Radical Christianity: To Be or Not to Be? (The Pot Is Stirring)

Prior to launching my series on Radical Christianity, I thought I would do a quick survey on Facebook in order to get a surfacy idea of what my friends thought about the concept. My page typically doesn’t get too much attention, so when 19 responses appeared rather quickly, I was a bit surprised. Apparently, several folks have their 10 cents worth to contribute to such an idea. I understand. The language strikes a chord in the heart of the pious person or better yet at least in the person who is seeking piety.

Of particular interest is my dialogue with Jon Wasson, who engaged me at length. Here is our conversation:

Rex: Give me your one sentence description of what you think when you hear the label “Radical Christianity.” Ready . . . go.

Jon: I think Christianity is more about being ordinary than radical. At least the way its used today – radical is a word that’s become gimmicky and, ironically, not very radical at all.

Rex: Great thoughts guys. Jon—I can always trust you to squash the fads bro. Let me ask you this, would you consider Luther ordinary? Or something like radical?

Jon: Good question.

The better question I think, however, would be to ask would Luther consider himself ordinary or radical? You see, it’s one thing for others to look back on our ‘contributions’ to the christian faith, whether theological, ethi…cal, missiological, etc and say, “Dang, that dude or lady was radical”…it’s an entirely other thing to aspire to it in the here and now.

Further, the call to be radical is often identified with a sense of overt-ness about our faith. It fails to grasp the subtlety of the christian faith – the arcane. If by radical you mean something close to Dostoevsky’s ‘Idiot’ then perhaps I am on board – but even then, ‘The Idiot’ is given his title for radically ‘ordinary’ behavior – loving all unconditionally, forgiving those who have wronged you, disinterest in sexual conquest and pursuit of wealth and power. The types of things that are ordinary…arcane…but not elevated oftentimes. make sense?

Rex: With regard to your first paragraph, I think—after listening to his Here I Stand speech recently—that Luther did see his actions (i.e., his opposition to the Church on the teaching of Scripture) as radical. He prayed, “God help me.” He knew… he might die for his stance. By saying this, I am not affirming or rejecting the necessity of everything that happened as a result of his stance, but I do think his conviction and choice was radical.

I do like what you are saying in the second paragraph—although I read a little bit to find out about the “Idiot.” Hahaha. Perhaps, it is best to say that to be radical is to be faithful, which sometimes makes one look ordinary, magnificent, brave, stupid or weak depending upon the situation. Jesus appears to be weak in his homelessness, beatings, mocking and death, but weakness is not at all a descriptor we would use of him in his resurrection, ascension or second coming. What describes all of this is his faithfulness (can I get a subjective genitive witness somebody?). Luther was faithful to what he felt the Scriptures revealed. He was but a weak monk in the presence of majesty on that day, but his stand was brave and powerful. Does this at all correlate Jon?

Jon didn’t respond to my last question, which was posted on January 20th, 2011. However, this appears to be a topic on which he has been brewing for quite some time. On January 24th, 2011, he posted a blog entitled ordinary. His take is primarily directed toward student ministry, but generally to Christianity as a whole. His three primary points are as follows:

(1) In challenging students towards radicalism we make it the end—the telos—of the Christian transformation.

(2) Further, radicalism creates positions of power.

(3) Lastly, I think calling students to be radicals is exploitive.

I will respond more directly to Jon’s post later, but here are my initial inquiries into this dialectic dialogue. First, I do not want to raise an opposing view just for the sake of doing it—Jon and I are both going to agree (I think) that faithfulness is the key to Christian discipleship. Jesus was faithful to the Father and in his dependence upon the Spirit, even until the point of death on a cross (Rom. 12:12). Second, I wonder if the juxtaposition of ordinary Christianity with radical Christianity simply creates two “new” Christian sub-culture fads, which Jon and I both happen to hate. Third, should the terms radical and ordinary be employed depending upon the times in which one is living out his or her Christian life? Lastly, the third point demands that we define our times and ask the question—what does faithfulness look like in our day—radicalism or ordinariness? In other words, what does it look like to be faithful in the American Church in 2011? More to come as the pot continues to stir . . .

  1. #1 by brakelite on February 2, 2011 - 1:03 am

    Political correctness has placed a form of detestation upon any who would, like Luther, attempt to shake up the status quo. Your ‘stirring the pot’ as you put it, if it shakes up peoples present apathy and makes them seriously consider their options for the future, regardless of how offensive such a stirring may be, then I for one will take an interest on how your series develops.
    For example, if we should, like the reformers, take up the accusation of ‘Antichrist’ against Rome, we would assuredly raise up some opposition and place ourselves on the firing line of the more liberally inclined among us, but could we be labelled as ‘radical’, for do not the same criteria apply to Rome today as they did during the dark ages? If Luther was normal to do this, along with Calvin, Huss, Jerome, Ridley, Latimer et al, would not we also be normal, regardless of the politically incorrect label that would be placed upon such a stance, and the rather the Christian who would refrain from taking up such a stand be the radical?

    • #2 by rexhowe on February 4, 2011 - 3:30 pm


      Thanks for stopping by and engaging in the conversation. I, too, am jaded by my own apathy as well as the general apathy that appears to be present in the Church. I am not sure that I am understanding you rightly, so feel free to correct me. I don’t see Rome as our enemy today, especially not in the way that Luther did. While I do part ways with Roman Catholicism on some matters of doctrine and dogma, I do not sense that the corruption that was present in Luther’s day (Tetzel, indulgences and St. Peter’s Basilica) is present today. However, I am not an insider, and one would almost have to be in order to know such a thing. Now, someone could point to the scandals involving Roman Catholic priests, but before we point the finger too fast, evangelicals need to remember our own sins (e.g., Ted Haggard).

      Regarding the continued language conundrum of “normal,” “ordinary,” “radical,” etc., as I continue to think through what Jon has said over at sic transit gloria and what I have already said, I feel like I moving more and more toward the term faithfulness. This term—I think—is more helpful in highlighting the sickness in the Church today. As I prepare notes for this series, I thought of around eight significant areas of Church life and belief in which I would not describe the (American) Church as faithful. These will come up in future posts. I am also meeting with Jon soon to let iron sharpen iron. Thanks again for stopping by.

      In Christ,

  1. World Spinner

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