Radical Faith and the Comfortable Church

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Christianity Today has an interesting cover story (here), by Matthew Lee Anderson on a rising new trend within the church whose prominent proponents are David Platt and Francis Chan, among others. It is a movement that views American Christianity as being driven by a desire to be comfortable and wants to reintroduce Christians to faith in an authentically radical Jesus. The basic idea behind what many of these pastors are saying is that following Jesus entails a commitment that requires radical sacrifices.

Anderson is skeptical about the approach of this “radical” movement:

The final paradox of emphasizing a radical faith is that the language of commitment and really risks allowing the very secularism they decry in through the back door. By emphasizing the interior aspect of faith over the formal and distinctive elements of Christian worship—Communion, baptism, corporate singing—they risk missing just how secularized our communal life as Christians has become. It is easy to see signs of secularism in how Christians live from Monday to Saturday. But what about on Sunday morning?

Of course, such critiques of formalist Christianity—”going through the motions”—have a long and estimable history, voiced by everyone from Søren Kierkegaard, who railed against institutional Christianity, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lamented cheap grace. But they weren’t critiquing the church in the context of an anti-institutional, highly individualistic culture. When the call to individual radicalness is disconnected from a counterbalancing concern for the public form our Christian worship takes, we stand in danger of assuming the messages of the surrounding culture as we mimic their methods.

I think it is fair to say that Anderson’s criticism of the movement is its emphasis of faith (or commitment, really) over action when the real change takes place in the countless stories of anonymous people serving God in mundane ways that are not overtly religious. They are salt and light when they perform seemingly unremarkable acts of kindness, like the good samaritan, or live a quiet life of faith and obedience, going to work every day and providing for their families.

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