Christianity Today has a smart piece on the rise of preaching a radical Christianity (“Here Come the Radicals!“). It’s a solid examination of “radical” voices in contemporary Christianity that are calling people to a faith that eschews the trappings of treacly Christian comfort and feel-good Evangelicalism.
As they say, read the whole thing. It’s an astute commentary.
Cerulean Sanctum readers will recognize a lot of the call for radicalism that some of these preacher/teacher/writers like Francis Chan, David Platt, and others demand. In fact, it’s heartening to read their books and hear some of the things that have bothered me for years finally published in the wider court of public opinion.
But there’s a disconnect between that radicalism and reality. This is also something I’ve talked about for years, but no preacher/teacher/writer with a national voice, publishing contract, or a megachurch pulpit ever takes on.
The buzzkill remark by Matthew Lee Anderson, author of “Here Come the Radicals!”:
“By contrast, there aren’t many narratives of men who rise at 4 A.M. six days a week to toil away in a factory to support their families. Or of single mothers who work 10 hours a day to care for their children. Judging by the tenor of their stories, being ‘radical’ is mainly for those who already have the upper-middle-class status to sacrifice.”
In 2003, the majority of Christian households I considered peers were single income. Today, none are. It’s crazy hard to sustain a single-income household anymore, and hardly anyone, no matter how radical, is up to the task. The economy is wrecking “simple living,” and the government plays fast and loose with real inflation numbers to make it look less horrifying than it is
Reality: I replaced the windshield wipers on my wife’s car yesterday and the cheapest I could get them was $25. That’s two to three hours salary for some people. For windshield wipers. How do people survive?
What does genuine Christian discipleship look like when everyone is working like crazy just to keep up with rapidly increasing costs of living? It’s one thing to be radical, but quite another when you get socked with a $15,000 hospital bill because your uninsured child needed an emergency appendectomy. Try paying that while working with street kids in the inner city while on donated support or working part time.
There’s another issue too.
So you feel called of God to be a doctor. You go to medical school. You end up with $350,000 or more in college and medical school debt, even if you go to a cheaper, no-name school. So, after graduation you, the newly minted doc, go to Africa to work as a doctor in an orphanage, just as the preachers of Christian radicalism would have you do.
How unlikely is that radical move to Africa? If your debt obligation makes it impossible to do something radical because you have to make serious cash to pay down your debt, does that put you in a position of earning hell for yourself because you fell into a comfortable suburban medical practice that charged enough for you to pay down that debt? Or do you simply bail on the debt in your pursuit of radicalism and hope someone else can absorb your failure to pay?
This is the reality for which radicalism offers no solutions.
Because there are no solutions within our present system. Too much of that system demands a certain adherence to the system or else. Yes, some people can flaunt that, but not everyone. If every Christian did the radical thing, then there would be no Christian doctors, lawyers, engineers, or any other professional in a career that demands much of its bearer in both time and money.
And after all, who is it who pays the support of those radicals who abandon the traditional lifestyle to work in an orphanage in Africa or save street kids in inner city America from a short, brutal life?
Notice this doesn’t even address the issue of the exhausted dad or the single mother mentioned in the quote above who is simply trying to get by. Or the caretaker dealing with sick and dying parents. On whom do we foist those in our care? Will the Church take care of them for us so we can be radical? Do we really just abandon them in their time of need? Where does this fall between “honor your father and mother” and “[he] who does not hate his own father and mother…cannot be my disciple”?
I’m not saying that God can’t come through with miraculous resolutions when we live “on the edge.” But at what point do we end up in a “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” situation where we abandoned responsibility to pursue a radical Christianity?
I’m all for a radical faith. I’ve been saying for years we need it. But until Christians in the West address work-life issues with some modicum of sense, we’ll keep preaching a radicalness of faith the majority of Christians can attain only in their dreams.