Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But, like I said last week, they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:
- They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
- God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
- Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
- The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
- Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
- Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating
My whole Christian life has been devoted to being a regular guy who is a radical Christian. When I became a Christian, I never thought it was about joining a club or being on the right team. I just picked up on what the Bible was saying and went with it. And I did not miss that the Bible was written by regular, flawed people who were saved, not superpeople, or people who even thought they could get it right. It seems to me that the Bible is written “in the face” of people who think they are great or who think they need to be great to make God look good. Regular people who are filled with the Holy Spirit living heart to heart with God: that’s radical. What they do may never get into the news cycle, but that’s not the point for them. The are at the heart and they do from the heart like good trees bearing good fruit, their roots sinking down into eternity.
But there are reasons people might not want to be radicals these days. Here are four more, that are a bit more personal:
5) They probably don’t have a taste for community
So many churches in the past fifty years were just political fronts for the Republican party or the new age movement — they weren’t communities gathered around Jesus. One time I had to demand that my deacon not put local Republican voting guides on the church’s info site – that in a supposedly Anabaptist-tradition congregation! More often I have had to defend why Jesus is the loving center of what we are all about and not just a figure of intolerance — and that to people in covenant with me! It is no wonder that people feel liberated when they get out from under the thumb of the church’s dialogue-stifling system– if that is Christian community, count me out, too! But as people get free of the nonsense, they often end up inoculated against true Christian community by the faux community they have experienced.
Even more, in general, “churched” or not, the population seems to be losing their capacity to connect (could this be true?). People have grown up in detached families. They are immigrants who have left their culture. They have moved to the city to get away from community and be themselves. They live virtually. The hand held computer has taken all their attention. The church comes around and wants consistent relating and it seems like it might be from another planet. But they are going to be gone for the next three months on a job anyway, so the temptation to care about that is fleeting.
This might be the most under-reported reason why people lose their faith. Something bad happened to them while they were part of a church and they did not have the resources to get over it without leaving the church – or the church did not have the resources or opportunity (see the first point) to help them.
- They got a divorce and only one of them got custody of the church.
- They had a messy break-up with someone and couldn’t face sitting in a meeting with them.
- They had a conflict and never faced it or forgave it.
- They unwittingly got connected with a mentally ill person and didn’t want to handle it.
- Their children did not get along with other children.
- The leader said something that didn’t sit right and they were too afraid of him (generally) to talk about it.
If you have a relationship difficulty, it is tempting to not grow through it but to just move on. Most conflicts require confronting something in oneself, but the habit for many is to blame and cut off. People tend to be “slash and burn” relaters. We’ve all become samplers. So it does not take much to scatter us. Once we get scattered from the church, it is easy to see it as the scene of the crime we are trying to escape.
7) Perfect love does not cast out their fear.
Being a radical Christian is not a sociological phenomenon. If the society is open to Jesus or not, following Jesus is still going to be a matter of having a living relationship with God. One will have to lose their life to save it. Jesus will have to be accepted as Lord. It is a scary proposition.
- If one lives by the detailed laws of science and relies on a few significant relationships for comfort, then the demands of Jesus are very big. Not only does Jesus insist he is the law and the most significant relationship we have, he insists from an eternal perspective.
- If one is convinced that being an individual is the height of self-realization, if one is acclimated to the rewards of the economy, and if one believes love is all you need, then Jesus might seem like he is way too abnormal.
- If one is mostly reacting rather than thinking and feeling things through, Jesus is way deeper than what seems possible.
Faith can be overwhelming for some people. They don’t have the heart for it. They are even defensive that I said that and then talked about saying it.
Christ’s love is the key to being other than what I just listed. Otherwise, being a Jesus follower from one’s heart is too huge to try.
8) Church people will not do evangelism.
Given all the problems enumerated above, and last week, Christians are loathe to make disciples. Just the thought of “making a disciple” seems like it must be against the law, or certainly some relic of a colonial past. They won’t even tell their story of faith, since it is up against the big alternative narratives that have taken over the airwaves. They wonder if everything that is important to them is just socially constructed anyway, so why would they infringe upon what someone else has constructed for themselves from all the bits and pieces of spirituality readily available? They won’t even give people a chance to discover the Gospel and change.
I think the main reason people might not want to be radical Christians is that they don’t really know one. They may never have a dialogue in which the Holy Spirit gets to play an intimate part. All those spiritual experiences they are having may be left to be organized by their own imagination rather than the risen Lord. They will still be interesting, mysterious and moving experiences, but they won’t be radically Christian.
I think all Christians should speak up about what brings them life — especially the radical ones guarding the integrity of the faith for the next generation.
Thanks for all the dialogue last week about these ideas. The process of thinking together makes being a new people in Christ possible.