Tensions We Face in Discipleship: How Radical Are We Supposed to Be?


unspoken-tensionI remember reading Radical by David Platt with a group of eighty young adult/college students a few years back. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration but I think for many of us it was a spiritual pivotal point in our lives where God seemed to cut through the haze of our comfort to remind us about the gospel. Countercultural… radical… passionate… embracing upside-down Kingdom values.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed more and more – when people tell you they understand the gospel yet it doesn’t seem to awaken them to anything. If the Christian life is a movement of growing faith in light of our righteous standing (Romans 1:17), what kind of faith (trusting belief) do people have if they never get to the end of their resources and comfort, never risking in the direction of the unknown because all they have is God, never stepping out of the cocoon of safety and comfort? I think what Platt and others are getting at is how easy it is for us in the West to slip into a kind of laziness and comfort that reduces the gospel to a sort of “niceness”. It might be one of our greatest temptations in the West: the tendency of our “flesh” is to not give ourselves to that which is vital. The intent of the gospel is to break through our cold hearts and to wake us up from sleepwalking through life by stirring our hearts with what’s truly beautiful and what we really need!

On the other hand, I do believe along with others that it’s hard to emotionally sustain over one’s lifetime the kind of intensity that many understand as “being radical”. That might be my one critique of Radical and other books like it – that it can lead people to a kind of “radical for the sake of being radical” or “crazy for the sake of crazy” where one has not discerned the Lord’s heart in terms of when, how much, etc. I would like to offer at least there are ways to live counterculturally that  might not appear as grand.

I read a blog by Dean Inserra recently where he insightfully takes this concept of discipleship to Jesus and applies to dating (http://deaninserra.com/dean/?p=3539 ). In the article, he speaks of Jesus actually interfering in a person’s dating life, getting them to think differently about how they date. I think the principle extends to every area of our lives where the follower of Christ is roused out of their sleepwalking enough to realize, “Jesus is messing with my comfortable life!” If you knew that you were headed in the wrong direction wouldn’t you want someone to tell you? If you knew there was a character trait in you that was causing havoc in other people’s lives and potentially in your own, wouldn’t you want a friend to lovingly tell you to spare you of serious future relational pain? Whether it’s our career plans, how wrapped we are with our children, our character, our money, our dating relationships, we need Christ not to just bless “our plans” but to actually interfere when we buffer ourselves from any instruction or correction.

The “radical” life, it seems to me, is an embracing of the gospel and all its implications more deeply as we move through life. When we allow the truth of what Jesus has done in history to enter into those deep caverns of the heart where we protect our lives, we will discover places where we live cross purposes with Jesus. How radical? Radical enough that you let Jesus interfere with your life and cross your will so that you can respond in trusting belief. Discipleship might include some pretty big things like selling what you have and giving the money to the poor. It might mean actually becoming a missionary. But for all of us, at least it means a daily movement of faith, from first faith to last faith, as we willingly let Jesus mess with our lives and respond accordingly in faith however small or large that is. That should be included in the definition of “crazy” and “radical” as well…


4 thoughts on “Tensions We Face in Discipleship: How Radical Are We Supposed to Be?

  1. TyHoad

    Thanks. I feel sort of silly saying “Thanks. I agree.” But there you have it.
    I’m trusting Jesus to continue moving my (sometimes) glacial heart in radical directions.
    Blessings to you.

  2. I remember that study well. I must admit I didn’t (knowingly) walk away from it with a sense of needing to be radical for the sake of being radical; but it did offer some new perspectives and truths that I hadn’t previously processed. I was actually just thinking about this study this week. I moved into a new apartment that is nicer than what I was living in before, and costs a little more. I remember when reading Radical I was sure that I would never pursue anything luxurious…that I would always be okay with having less and never want something a little nicer. I even claimed that I didn’t think I would ever own a house because it seemed like bad stewardship…that there were so many better places for my money to go. Looking back it is interesting to see that some of what I took away from that study was an extreme belief that money is bad and I want nothing to do with it. I wasn’t necessarily changed because of the gospel, but thought that faithful stewardship meant running away from money. Money has always been a confusing thing for me. Raised as a very privileged upper-class white woman in Orange County while reading gospel stories of Jesus saying you can’t love God and money, that the poor will inherit heaven, that the one who has little and offers it is the one we should strive to be like, has continuously brought frustration in my life. I thought once I got out on my own I could reject everything I grew up with, but no matter how far I run I will always have the privileges right next to me.

    I know that Jesus has interfered with my life at several points, and hope that He continues to do so in order to teach me more about partnering with His Kingdom rather than the internalized guilt of money that gets me nowhere.

    Also–if you have any resources on tithing I would really appreciate it! I’m kind of stuck knowing how to view it as more than just throwing my 10% in a bowl and seeing it as a true partnership with God’s Kingdom.

    Thanks Jon!

    • jonnitta

      I could read your comment again and again. It’s very good and honest but it sounds like being a white upper middle class woman is not a good thing! Oh, I forgot the “privileged” part! Hahaha! I think it would be good for churches to speak of giving as something connected to a spiritual practice that is more old than new. Maybe one of the ways that we could learn how to give is to take a moment before we “put money in the plate” to reflect on Christ’s giving of Himself and the Father’s self-giving by sending the Son. Our generosity is born out of the generosity of God put on display for everyone to see. So when we teach people to give, telling them an amount or percentage is not helpful. They should give out of the abundance of their heart because of what God has done for them. Take a look at 2 Cor. 8:9. Paul could have easily commanded the church to give a certain amount based on his apostolic authority. Instead he links our richness to the poverty of Christ who gave up His wealth and became poor for us. So Paul motivates giving based on the gospel and not out of socio-economic strata.

      That said, one of the biggest questions I have is, does God love the poor in a special way? I told the Kenya kids this summer who we built a playground for, God certainly loves me. But He must be your best friend because I never had a playground like this growing up and right outside my door when I woke up in the morning. I can’t describe it any other way other than there’s a special affection God has for the poor. I’m not sure how to describe it.

      Let me gather a few more thoughts later. I don’t know of a good book that talks about giving quite in the manner I have. Maybe it’s out there and I just haven’t read it but I’m not the only one who see the importance of 2 Cor. to our being motivated to give (Tim Keller and Matt Chandler are others). Thanks for your thoughts Katrina! Hope Washington is holding off on the rain for awhile!

  3. Thanks for your response Jon. I definitely agree that God has a special affection for the poor. I have learned so much from my encounters with those who have less material goods, but a much greater understanding of grace and forgiveness than I do.

    I also appreciate your comments on giving. It’s definitely something I’m still trying to find a relational connection to.

    Oh..and the rain has held off a good amount..but it’s a comin’ now. Sunshine in the days, rain at night.

    Hope Indiana is treating you well! Valparaiso was mentioned in a movie I saw the other night and I thought of you.

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