Asking the Radical Questions


Please watch these video excerpts from a Francis Chan message:

I love Chan’s heart. He’s one of the few contemporary preachers with national reach who is asking the hard, radical questions that contemporary Christians must ask. He seems to have a better understanding of what it means to be human, to feel out of place in the institutional church, to read the Bible and then wonder why our expression of it fails so poorly to truly reflect it.

For people who have been Christians for more than a few years, shaking off the “system” of Christianity that we have erected is mind-bogglingly hard. Gaining that fresh perspective on the Scriptures and looking at them “sideways” doesn’t come easily—if it ever comes at all. We are more likely to simply kowtow to whatever our denominational flavor says and never truly ask the radical questions.

We throw around the word countercultural when it comes to the Church and the world, but the older I get, the more I find that the real counterculture is swimming against the tide of Church systems erected by well-intentioned believers who saw through a glass darkly and missed the real heart of the Gospel.

But that truly Christian counterculture is awakening. It makes my heart glad to see that some people get it, even if most of us still don’t.

My hope for all Christians, especially the ossified ones that predominate in the West, is that we will ask the kind of tough questions people like Francis Chan are asking. And more than anything else, I pray that we are prepared to do what it takes to provide answers, even if those answers painfully tear down idols in our churches, our culture, and our own lives.

19 thoughts on “Asking the Radical Questions

  1. Asking the tough questions is one thing. Answering them is another. I say I want to do that, but I wonder how sincere I am. I’m curious what steps you’ve taken to “painfully tear down idols in our churches, our culture, and our own lives” or what steps you recommend that I and others take.

    • Barry,

      See my prior post (“Beating Down the Newbies”), for instance, on suggestions for how we can better treat new Christians, helping them grow even through the midst of their mistaken notions. That’s just one post example of asking tough questions and providing answers (even if the answers are truly not that tough to enact).

      My answer for steps is to ALWAYS be questioning what other Christians say, no matter how important that Christian may or may not be. This is NOT the kind of smug questioning that some Christians pursue, but genuine Berean kinds of questions, not taking everything people say as THE ONLY WAY IT CAN BE.

      My other answer is to note that human beings have a tendency to latch onto a truth and use devotion to that truth as a way of keeping all other truths out. In other words, we tend to ignore what our devotion to that one truth may mean to how we allow other truths to interface with it. The Church tends to be polarized because we ride our one truth to a logical extreme, which means we fail to include the other extreme (and all the gradations in-between) into our worldview. So, we end up in these stupid either/or arguments, acting like the blind men and the elephant, insisting that the elephant is a tree because the legs feel like a trunk, or we insist the elephant is a snake because we have felt its trunk.

      The Gospel is SO much bigger than that. God is infinitely large, as is His Kingdom. We tend to “punify” it all so we can grasp it, but we simply cannot do that. Doing so leads us into blind spots and makes us lash out at fellow Kingdom-dwellers whose own take on the one small piece doesn’t seem to mesh with ours.

      Answering tough questions comes through small steps. Just dropping out of the consumer culture of America is one step. And that step will lead to others. It’s all a progression of steps. Someone doesn’t become countercultural overnight. But unless a single countercultural step is made, no more will follow. And that’s our problem: We like our culture too much and our Lord too little.

      • I agree with all that, and I always appreciate your thoughts. I guess the difficult thing for me is that I find it so easy to talk about (and hear others talk about) being radical, and yet so rare to see anyone, myself included, taking truly radical steps to change.

        • Barry,

          Here’s a simple place for it to start. Decide today, and ask provision from God, to treat other people like you would want to be treated. Golden Rule, right?

          Then live it. Keep holding yourself to it by God’s grace. Keep asking Him to help you love the person now standing in front of you, no matter who that person is. Instead of expending energy labeling that person, use that energy to love them. Let other people matter to you. Let their problems be your problems. Listen to them when they talk. Smile at people. Ask the cashier at the grocery store how she’s doing. If you see someone who looks down, ask them, “Would it be okay if I pray for you right now?”

          None of that asks much. Yet we do so little of it.

          If we can start that small, big things will come from that simple care for another person. Learning to love other people will automatically help you to love God more, and vice versa.

    • Yes, that came to light last week. It will be interesting to see where the Lord is leading him. John Piper, in a similar fashion, is stepping back for a season. There is something to be said in their examples. If it gets to be too much about “me”, maybe it’s time to take “me” out of the equation for a season and seek the Lord’s face.

      • Don,

        I knew about Piper. Didn’t know about Chan.

        I find it hard not to ask if Chan was growing faster than the rest of his church was able to handle. I think he’s one of those visionaries that is always going to be dragging people behind him because they simply can’t comprehend where he is going. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that is the case with Piper, too.

  2. The thing that I like about Francis Chan is that know that he asks the questions of himself first, and wrestles for the answers, long before he ever asks the questions of the church. Would that others do the same.

    I was watching a program on PBS a week or so back called “The Buddha”. One thing that struck me was how the Buddha sent out his disciples out to teach. They taught what the Buddha had discovered. When modern people were interviewed in the documentary, they would talk about what the Buddha had taught and how to attain what he attained. It got me to thinking about the Apostle Paul and the epistles. Here we have a man who was taught by the Lord for three years, was called up to the third Heaven, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to pen almost two thirds of the New Testament. What riches are present in his writings, yet they’re reduced to snippets. He tells us to follow his example as he follows Christ. That’s sound advice. It has me re-reading the epistles and looking at them in a different light.

  3. The video didn’t come up for me (normal for where I live), so I can’t watch the video, but I can tell you part of our story.

    We withdrew our membership from our church several years ago. We had started reading our Bibles and actually believing everything it said. The Lord worked on purging our flesh to the point where I feel convicted if I read an article or something online just for pleasure. We don’t spend time or money on entertainment. We stopped taking any vacations and things like that.

    We gave away almost everything. We already served overseas at that point. Since then we also left the agency we were part of so that we could live truly by faith. We have no regular support. In fact we told all of our churches and supporters to send their money to orphans instead of to us. We then moved into a slum area to be the light of Christ to the poorest of the poor. We live at the same economic level as our neighbors. We live on support (from Americans and locals), teaching English, and miracles. Any one of those can be the main supply of income in a month.

    We have also chosen to believe the Bible about healing. We have seen many miracles, many healings: broken bones, ovarian cysts, eyes, a baby who was given days to live, a toddler of whom it was said would never walk…

    That’s just some of what our life has become. We still feel like there is so much more we are missing, but we are thankful for the fruit in our lives that we have seen as He makes us more and more into His image.

  4. Just more law.

    Exhorting us to strive more, to dig deeper, to get more serious. it’s all inward looking Baptist/Calvinist theology.

    The fact of the matter is that none of us are really all that seriousness, so much of the time.

    The theology of the cross realizes this and therefore turns to the external Word of God and His Sacraments for the assurnce of our salvation…which is totally self centered in so much of Evangelicalism.

    • Steve,

      Was it “just more law” when the early Church broke bread together in each other’s homes and shared their possessions in common so that none lacked for any need?

  5. Breaking bread together (Holy Communion) is pure gospel.

    That is the True Bread which comes to us (extra nos) from outside of ourselves (even though Evangelicals do not believe that the Lord is actually present in the meal).

    But goading people into digging deeper and becoming more serious about God is just throwing more law at them.

    The fact of the matter is that we remain totally sinful, and are at the same time totally justified. That was the great gift and understanding of the Reformation that really drove the Roman Catholics crazy…as it still drives many Evangelicals crazy.

  6. Sulan

    I listened to the video, and it brought to mind the Book of Acts — all things communal.

    Thanks for sharing that, Dan. I had never heard of Francis Chan before.

  7. ccinnova

    I had never heard of Francis Chan either. He shared some challenging thoughts in that video.

    At the same time, I can understand why some evangelicals might be a bit skeptical. Several groups of American Christians, especially from charismatic backgrounds, have tried setting up communities before with disastrous results.

    In the mid-1960’s Graham Pulkingham, who at the time pastored Church of the Redeemer in Houston, started a community. Julia Duin discusses this experiment in her most recent book, “Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community,” which I have yet to read. However, I’m aware that the community Pulkingham founded in Houston eventually withered thanks to abuses related to authoritarian rule and the shepherding movement. And at the time of his death in 1993, Pulkingham was on the verge of being defrocked for sexual misconduct.

    Abuses similar to those in the Houston community have been reported at the Community of Jesus in Massachusetts, which is apparently still active, and the Life in Jesus community in Maryland, which disbanded in 2008.

    So how do we find the proper balance?

    • The core imperative at the center of what Chan is getting at, and what the Jesus communities in the early church were doing, was to love one another.

      Not such an easy task, of course, but many abusive communities have other things at their core. Like the community itself, for instance). Remember the Bonhoeffer quote: “if you love the dream of community, you’ll destroy community. if you love people, you’ll create community.” I think lots of failed, abusive community attempts, including the charismatic ones, have divided allegiances. Loving those you are with is a means to an end(like miracles or something) instead of an end in itself. The kind of self-crucifying love Jesus demands and inspires doesn’t really leave room for the kind of abuses that are often seen.

      Many people are skeptical because the bottom-line allegiances they’ve been conditioned with, the paradigm they’re engulfed in, ensure failure before it even starts. There’s nothing about the typical American lifestyle that lends itself to the kind of community we see among early Jesus-people. It has to involve a total reshaping of priorities. People who are looking at living this way must understand that it’s going to disrupt many deep-seated demands and expectations on life that we take for granted. Presuppositions will shatter. This is not easy or romantic. It’s painful. Then again, so is repentance.


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