Radical Christianity: To Be or Not to Be? (Introduction)

I have been and continue to gather insight from a wide variety of folks concerning the topic of Radical Christianity. My next series of blog posts will consider and evaluate such a label. The reason for such an inquiry is personal really. I (think) that I want to be labeled as such; that is, I want to be the opposite of apathetic, indifferent with regard to my faith commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church. However, being the opposite of apathetic is not really enough for me; I want to be “on fire” for Christ and his mission. He has given his life for mine, and I want to give my life for his glory and mission. But as you can see, I (as well as many others, I think) struggle to really say what a Radical Christianity looks like. I have some more specific thoughts, but I do not want to give them away just yet—you’ll have to stay tuned.

The term “radical” can have a positive or negative connotation depending upon how the term resonates within a person. I visited one of my favorite sources in order to get a formal definition of the term. Here’s what www.dictionary.com had to contribute:

rad·i·cal

There are other glossary options under the “noun” heading, but all of them are very similar to what has already been stated.

–adjective

1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.

2. thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.

3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

4. forming a basis or foundation.

5. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.

–noun

9. a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles; extremist.

10. a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.

I did edit the definition so as not to include unrelated glossary options (e.g., Mathematics, Botany). Here is another source, The Oxford American Dictionaries:

rad·i·cal

–adjective

1. (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough : a radical overhaul of the existing regulatory framework.

  • forming an inherent or fundamental part of the nature of someone or something : the assumption of radical differences between the mental attributes of literate and non-literate peoples.
  • (of surgery or medical treatment) thorough and intended to be completely curative.
  • characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive : a radical approach to electoral reform.

2. advocating thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party : a radical American activist (parentheses mine).

  • (of a measure or policy) following or based upon such principles.

3. of or relating to the root of something (several examples from Mathematics, Language, Music and Botany are listed).

4. [usually as an exclamation] informal very good; excellent : Okay, then. Seven o’clock. Radical!

–noun

1. a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims (parentheses mine).

I find the definition of the term “radical” to be very interesting and provocative when applied to Christianity. In one sense, it calls for thorough upheaval of tradition; in another sense it calls for an extreme return to foundational principles.

I recently listened to Max McLean’s dramatic rendition of Martin Luther’s historic Here I Stand speech at the Diet of Worms in Worms, Germany on April 18th, 1521. As an evangelical, I am a child of the Reformation—whether I like the entirety of that label or not. It appears that Luther’s mind, heart and actions were radical—he took the risk of challenging corruption within a religious tradition and called for a return to what he saw as foundational to Christianity.

Fast forward to our time and the state of the Christian Church. How has this radicalism affected the universal Church, the local church, and the Christian life and practice of individual believers? Positively? Negatively? Does our apathy and indifference need to be cured by radical commitments and actions? What is the relationship between on fire radicalism and some kind of Church or local church authority? Can the two co-exist? If so, how? Is the Church the place for radicalism? Or is the world the place for radicalism? Or both? Is radicalism too American rather than something distinctly Christian? As you can see, I do not want to restrict the idea of Radical Christianity to individual practice alone, but also as it is attached to and affects the Church. Nothing we Christians do affects only our own selves.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. May it lead each of us to a heart that is loyal to the one true God, to his people and to his mission.

In Christ,

Rex

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  1. #1 by Jeremy on January 17, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    Being a radical Christian is, in fact, getting back to the root of Christianity. It is being Christ-like. In day-to-day living this means emptying ourselves of self (that which we are entitled to in this world). It means living incredibly attuned to the movement and power of the Holy Spirit, performing acts that are nothing short of miraculous. I’m not saying we go around touching people on the head and declaring them healed of their ills. I mean that a Radical Christian lives as Christ did; minimizing the number of externals that can trap us and keep us from reaching the world with love and freedom. I mean that a Radical Christian lives as Christ did; offering the world something they already knew they needed along with something they didn’t know they needed. Living as Christ did means doing everything from a Heavenly worldview rather than a white American worldview (which is what I am physically). If my perspective is always that of God’s, then my way of life will naturally begin to look foreign in this world. That kind of life is radical indeed, right?

  2. #2 by rexhowe on January 17, 2011 - 11:07 pm

    Jeremy,

    Thanks for stopping by Level Paths. To make sure I am understanding you correctly, would you summarize what you have said by saying something like, “Radical Christianity is to be Christ-like”—of course understanding that “Christ-like” is a pregnant term? Would you say this is accurate?

    Kindly,
    Rex

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