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.”
“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.”
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 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.]