When Christian “Answers” Are Too Simplistic

Many Christians are talking about what it means to be radical for Jesus. You’re either caught in the hellbound grip of the comfortable American Dream, or you give it all up to follow the Lord and therefore gain eternal life as a true disciple.

Alex and Bree are a young couple who read David Platt’s book Radical and decided they could no longer live the complacent hipster lifestyle they’d adopted. They sold their townhouse, quit their jobs as a videogame designer and a florist, and moved to Uganda, where they now serve as missionaries, working in an orphanage.

Rob and Tiffani, on the other hand, go to the same church as Alex and Bree once did. Tiffani works as a paralegal but is saving money to attend law school one day. After work, she holds down a second job as a waitress at an upscale restaurant, where Rob is one of the cooks and has a small vested interest in the restaurant as a limited partner. Both spend most of their day working, collapsing into bed at 10 p.m. each night. Neither has much time for church activities, but they are there in the seats every Sunday morning.

Alex and Bree versus Rob and Tiffani. Which couple is truly radical for Jesus?

What if you knew that Rob and Tiffani are the major dollar donors that make it possible for Alex and Bree to stay in Uganda? What if you knew that Tiffani works her second job solely to ensure that money keeps going to Alex and Bree?

Who is radical for Jesus now?

I don’t know about you, but I’m bored with facile arguments from within the Christian community. Most of the situations we set up to illustrate “Bible truths” are so disconnected from most people’s lives as to be utterly useless. No one can argue against them because they are so simplistic and obvious.

But people’s lives are not so easily measured. And what folks do with those lives is more complex than the simplistic bins we want to file them in.

I think that one reason that Christianity is suffering some losses in the United States is that smart people can see through the oversimplifications we sometimes hold out as “truth” on Sunday mornings. We attempt to take Scripture and shoehorn it into our perception of “genuine Christian living” only to find out that result leaves something to be desired—at least it does for those folks who think hard about implications.

Einstein: Duh!The problem is that not enough Christian leaders think about implications. Doesn’t matter what the topic is, they stay on the surface and then try to sell their biblical solution as the only way.

In the case of Rob and Tiffani, I think a lot of Christian leaders who ascribe to the new radicalism would condemn them  as not being radical enough. But what those leaders never consider is how folks like Rob and Tiffani are the ones who make it possible for others to pursue the kind of radical faith that the leaders hold up as necessary. Such is true in a lot of cases. People living a supposedly “self-centered, American Dream life” wind up funding big chunks of ministry because of the fact they ARE living according to the system. Take away the Robs and Tiffanis of the world, and you get a lot fewer Alexes and Brees as a result.

It’s not just that illustration I raise, either. Thousands of other cases exist that don’t fit our facile arguments of what genuine discipleship and commitment look like in real life.

More than ever, we need Christian leaders who go deeper. Not just deeper in Jesus, but deeper into the complex problems that face modern America.

Because I have to say that we are doing a terrible job communicating the essence of real discipleship to real people. Our answers are too simpleminded and not well considered. Living for Jesus doesn’t just mean handing out food to the homeless. Sometimes it means tackling entire systems of thought and redeeming them in Jesus name. Sadly, because we avoid the tougher problems in favor of the easy ones, our efforts are a figurative Band-Aid on a severed limb, and we pat ourselves on the back for what we label “radical ministry.”

Church, we have to do better. And doing better is going to ask more of us. And what is asked of us is going to be more complex than what we’re hearing from the pulpit on Sundays IF Christian leaders start examining what goes on beneath the veneer of real discipleship.

What is the radical Christian life? It’s not always the Alex and Bree response. Sometimes, it’s asking the harder question and then doing something about it.

by Dan Edelen

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9 Comments

  1. Posted March 10, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Loved this post Dan. I absolutely loved the “curve ball” you threw with the story of the two couples at the beginning. Even more, the point you drive home is exactly true. To think there would be no Alex and Bree if not for people like Rob & Tiffani. What an eye opener.

  2. Jeff
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I agree. The deeper questions are usually left unanswered. How should we live? How do we think about work, family life, ministry? The answers are usually very simple, politically correct, feel good “solutions”. In other words, pablum. In a sense, many pastors are treating their congregation like children.

    There is nothing wrong with simple faith, but we are not called to be simple people. The apostle Paul urges us on to maturity. The proverbs give us the image of wisdom calling out to the simple to gain understanding.

    I wouldn’t mind the simple message from the pulpit as much if there was some deep conversation going on off-line among church leaders. Maybe this does happen, but I see little evidence of it. The only place to find deeper answers and discussion is online or in some para church groups. It shouldn’t be this way…

  3. Posted March 10, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    And thanks to the hard work done by Rob and Tiffani — and their humdrum American middle class lives holding down two jobs while trying to raise a family and pay the mortgage — and thanks to the hard earned funds they have contributed, the celebrity mega-church pastors can continue to further advance the cause of the Kingdom farther and wider than ever before.

    Rod and Tiffani are the real heros here.

  4. Heartspeak
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This example demonstrates my belief that it is paramount for our churches, leaders and each one of us to focus on three things above all else:
    Knowing God
    Hearing His Voice
    Being obedient to what we hear

    When this is our focus, then we are released from our sinful need to judge others and what they are doing. As Jesus said to Peter, ” What is that to you? Follow thou me!”

  5. Posted March 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Dan, your response to the example of Alex & Bree and Rob & Tiffani seems, well, for lack of a better nother word, overly simplistic.

    People in Alex & Bree’s faith-shoes tend to acknowledge God as their Provider & Providence; a God sends the ravens understanding of His paternal care. Is the raven rewarded for making deliveries of food or cash? Yes, the raven has in its life the reward of its labors. God is just. Not all rewards are stored up beyond the horizon. And if the raven should ever fall to the ground (surely He knows), Father will be faithful to sends another raven… He owns them all.
    [He is faithful: Psalm 37:25]

    Why are Rob & Tiffani pursuing things as they are? For the same cause that Alex & Bree do what they come to do… each receives a portion of/in faith. Faith to send money to someone in Africa is of a different portion than the faith to pack up and go there. Not everyone is going to receive matching portions of faith, and we are accepting of this because we’re not the ones bestowing faith! God gives it, and He is not unjust to be aportioning in faith however He desires. Surely we’re all free to be asking Him to be increasing our faith… He is the God who hears.

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Marshall,

      While you’ll get no arguments from me regarding different portions of faith, my response is not simplistic. Many examples along the lines of my illustration exist.

      What is simplistic is the commentary of the folks writing about radical Christian discipleship, as they seem to take none of this into account. My issue lies in their bundling everyone into one basket and calling any outside that basket faithless or a bad disciple.

      • Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        Dan, be willing to be naming these folks to whom you refer?

        I’m just not encountering men or groups who are “…calling any outside that basket [of theirs] faithless or a bad disciple.

        bad disciple a misnomer?

        • Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

          Marshall,

          I’m referring to authors who have written on the radicalism topic. I’ve mentioned them in past posts on radicalism. I think that’s enough. And yes, the implication is that those who are not radical are bad disciples–and may not even be saved followers of Jesus after all (or are at least on the edge).

          • Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

            Dan, if I may, the reader suffers 2 offsets…

            1. The vice of rhetoric. What is being proposed in popular books often does not reflect real-life in practice for the author or his reader. So pervasive is the hypocrisy, we may at places be giving thanks to God for it!? Also to so-called preaching, where much is being pontificated that will not for them take root or even see the light of day.

            2. implication alone may not make a strong case.

            Is it not possible for a man’s faith to be, so-to-speak, on the edge? Such would seem to be a compassionate consideration toward one another.

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