My generation of believers loves the idea of radical Christianity. It’s edgy, compromises everything, it’s dangerously transparent, and it’s simple. Phrases like “I just want Jesus” are its slogan – its very breath. Verses are tattooed on our backs, and Greek words are penned into our wrists and biceps. Our sweatshop-free clothes are ripped and dirty. Our coffee is fair-trade. Our books are doctrine-heavy and well worn. And maybe we’ll even have a drink or a cigar here and there over a deep theological conversation. Today, most of us have made our pilgrimage to an African orphanage or held the hand of the dying somewhere in the third-world. We are not like our parents – who worry themselves that our bold-faith is going to leave us homeless and maybe dead.
It’s exciting to be alive today. The amount resources we have at our fingertips is overwhelming. And it’s invigorating to be a part of a generation of Sons and Daughters that just wants to get back to the un-muddied basics: “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” We want to live dangerously. And we would love the honor of being numbered with those in Hebrews 11 – Believers who lived so recklessly in homesickness for the love of God that the writer went on to say of them:
“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
Hebrews 11:37-38 (NIV)
Again, we read passages on the sufferings of Paul, like 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, and find our hearts stirring within us as if to say, “Ah! If I could just have that kind of faith! If I could just live with that kind of abandon! That is what I was created for!” Our generation has reached out in longing saying, “there has got to be more than this!” and is finding that heroes like Paul seem to have found it… It’s that variable on the back of our tongue when we hear the words “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It’s Jesus. Untamed and unadulteratedly Jesus. Unpolluted by what the church wants to make Him… Unbound by what modern Philosophers want to call Him. We only want Jesus. And no less.
This kind of Christianity is dangerously cool. And that’s the thing… it’s dangerous. Here and there, it’s spot on; but my fear is that it flirts with the edge and settles for the empty satisfaction of a cultural ego-trip – thirsty to hear cool people say: “Wow! You’re doing great things for God!”… It says, “I’ve got style… and heart.” And when our “style” starts to get a little to close to our “heart” our faith begins to become as skin-deep as the skinny jeans we like to wear. It’s a TOM-wearing, book-and-Bible-reading, simple-living, guitar-playing, coffee-drinking, bare-footing, leaf-licking, justice-loving, short-term-missions-tripping Christianity. And it looks really good. It makes sure that everyone knows that we love homosexuals (which we really do) and have a real distaste for legalistic and hypocritical Christians (which we really do). This kind of Christianity is… well… sexy.
It’s the guy who sets his stack of theological books on the wooden table in that hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, pulls out his MacBook Pro, and begins to blog about the newest injustice right after tweeting about a great new band he came across. It’s the girl who, after riding her road-bike to town, sits down for a cup of tea or chai and ruffles her Ugandan-made beanie so it sits just right on her head, then pulls out a trendy journal from her Urban-Outfitter-style backpack and begins to write about how badly she misses her YWAM DTS and about how cute she thinks book-reading-and-blogging boy is. These Believers are sensational people. Often they’re well versed in the Bible and give color to their churches. They support missions and anything that will reach orphans and afflicted people – even if they’ve only got a couple bucks left in the bank. I could go on… but chances are you’ve got someone in mind.
Right now you might be thinking, “Wait, I thought that maybe this kind of Christianity is where our Christian leaders were encouraging us to go…” And I admit that the whole idea might be a little unclear right now. But this is what I want to communicate: That when Radical Christianity is popular, as it is becoming for my generation of Believers, then we must ask ourselves: “is the sense of abandon I have for Jesus costing me anything, or actually just making me more popular in the eyes of the people who I would like to be perceived by as more popular?” If at the end of the day I was kicked out of my family, homeless, friendless, moneyless, and hated… would Jesus still be enough? Because Sexy Christianity feels pretty good until someone throws a stone at you… or starts a thread of gossip about you… or sends you hate mail… or bullies your kid.
Our culture has high-jacked our faith, given it a make-over, and has begun selling it for cheap.
See, for Paul it wasn’t about the church making much of him. It was about him making much of Jesus… And for all he cared, he and all he did was worthless compared to simply knowing Jesus. For us, a two-week trip to the third-world to share the gospel is generally a culturally accepted thing – it’ll get you applause and maybe even a newspaper article if your town is small enough. Yet for the early church they had no choice but to become missionaries, right after Stephen’s death such a great wave of persecution arose because of their “Radical Christianity” that the believers fled for their lives to other nations, carrying the Gospel with them. They didn’t plan their trip, make a budget, or take little bottles of hand sanitizer with them… they only took the Gospel… and they took it into every place they went – even as they were running for their lives. Their attitude was captured in Peter and John’s bold statement to their persecutors:
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
They were not interested in joining popular justice movements, environmental preservation clubs, or wearing anything that made them seem trendy… they had one track minds: Jesus’ death and resurrection for the redemption of all nations and the glorification of God. That was it. And they were so compelled to tell the Good News that they proclaimed it to men in power who were threatening to put them to death. The Gospel was the hill they would literally die on, and there was nothing cool about it. The world hated them for it.
Here is where “Sexy Christianity” starts to crumble. When a believer is more interested in the idea of loving Jesus than actually loving Jesus, then that is not Christianity. And we ought to wage a war of wrath upon it – mortifying, dismembering, and crucifying it, and then putting it in a tomb where it belongs. We ought to react in unconcealed hatred for it because it steals praise from God and puts it upon men, even if only in the most subtle and unassuming ways. Jesus told His disciples to “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.” That is, to beware of the subtle poison of the flamboyant religion of the Pharisees… because it would destroy the whole body. Just as a Pharisee would make much of their tithes and their theological knowledge, so today many seek the glory that comes from spiritual-looking behavior.
As Martin Luther once said,
“A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”
See, these secondary actions – loving the afflicted, visiting orphans in Africa, caring for God’s creation, etc. don’t cost us anything if we do them seeking a paycheck in the form of man’s praise. If our motivation is to roll with the most modern trend, then our actions are all eternally useless (James 2:17; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3)… unless they are done out of a simple overflowing love for Jesus… A response, if you will, to having been eternally atoned for on that day at Golgotha. And that love will quite possibly cost us the reputations we so desperately try to keep polished behind the P.R. of cultural normality.
I wonder, after being a “Radical Christian” goes out of style, how many radically committed Christians will remain in our high schools, colleges, and work places? And right after American culture moves on from Africa, humanitarian aid, human rights, and issues like the AIDS epidemic and human trafficking crisis, as I promise it will soon, what will our radical faith look like? When being a “sold-out follower of Jesus” and “living simply so that others might simply live” loses its cultural lackluster, what will be next? What happens when stones start being thrown at people who identify themselves with the dead man? I have no doubt that there will be a faithful remnant, but I also acknowledge that they might just be hated and persecuted just like Jesus promised. Who will remain and what will it take to stick with Jesus until the end?
I believe A.W. Tozer has said it far better concerning his generation than I may be able to concerning mine. But regardless, I find his observation to be curiously relevant:
“I do not recall another period when ‘faith’ was as popular as it is today. ‘If only we believe hard enough we’ll make it somehow.’ So goes the popular chant. What you believe is not important. Only believe… What is overlooked in all this is that faith is good only when it engages truth; when it is made to rest upon falsehood it can and often does lead to eternal tragedy. For it is not enough that we believe; we must believe the right thing about the right One.”