In the Evangelical world there is a group of young pastors, leaders, and writers who advocate a radical commitment to Jesus, one that challenges the perceived complacency of those who are, as the Bible puts it, “at ease in Zion.” Among these new radicals are David Platt and Francis Chan. Their books rise to the top of the best-seller lists, ensuring that their call to a deeper, more biblical form (in their estimation) of discipleship is widely circulated throughout the slumbering congregations of North America.
And surely this is a good thing. Surely, their challenge is one many churches need. Particularly in the North American church there are greater levels of complacency. Where the cost of following Jesus seems only to amount to spare change, faith and it’s privileges get easily taken for granted.
More importantly, Jesus himself was radical in his call, was he not? Think of it. There are calls for his followers to forsake the most intimate of relationships if they rival allegiance to him. Not only that, his call is fundamentally for us to die to ourselves, to take up our cross each day and walk the rugged, ragged path he trod. This is a call that tells us to expect persecution, suffering, and even death. Put Christ first is the command; all competition must go.
Yet I think there is a difference between Jesus and these young radicals.
Or at least I hope there is.
Let me explain why.
When I’ve listened to speakers like Francis Chan powerfully challenge their audience to more, to greater, to the more radical, I’ve often done so via a podcast or a You Tube video while my hands are soaking in soapy, grimy dishwater. I’m finally getting around to doing dishes that have accumulated over 2 or 3 days. Such podcasts make mundane tasks that much more tolerable.
However, there have been times when I’ve been doing this and found myself questioning my own life and whether or not I am living radically for Jesus. Someone like Chan is speaking about fully giving yourself to Christ, about living as a passionate follower of Jesus and here I am organizing another pile of laundry, wondering how on earth we could get so many clothes so dirty so fast. I experience dissonance. It makes me wonder whether I can be a radical follower of Jesus when the better part of my life consists in an endless succession of household chores.
The truth is life in a family is largely routine. Most days are filled with errands, laundry, making sure your kids are clean, dressed, and fed (though 2 out of 3 sometimes has to do). Most days are not spectacular. Most days end with me feeling drained, with barely enough energy to stay awake through a favourite TV show.
So what to make of what seems like such a disparity?
One of the first things I would say is that we have to be discerning when we interpret what Jesus is saying. For instance, when he tells the rich, young ruler to go and sell all he had and then come follow, Jesus was addressing the man’s heart. He was not saying that anyone who wants to follow him has to sell all they own and give away all the proceeds. Even in the early church, radical generosity was spontaneous and voluntary, not required and regulated.
The question, rather, is whether or not our possessions possess us. Does our stuff, our desire to get it, get in the way of our following Jesus? Are our possessions idols? In fact, it’s perfectly possible for a poor person to treat money as an idol more than a rich person.
The question is always: are we willing to relinquish what gets between us and Jesus? In other words, if the circumstances were such that you had to choose between financial security and Jesus, which would you choose?
The call of the cross is, likewise, about our willingness to follow Jesus even in the face of persecution, of rejection, of suffering, and even death. Unlike Ignatius of Antioch, however, it’s not about relishing the prospect of impending martyrdom but of being so committed to Jesus and having been so radically changed by the power of his resurrection that we willingly and gladly share in the fellowship of his sufferings .
Part of what underlies the motivation of these new radicals is the fact that it’s hard to hear a gospel of grace in a land of plenty. We don’t want what we don’t think we need. Even in some churches what Jesus has done is taken for granted. We underestimate our sinfulness, and our need, therefore, for the mercy and forgiveness of our holy, Creator God. There are times when there needs to be voices crying in the wilderness — including the wilderness of North American Christianity. These young radicals are among these voices.
But when it comes to the (dare I say) average follower of Jesus, being a radical follower has to mean something that applies to life in the ordinary world of day-planners, school plays, and shovelling your driveway out yet again. And I think it does.
You see, simply having Jesus as the centre of your life is radical in this neighbourhood. It’s not about freeing yourself from the mundane in order to do what Jesus really wants you to do. Instead, it’s about living radically right where you are. It’s about learning to see all of life in relation to God so that, as Reformers like Martin Luther insisted, even housework can be done to the glory of God. It’s about seeing the value in the most tedious of activities when they are done with an attitude of sacrificial love. The every day routine to which most of us subscribe is not an escape from the radical call of Jesus; it’s instead a means of entering such a call more humbly, more fully and, yes, even more radically.