Friday, August 1, 2014

On the Non-existence of Radical Miles

There is a conversation that has volleyed back and forth in the blogsphere between those who want to see Christians “do more” and those who argue that we need to just be faithful in our respective positions. While this conversation certainly isn’t new, it’s as old as Christianity, a few recent publications have given it new life; particularly David Platt’s book, Radical

I read Platt’s book a few years ago. I enjoyed it and I’ve recommended it. I wrote a response here. I argued in that post that it’s not so much Platt as much as the Radicalites that give me a little bit of pause. While not responding particularly to Radical, I read this post here, which argues “Ephesians killed my radical.” The author thoughtfully proposes that the problem with thinking in terms of “radical” runs counter to the very message of the NT epistles. The radical that Paul teaches is a radical abandonment of self and pursuit of holiness. He argues that doing more stuff for God in a distant place appeals, because it’s actually easier than doing the hard things, like loving your family. It’s a good word. 

As I reconsidered my understanding of the Tribulation yesterday in the FL heat while trying to run, I kept thinking about this supposed tension. Am I not doing enough? What about the clean water shortage in Africa? What about the global orphan crisis? What about the unreached people in Nepal? Shouldn’t I be over there with a backpack and a NT rather than going for a run in  beautiful Jacksonville Beach? I’m not really happy with the various solutions that have been proposed. Could it be a classic case of a both/and? While I argued in my review linked above, that “radical is normal” I think we can all recognize that some folks are moved by the Lord to do extraordinary, like not normal, things for the Lord. Folks like David Brainard, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor did remarkable things for Christ. I have some friends who moved to a remote village to write an alphabet, teach the tribal people to read and write, all so they can translate the Bible. I have other friends right now ministering in the heart of the Middle East. They rub shoulders daily with Hamas, with their young kids in tow. Praise God. Stigmas aside, that’s radical. 

The folks listed above need funds. These “radicals” are funded by normal Christians who may not appear so radical. That’s the beauty of the church. If Mr. Not So Radical (hereafter Mr. Faithful) does not go to work, make and sell widgets, then Mr. Radical doesn’t get to buy that plane ticket. Delta doesn’t have radical miles for free, at least not to my knowledge. Of course, the Lord is orchestrating all things and certainly God isn’t broke. But don’t we need to back up, give some folks space and only say what the Bible says? 

My dad used to joke with the businessmen in his church, “I hope you make a million, and tithe.” While he was kidding (mostly), I think there’s much truth in that. If everyone sells it all, quits their jobs, and goes radical on me, I don’t have a paycheck. Ironically, I’d then have to find a cubicle somewhere or some form of gainful employment. God’s omniscience extends to economics too.  He will move in the hearts of his church to make this thing work to spread the gospel to all places and his glory to the ends of the earth, all the while using human means. 

There are plenty of places where the Bible speaks of going. Paul had a passion for the lost. He was the original radical. If you have no love for the lost, you have no love for Christ. There are also plenty of places where we get the impression, from Paul himself, that our goal isn’t to be big and awesome but to “work with our hands”, “lead a quiet life,” “share [money,possessions] with others,” and “be rich in good deeds.” I don't care too much for attaching the word “call” to these things, but the principle is there. Don’t create a false dichotomy by thinking that Mr. Radical loves the unreached while Mr. Faithful is not really doing anything for the Lord. William Carey summarized it well, “I will go down if you will hold the rope.”

God sovereignly puts his servants in their places so that kingdom work advances through both Mr. Radical and Mr. Faithful. If God so puts it in your heart to go take the gospel, then by all means, GO! But for many, you need to go and sit in your cubicle for the glory of God, influence in your sphere for his name, and give generously towards Kingdom work. 

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