Rich Stearns: Are We Radical Enough?
Over the last few years, I have been thrilled to watch an increasing number of American Christians explore the idea that their faith requires them to break out of the confines of their middle class lives. In response to a deep yearning and the clear message of some authors and speakers, many followers of Christ are adopting children, moving across town or across the ocean to minister to those in need, and discovering exciting new callings to live out the mission of God.
Unfortunately, some are labeling this all-in, life-altering activism as the “new legalism.” Critics argue that we shouldn’t make people believe they have to reject suburbia to do amazing, cool, and world changing things for Jesus. In a Christianity Today cover story, the author wrote that the Good Samaritan didn’t do any of the things we call radical today. Instead it was “as he traveled” that he did something ordinary. He helped a person out. We just need to be faithful, the author says, “in our corporate jobs, in our middle-class neighborhoods … reaching out in quiet, practical, and loving ways.” True. But that represents just the start of the all-in commitment that Christ calls us to.
I think the critics of radical Christianity have got it wrong—they are encouraging Christians to play it safe, keep it comfortable.
The problem isn’t that we are asking too much of Christians who seem content with ordinary Christian lives. The problem—or should I say “opportunity”—is that the Gospel places much higher demands on Christians. We aren’t being radical enough!
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to actually follow Jesus Christ—the man whose radical message got him killed. Certainly, Jesus was on a unique mission, but nearly all of his earliest followers also gave up their lives. Make no mistake, the call of Christ on our lives is not one that fits easily into a pleasant middle class existence.
Perhaps the church has done an inadequate job of explaining this, but when we become Christians, we make a pretty radical commitment. It’s like enlisting in the military. When you sign up, you don’t get to tell your commanding officer that you’ve decided to settle down in Boca Raton, spend time golfing, and become a stock broker. When you enlist, you sign on to the mission. It is expected that an army private might be deployed overseas and risk his life for a greater cause. Why would we think enlisting as a follower of Christ would somehow be less radical?
Of course, just as the military has its press corps, its logistics operators, its procurement officers, and other desk jobs, we may not all be called to the front lines. God may not ask you to move into the inner city or the hinterlands of South Sudan. Our job is to offer our service to God, to be available, and to be willing to lay down our lives. Being radical is about the commitment you’re willing to make. Whether God puts you on the front lines or behind a desk, the point is: you’ve enlisted.
Jesus’ agenda is about changing the world. It’s a breath-taking revolution to bring all things under the reign of Jesus Christ. We are to show the world an extraordinary new way to live. So we pursue Jesus’ mission by being beacons of truth and love in whatever work we do. Whether God has called you to a corporate job, to raise a family, or go to the mission field, his agenda is about demonstrating the good news of the gospel to a watching world through our actions and our words. This radically changes why and how we do what we do.
We have been sent into the world with a message – that all people can find forgiveness and healing at the cross and that Jesus offers each one of us a different way to live. This is a revolutionary message that transforms all dimensions of human endeavor – the arts, the sciences, business, politics, communities, and families.
Yes, the Good Samaritan was doing something ordinary when he stopped to help a wounded traveler on his journey to Jericho. But he radically upset the social norms that said Samaritans don’t associate with Jews. The Good Samaritan was no ordinary nice guy. He was a radical. And we must be too.