Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Radicalism the New Legalism

        A movement that has begun in the western world builds its momentum on the idea of radical living. Two of the main books that have perpetuated this movement are the books Radical by David Platt and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Both of these books are bestsellers and both of these books are used as catalysts for the generation now in their twenties who seek to spend their lives in a more sacrificial way than their parents or their peers. Terms like, “Laying it all down for the sake of Christ” and “Radically spreading the gospel” have become catch phrases of this movement.

But what does this radical life really look like?
All of Francis Chan’s examples in the end Crazy Love were extreme examples of sacrifice and martyrdom. Not discounting the magnitude of the sacrifice of these people, their sacrifice means nothing compared to the sacrifice of Christ, and, in Modern America, most Christ-followers will not be required take such an extreme stance on the laying down of their life.
Should we feel guilty because of this? Should we despise the wealth our parents worked to acquire? Should we look on with disdain at the prosperous American society without acknowledging that the reason for the prosperity came from our founding fathers attention to many biblical principals that led to the freedom we now have that allows us to grow and change and build to the point that we are the most prosperous nation in the world?
The reason I pose these questions is to wonder aloud if wealth is considered sinful in this new movement.
Okay, maybe it isn’t sinful, but those wealthy people with multiple houses, expensive cars, and Ivy League educations are not quite as Christian as we are.
It sounds a little too close to home. A little too like my early home school days when the girls who wore spaghetti straps to church and bikinis to the beach could still, technically, be saved, but they weren’t quite as on fire for Christ as we were.
I am currently participating in a Bible study about excessive living. It’s been a struggle for me, not because I’ve been living excessively. Truth be told, I make less money currently than I did when I was a teenager. I live on less, buy less, and pretty much live more frugally than I ever have in my entire life. The struggle lies in this hint at a legality that uses scripture to tame behavior.
I live frugally currently because the life that God has called me to requires it. I don’t live frugally because I chose it out of conscience attention to excess in my life.
Let me tell you a personal story about my encounter with excess.
When I was eighteen, I went to Guatemala and lived with a Guatemalan family for two months. I lived in a little concrete room with a wooden framed bed, dresser, and desk. I lived out of one suitcase worth of clothes and bought used books from an English bookstore for my entertainment in the evening.
The family I lived with was particularly wealthy by Guatemalan standards in that they owned a TV. Occasionally I’d go upstairs to watch Spanish soap operas and once in a while they’d have on an American movie with Spanish subtitles. That was glorious.
In two short months I grew accustomed to this simple living. When I came home to the United States, I immediately became discontent with the excessive lives I saw around me. I started compartmentalizing what I considered excessive and what I considered legitimate. For example: hot water was considered a necessary excess. A house over 2,000 square feet was not. My own bedroom was a requirement, but a screened in back porch was over the top.
My mind and my comfort were the tools I used to decide what was excessive and what wasn’t. I designated myself as the judger of the rich and the champion of the poor. I was discontent with the wealthy lifestyle that I was, at that time, called to live.
Maybe it’s a little extreme to say a wealthy lifestyle is a calling. But isn’t it? Like any other way of life, is it an accident that it happens?
Similarly, could poverty also be deemed a calling?
I do not believe when God says that He will be near to the poor and that He will plead the case for the poor that He was declaring the poor to be more holy. I believe He was acknowledging the fact that those without money are typically without a voice. He declared himself the champion of those who cannot speak for themselves and typically uses someone of his choosing to be that visible voice for the world to see. He calls us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
But who gets put in this category?
A few months ago, my sister was at a college conference where she attended a session on human trafficking. She shared with me the magnitude of the numbers still enslaved and how the horror of how humans are being treated was overwhelming. She then posed a rhetorical question: “What can I do? I don’t know how to help them.” To which I responded: “You go to school and get your degree in special education like you were planning. You get a job ministering to special needs kids just like you were intending before you heard about human trafficking. One day, you’ll be able to give money to an organization that helps rescue those being trafficked and maybe you’ll even get to help someone who’s been rescued, but until then, you’re called to minister to special needs kids. You’re ministry to them is not any less of a calling or any less important than those who are called to help rescue people from slavery.”
You see, every ministry thinks their ministry is the most important ministry in the world. Since they are called to that ministry, it is only right that they view it as such. But every ministry can’t be the most important ministry in the world to every person. There are too many needs. There are too many poor. There are too many sick and wounded and scarred and broken. All we can do is what is in front of us. For some of us, that’s waking up in a two-story home with a backyard pool, loving our families, serving our neighbors, and giving to our church. For some of us, that’s selling all our possessions and moving to a third-world country to love starving children.
It’s sad to think that something as beautiful as giving to the poor or serving on the board of a non-profit organization can become a legalistic act to acquire our own holiness. Radical living can be a result of a transformed heart, but it should never be a mode of life to be held up as more holy than another lifestyle that requires less obvious sacrifice.
This isn’t a new story. It’s the same story being told in a different way. 


  1. Katherine,
    Yes. and Thank you. I agree with so much of this. Until recently, I felt guilty for praying that God would protect me, my family, and my friends and even for praying requests for people I know. I felt guilty because we have so much already compared to so many others. The good old Lord's prayer actually helped me realize that my false guilt was not biblical. It says "lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil." Jesus taught us to pray that we would be delivered from evil! That was so freeing for me! It is not wrong for me to avoid suffering and evil (obviously, it could be in some circumstances, but not in general is my point). I accept all difficulties that I encounter with rejoicing, but I do not seek them out.

    Living our wealthy lives like we don't need God, or like we deserve it and others don't, or not giving when the Spirit leads- all of those are ways it can become sinful (and there are many more), but it is not inherently wrong. Plus, it's currently the life God has given us.

    1. Glo! That's cool how God used his own prayer to speak to you. And you're right, wealth can easily lead to a life that thinks it doesn't need God, and honestly, it many cases it has. I know that is the reason for David Platt's book Radical. He saw a tendency towards complacency in the western world. It's not his fault we took it too far.

  2. You're such a talented writer!! I thought this was very well said and I agree with what you said about different callings. We're all called to something or different somethings, but it's never the same thing. We do need to serve in our calling whole-heartedly and for the glory of God & not ourself or for other ppl.

    1. Yes! wouldn't it be awful if we were all called to the same thing? God know's what he's doing! I just feel so sad when I hear of people who feel ashamed or guilty for living a comfortable life in the suburbs. Why?! I just think of how sad I would feel if I gave my niece or nephew a christmas present and they wouldn't play with it or wouldn't use it because they felt guilty for all the other kids who didn't get christmas presents. But I'd feel equally sad if they didn't give any thought for someone less fortunate and used their present selfishly. It's a balance!

  3. this is such a good balance to the study we are in. it is so easy to feel guilt for the poor, the unfortunate, the___ to the point that we do nothing. yes, we need the balance to remind ourselves that often we are paying too much attention to ourselves, but then we must move on and minister to those GOD has placed b/f us.

    often, they are our families, or our jobs, but frequently He has also placed us in community with others we can help whether it is with tangible help in their situation, helping them learn to read or speak english or opening our home in hospitality to old and new friends alike.

    i've been amazed over my life how He has brought people into my life who bring my attention to those who have been abused when i was so unaware and suddenly in church and at work, it seemed that everyone i talked with had it in their past! It is that way with so many areas of concern...they overlap into our lives in ways we never expect.

    GOD has been gracious to all of us. Not all of us have fancy homes, but most of us have been very fortunate. GOD has given us much and we need to be aware and grateful...and using the resources He has given us to share with others in the ways He chooses.

    thanks for you great post:)

    1. Yes! I am very grateful that God is so gracious!