Radical Christianity, Western/Suburban-Style
Christianity Today has published an important essay by Matthew Lee Anderson on a movement of sorts now underway in American evangelicalism. Church leaders like David Platt, Kyle Idleman, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and Stephen Furtick are calling for a radical commitment to the commands of Christ in their writing and preaching.
Their books are bestsellers.
And many of the churches they lead (or have recently led) are of the “mega-” variety.
Radical is marketable.
Now, radical is also quite biblical. My own preaching has comprised serious, hard calls to sacrificial discipleship. I am not interesting in calming down rhetoric emphasizing the totalizing demands of following Jesus.
But I have had some questions… and so has Matthew Lee Anderson.
I have written on the radical rhetoric before here at the blog:
And I also wrote a piece at Relevant Magazine called “We Need Boring Christians” (with an altered version appearing later in their print edition)
These posts and articles were my attempt at trying to think aloud about what made me nervous about the popular trend of “radical” Christianity, as well as what seemed good and true.
Anderson is doing the same thing, and I am impressed with his essay. He does not attack the “movement” of radical Christianity. But he does press some issues, including the awkwardness of the massive, megachurch platforms from which some of the movement’s leaders are promoting the cause. He also wonders about the standard feature of happy-ending narratives resulting from radical sacrifices without the inclusion of raw, sorrowful narratives… which are equally (and sometimes more) valid. And it seems a little suspicious that a faithful blue collar worker who rises every day to face the daily grind gets little attention.
In this post, I would just like to say that calls to radical obedience from megachurch pulpits or from a bestselling paperback require a significant amount of pastoral care and wisdom that those mediums cannot provide.
I spent three years as a college pastor in Birmingham while David Platt was preaching through the material that coalesced into his book Radical. A lot of my pastoral energy was focused on the fallout of those challenging calls: self-righteousness associated with going on mission trips or working with the poor; attempts to implement strategies for engaging serious socio-economic issues in the city without guidance from folks who have been silently working in urban contexts for years; guilt experienced by those whose vocational interests lie in the medical profession, teaching, or accounting—but not overseas mission.
I don’t blame Platt for any of this, of course. And what a blessing to get to work with people whose passion for Christ have been ignited!
I am just wanting to reinforce the point that calls to radical Christianity require extensive pastoral guidance. The prophetic outcries of books rouse souls. Prophetic preaching from megachurch stages stir hearts. But the ignited flames need to be properly fueled and carefully directed, a task left not to authors and popular speakers, but to uncles, parents, Sunday School teachers, close friends, and yes: pastors.
So if there is indeed a radical movement, let’s also start a complementary movement of wise, practical mentoring and pastoring.