where I believe God has placed me (Southeastern Bible college) instead of moving off to be radical for those young children. I had to have many tough conversations with older men that had more wisdom than myself. I am a member of Brookhills and yet am spending my summer working at a camp and the mundane job of counting pills at Rite Aid. Obedience looks different in different times in your life. It is very radical to pursue the Lord in the mundane repetition of ordinary life. Thank you for writing this blog.

  6. Great post! I loved Radical and found it challenging, encouraging, convicting. Now God has called me away from my church to a smaller church (a church plant, really) close to my house. I never thought that God’s radical plan for me would involve ministering to a small church where they still sing from the Broadman Hymnal but that’s what’s up. My desire, whether I’m writing (my job) or cooking dinner or singing “Victory in Jesus” with a congregation where the median age is 65, is to serve God with all my heart. My “romance” is that I am in love with Jesus. That’s all I need.

  7. Good stuff, Andy. Thanks for writing this. You and Busby have really been helping break down my “romantic ideals” of serving Christ in this area through some great teaching and conversations lately.

    Jordan H

  8. Great post. I would say that similar impulses flow from readings of Chan’s Crazy Love. Combine that with collegiate idealism and activism (both awesome things) and out comes this romanticizing and occasional judgmentalism. A college student I’m aware of is getting all ‘Are you saved’ on people who aren’t showing appropriate amounts of fruit.

    I love these types of writings–I used to love listening to Keith Green and reading Leonard Ravenhill (You know, he of ‘Remember Lot’s Wife’ fame), but I’ve also learned having done romantic stuff like go on mission trips and be a youth pastor, that selling insurance is much more of a refining fire than full-time ministry ever was. It’s unromantic on many levels, but I work with a bunch of folks who need the love of Jesus.

    1. Ravenhill and Keith Green have been strong influences on me as well, especially in college. But you are right about the dangers of idealism and activism. In my book on cynicism, idealism is one of the main problems I address. Nothing leads to cynicism as quickly as idealism! Best wishes in the insurance, business, brother… God is in the midst of those labors!

  9. I love the word “ordinary.” The “ordinary means of grace” comes to mind… Why does being “ordinary” seem to equal failure in many of our worldviews?

    I’m glad that God did not mind or think negatively upon “ordinary” folks… or I would not be his child.

    PS: Love and miss you Andy & Miranda! Hope y’all are well!

    David Gross

  10. Great post Andy! I read Radical and kinda felt like I was left with a great big, “now what?” considering I am a middle class American with 3 kids. But, I have always felt like I was intended to serve here – stateside, amongst the unsaved and have, in the last 2 weeks, left a ministry job to get back into the “real world”. So, here I am now serving in an “ordinary” way but vowing to serve well and love others along the way.

    Miss you guys too! – mosh

  11. Great topic here. The reality is that the Gospel is really really radical, whether we’re an electrician in the U.S., working at an orphanage in Africa, or pursuing a PhD in England. Our interpretation of “radical” tilting toward the move to Africa route is definitely misguided (though, of course, some may be called there).

  12. Andy, Thanks for writing this post. Over the past week the meaning of radical has become less romantic as well. I am very excited about giving five months of my life in Ecuador, and I feel a peace that this is the Lord’s will for my life. But things like saying goodbye to my grandma whose health seems to be worsening and who does not know the Lord and has a very hardened heart towards the Lord is a very hard task.

    I truly believe that there is a way to live radically in every walk of life. It looks different, but each part is important nonetheless. I think we like to place things on a spiritual hierarchy, but the fact of the matter is that God has called all of us to different mission fields, whether that is finishing a pHD in England, being a college student, or mowing lawns for a living. God has a purpose and plan for each person in each role. That’s the beautiful thing about the body, we depend completely on the other parts to survive.

    I really appreciate the wisdom and guidance you have provided in my life. I know that it all came from God, but thank you for being faithful to share it.

  13. Andy and Miranda, We are thinking about you eager to hear of God’s work during your trip. We hope that in the midst of your extensive to do list, you will have a fun and meaningful time that all your family will cherish for years to come. Our prayer is that God will make all the puzzle pieces fit to His glory.

    Walter and Angela

  14. I think the church needs to be called, not first to radical living, but to faithful living. Working at bookstore may not be radical, but it very well may be faithful.

    freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com

    1. Thanks for this, John. Very well said—”faithful living” is ultimately the goal, and in the end, that is the most radical way to live. Even if it is behind the bookshop counter!

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