Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But 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.
- Jesus is not a side job, he is their vocation.
- The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
- Mission is not a leisure time activity; it is why they work.
- Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating.
That sounds great. So why wouldn’t everyone want to be radical Christian? Thank God, many people do! But let’s be honest, Christians are feeling on the defensive. They’ve lost their home field advantage in the society. The “cultural” Christians who used to give a high five to Jesus are changing to the “nones” the Pew survey is tracking. Christianity is no longer first choice among many seeking spiritual meaning. You don’t have to identify as a Christian to be accepted in society like you used to. If your faith is squishy, it is better to identify as “spiritual” — Ed Stetzer is an optimistic church expert guy, but even he admits that.
Circle of Hope was founded on the premise that we could find a group of radicals in the Philly metro who would form the next church as the old one died around them. It is totally amazing that we’ve managed to get together nearly 700 of them and have touched the lives of 1000s of others who have received compassion or just passed through and taken away something good. But being a radical is tough, over the long haul. And these days, it seems like finding more radicals is even harder than it was to begin with.
I think there are eight big reasons people don’t want to be radicals. I don’t enumerate them to be critical, just honest. And, I admit it, I am trying to get God to do something – I want him to draw together the next 600 people God is calling to reveal the kingdom in the Philly metro as they band together as the next church.
What is in the way of that? Here are the first four reasons. The other four will show up next time.
1) People worship at the altar of scientism these days
Ronald Miller says: “We have scientific (psychological) experts giving us moral guidance not because their science allows them to know what we should be doing with our lives but because they cause so much less harm than their religious and political predecessors. Of course, for this moral disarmament to work effectively the scientific experts must be convinced of the truth of their message and the consumer assured that no better advice is available. These are two conditions that are rather easily met. In the presence of oppressive forces stifling individual freedom, self-exploration, and self expression, scienticism as a moral system had a balancing effect within Western society” (in Facing Human Suffering, p. 101-2).
After 100 years of this, the new “priests” of science are firmly in place and have new laws to back them up. But the religion of science has de-moralized the populace and become a spiritual problem, itself. Nevertheless, most 19-year-olds are committed to it and it is hard to convince them to change their no-religion religion.
2) People believe the narrative of human rights
The Jesus story is the ultimate story of human freedom. But the church allied itself with all sorts of colonial enterprises, endorsed slavery, oppressed minorities and women and started wars. The Vatican is a kingdom, for pity’s sake! Much of the church sold its birthright for a mess of pottage. People noticed.
The United States’ narrative is about how political rights bring salvation; it is the gospel of democracy. This philosophy supposedly guarantees freedom to succeed and freedom from oppression. People believe it, even when they don’t succeed and are enslaved! When the church comes through with another narrative based on God, not human freedom, following a suffering servant, not one’s desires, there is an argument.
3) Sex is unleashed from the sacred and from community
For many people, these are the unspoken truths they live by: “If someone will love me, I will trade Jesus for them. If something threatens my orgasm, I will sacrifice it.”
Too bad the image of sex in Christianity is celibate priests who aren’t celibate and dour Puritans telling everyone to “just say no!” Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of his time, which especially exploited slaves and women, who men valued mainly for their ability to produce children and provide pleasure. Faith in Jesus worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male drives, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage, and sex, with love. Christian marriage was as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.
“Christendom” did not bring in a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. But Jesus reformed sexual instinct, embedded it within a community, and directed it in positive ways. The younger one is, the more likely they are to view any restraint or direction as oppression, especially in regards to sex. Even talking about sex probably violates the right to privacy they invented last century. People are done with Christian meddling. The main thing they are getting rid of is Christian nonsense, but they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
4) Radicality takes a time commitment
I’m drifting into the more personal and less philosophical area that I will explore next time, but not completely. Questions of time are economic questions, and the people of the world have been forced into “economies” for some time now by the powers that be. We are expected to find our meaning in what we do: what we produce and what we consume. We sell our time for money. Time is money.
Not conforming, Christians do what they do for God’s glory as carriers of that glory. The abiding metaphor is that we were ransomed from sin and death and set free in a safe place under a loving regime. This reality puts Jesus followers in direct opposition to the powers that demand all our time — now machines can contact us and track us 24/7! Being and building the alternative to that life-sucking regime takes time. Compassion is demanding. Relationships take effort. Mission is preoccupying. Commitment means we do not save our lives in the present system at the cost of our true selves. It is harder than that last sentence might make it seem.
So there are four big reasons why people might be daunted when it comes to being a true Christian. The Bible writers are always quite frank about the problem of being at odds with the powers that be: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6). We’re honest about that, too.