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:

The Un-Romance of Radical

“The Dangers of Radical Continued… Spiritualized Escapism”

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.


Pastoring Radical

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.


6 thoughts on “The Radical Movement needs a Complementary Pastoral Movement”

  1. Thanks for reminding us all of the need for more than just better perspective…we must pursue better practices that are born from better perspectives. Plus…I just wanted you to know that I read your blog and it’s really good

  2. So glad to hear people saying these things. I’ve likewise been somewhat concerned with the radical movement. Great that people are encouraged to take following Jesus seriously but it worries me that in the rush to be radical people will hurt ether themselves (through burnout or questionable life planning) or others (through attempting ministry or mission activities they aren’t yet equipped to do properly).

    I think there is also a risk here that in the drive to do big radical things, often involving going overseas, that important but not necessarily flashy ministry tasks get overlooked. We need people who are willing to collate the church bulletin or lead bible studies for teenagers or visit the sick or any number of other tasks no one is going to call radical.

  3. Very well said. This is a constant tension I experience and I find it difficult to express in words without sounding judgmental. The various trends we see such as “reaching the city” or “radicalism” are, no doubt, biblical and good but perhaps it’s simply the context of these ideas that cause them to appear superficial. For me, right or wrong, the same message feels more genuine in a small village or community than it does amidst the hurried, stimulating culture in which we may find ourselves.

  4. Thank you for your frankness about this issue. I’ve read Radical and appreciated the freshness of the thoughts, especially against the backdrop of the very safe, comfortable Christianity I grew up with in the Bible Belt of America.

    What if God is using David Platte to release all of those Americans who’ve been taught to settle down and help out their local church at the cost of doing what God has created them to be in the global Body of Christ? If this movement is more about breaking off the chains that American Protestantism (e.g., the American Dream is also God’s dream for Christians) has put on the Church, then it makes sense that there is be a glut of people going overseas. They have been living a prescribed life to which they are called or created.

    I wasn’t released by Platte. I was released by God into a life that seems pretty “radical” to most Americans. He is using me and my wife to minister to the whole Body of Christ, not only in America. And that’s his choice. I have asked him to use me and that’s how he’s doing it.

    To address your key point, I would caution you about creating a movement of “wise, practical mentoring and pastoring.” You can correct me if I’m wrong or maybe give an example of why you wrote this piece. It seems that this is an attempt to control things you don’t understand.

    It is not our place to build the Church, it is Christ’s. We need a movement that calls all believers to prayer and a deepening relationship with Christ that consumes their entire lives. God’s leading is wise, but not always in the way we understand human (much less cultural) wisdom; it is practical, but to the end of his glory not our understanding.

    Let us go to God together (we are his body) and ask him to speak into our lives and do as he wills with us. When I see people yielding to the Spirit in the Scriptures, I see the wildness of God. Wild to us, but perfectly orderly in him. The wisdom we seek should be God’s wisdom. The practicality we seek should be God’s practicality.

    Instead of a movement to set up yet another system that controls the wildness of God, let us start a movement that encourages all Christians to desire and listen to God and follow him in faithful obedience. Let us trust the Good Shepherd and focus on moving with him in obedience.

    Thanks again for the article. I love the blog.

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