I caught sight of this article by Anthony Bradley on WORLD Magazine in my newsfeed. Entitled "The New Legalism" the article discusses the evangelical church's emphasis on being radical, missional believers marginalizes the kind of life Paul calls believers into in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It caught my attention because I am one of those millennials whose "greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about." I want to be radical. I want to be missional. But I fall so short of this every single day.
So when I saw this byline, I wondered if there was hope for me. Thinking maybe I'd misunderstood the gospel, that following Jesus really was as simple as being nice to my family and being diligent at my job, that maybe I could continue in an under-achieving existence, so I read the article eagerly . . . and was disappointed.
And okay, maybe I'm a sucker for an inspirational lyric, or maybe Ryan had it right when he sang, "You were meant for amazing things." Please note, there is nothing wrong with being ordinary. I would know, guys. I'm told on a nearly regular basis how incompetent I am. I competed in forensics for seven years and I still experience speaking anxiety. I'm afraid of people. My spiritual gift is helps. I am not the kind of person who dazzles with their brilliance, graciousness, and passion. I am a do-my-own-thing-over-here-in-the-corner kind of person. I have a depreciating major from an average university and I'm a little too neurotic and I'm just very regular. And I'm pretty okay with that.
But I believe in radical living.
I don't disagree with Bradley's insinuation that we have idolized the glamor of individual achievement. There is nothing admirable about boasting in what we've accomplished ourselves, nor should we be motivated by the fame that comes from doing something visibly awesome. Additionally, there is no cookie-cutter way to live a sold-out life. There is no one path to "radical" living. I can get behind this frustration that perhaps we're undervaluing modalities and glorifying the sodalities when it's important for the Church to have both. It's not okay that we rank the Bible translators as more "cool" than the office Bible study leaders. Being a good citizen is no less valuable than being a social justice advocate. And maybe in our hurriedness to get "back to Jerusalem" we've glossed over this distinction.
But I feel as though the problem he describes is not the result of an overemphasis on being missional but instead a bi-product of self-focused living. Are we not called to follow Jesus by moving as He leads, not where we would go? (Be that end-point New Jersey or New Dehli.) And are we not instructed to daily take up our cross and leave our families, businesses, and funerals behind? (Be that a cross-cultural transition continentally or socially.) The issue here is not that we are too concerned with being radical: there are people all over the world doing cool things for Jesus, and I want to see more of that, not less of it. I love reading about former debate acquaintances doing social justice work in Africa. I smile at the Pinterest posts from a missionary in Ukraine who's started a Bible study with a bunch of spinsters. I have a friend who goes to Kennedy Plaza several times a week looking for a homeless woman she met there one night, and I think that's totally nuts, but I love it.
These people have gone all out. They have abandoned the comfortable and predictable to follow Jesus where He is leading them, to the harvest. And there is nothing inherently evil about getting a nice nine-to-five job and marrying a nice guy and having 2.5 kids in a nice neighborhood, because the suburbs need to be reached, too! (Just remember that most of the world is not in the suburbs.) Wherever you find yourself and whatever your work, there is radical, missional living to be had. Are we so self-focused to believe that Jesus would only have us work for Him within the convenience of our daily routines?
Have I bought into this "new" legalism? It's true, the thought of a white picket fence makes me shudder. I know my propensity to be cowed by routine and I am well-familiar with the dangerous lull of my comfort zone. And so I want spend my life running from the clutches of apathy into the arms of godly ambition, praying big and being an instrument of God's restorative love. (Because I know that I am daily tempted to do just the opposite.) It's hard to live radically within the comfortable confines of the familiar. At least, it is for me.
Being radical doesn't have to mean starting an NGO and petitioning the United Nations to build a well in a remote part of the Sudan. Radical living is a condition of being all out for making our Jesus greater in this world. And you can do that by vocational mission and loving your literal neighbors. But I am certain we are not called to a quiet and unobtrusive existence, because I have read that the rocks will cry out His praise if we don't.
(For those of you struggling, as I am, to live radically from within the suburbs, read this book with me!)