Getting Radical: Christianity Today Gives Tough Review of the Radical Movement

21 03 2013

There has been a little bit of buzz on staff regarding the cover story of the latest Christianity Today.  If you have not seen it, the cover story is a theological critique of the so-called “Radical” movement which encompasses books like Radical, Not a Fan, and Crazy Love among others.  Because the authors of the aforementioned books have not been dead for 200 years, I have not read them.  That is, I had not read them until last night.  Seeing as how the article was getting traction, and also seeing as how I got quite a few e-mails yesterday regarding the article, I thought I should finally read these.  I read Radical and Not a Fan last night.  I will offer some additional thoughts in a few days.  In the meantime, I’ve excerpted what I thought was one of the more interesting critiques in the article, namely that the authors of said books feel the need to use superlatives to describe the Christian faith.  It’s worth noting that previous generations used superlatives to describe Christ, not Christians.  Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the below or the article as a whole.  Be sure to follow the links at the bottom.

Really. If there’s a word that sums up the radical movement, that’s it. Platt’s Radical opens with it, by describing what “radical abandonment to Jesus really means.” Idleman says he’s going to tell us “what it really means to follow Jesus.” Furtick says that “if we really believe God is an abundant God … we ought to be digging all kinds of ditches [for when he sends the rain, as Elisha did in 2 Kings 3:16-20].” Do those who lead mediocre, nonradical lives for Jesus really believe at all?

The question has ample biblical warrant, of course. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Chan draws on this verse explicitly, calling for “a serious self-inventory.” Idleman draws on it implicitly as he calls readers to have a “define the relationship” talk with Jesus to “determine the level of commitment.” (Idleman draws on Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”) In his latest work, Follow Me, Platt makes his warning explicit: “There are a whole lot of people who think that they’ve been born again, but they’ve been dangerously deceived.” It’s really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end…..

(a few paragraphs later the author picks up the thread again)

These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us. Platt wants to safeguard the distinctness of God’s saving work over and against our effort. But his primary concern is for the “outflow of the gospel.” This means “putting everything in our lives on the table before God” and being “willing to sacrifice good things in the church in order to experience the great things of God.”

The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to reallytrust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

You can join the conversation at Steve’s blog here.  You can read the original article at Christianity Today here.



4 responses

21 03 2013
Zach Kennedy

Rob, I think the question that comes up immediately in my mind is how do we as preachers, teachers, etc., in our sermons and in talking with people individually, make clear the seriousness of following Christ as distinguished from the nominal Christianity that has infected so much of America, particularly in the Bible-belt? In my opinion, this is exactly the goal of contemporary pastors’ usage of intensifiers. It’s a simple way to distinguish between Biblical and nominal Christianity. But could there be other ways? More effective ways? I’m sure there are, but I’d love to what ideas you and your other readers have.

Also, could the present use of intensifiers eventually become mild to the point that even more intensifiers are needed?

I look to hear more of your thoughts on this.

21 03 2013

I sympathize with your point. I’ve often said that the way you do evangelism in the deep south is that you first have to convince people they are not Christians before you can share Christ with them. So I appreciate the point.

In regards to needing more intensifiers, I think that points out the bind we’re in linguistically as well as pastorally. Linguistically, when will we ever be able to express how “radical” we need to be to be in order to be considered followers of Christ? Pastorally, how will we ever know we’ve been radical enough? Most importantly (and everything hangs on this), where do such questions cause us to place our trust?

21 03 2013

I attempted to leave a reply, but wasn’t signed in. So here’s take two:

Hi Rob,

Nice having salmon with you yesterday.

I think you bring up some good points. I was challenged by Platt’s Radical and I’m sure that had something to do with his vocabulary and somewhat shock-jock approach. The real shock should be the cross and my response should flow from that.

I wonder though…do you think the use of intensifiers is out of a response to our culture’s lack of truth. Culturally, truth has become relative and rationalizations are everywhere, how do you get people to value and adhere to the truth of words like trust and obey?

If you buy into that, then I think the question becomes: how do you proclaim truth to a culture that seems to have little value for it?

elizabeth ann

21 03 2013

The salmon was nice!

Again, I find myself sympathetic to the point being made. What I would suggest is that trust and obedience are relational terms, which makes the relationship to the person being trusted in or obeyed more significant than the language used to discuss trust and obedience.

My suspicion is that people value and adhere to the truth of words like “trust” and “obey” when they come to value the person that they’re being called to trust and obey.

The final question is a little different than the preceding paragraph, however to take a stab at it I would say that Christians don’t believe in a de-personalized “truth,” but rather Christians confess that truth is personal. By this I mean that truth is a person. Jesus is truth come down from heaven. So even the concept of “truth” for the Christian is a relational matter. So to answer the question, I think relativist culture gains value for the truth as it comes into relationship with truth through Jesus.

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