On ‘Radical’ Christianity
Cinema & New Media Arts | On Mar 18, 2013
Matthew Lee Anderson critiques the idea of “radical” faith in Christianity Today:
Interior-oriented movements can generate a lot of energy initially. But the gospel is supposed to create a culture, and a culture takes root only within a society over time. It perpetuates itself to future generations without requiring a new revival in every season. The urgent rhetoric of preaching the gospel to the billion unreached and helping the poor right now leaves little space to create the institutions and practices (art, literature, theology, liturgy, festivals, etc.) that can transmit such an inheritance to the next generation, and to form belief in deeper and more permanent ways. Buildings cost money, and beautiful buildings even more. Universities don’t feed the poor or win souls, yet they promulgate knowledge in the church and around the world. These are the gears of a transgenerational movement. Yet it’s not clear whether radical Christianity has any room for them. Most of the stories that are told in these books clearly do not.
The need for a revived attention to form is most clear in worship, which is the main theater of the church’s confrontation with God. If the people in the pews have been uncritically co-opted by the American dream (and indeed many have), let’s also point out that our worship practices have been nearly uncritically co-opted by the American emphasis on celebrity, stardom, and performance.
For us in the pews, testing ourselves must include deliberating about our vocations and whether we are called to missions, or to a life of dedicated service to the poor, or to creating reminders with art and culture of the gospel’s transcendent, everlasting hope. Discovering a radical faith may mean revisiting the ways in which faith can take shape in the mundane, sans intensifiers. It almost certainly means embracing the providence of God in our witness to the world. The Good Samaritan wasn’t a good neighbor because he moved to a poor part of town or put a pile of trash in his living room. He came across the helpless victim “as he traveled.” We begin to fulfill the command not when we do something radical, extreme, over the top, not when we’re really spiritual or really committed or really faithful, but when in the daily ebb and flow of life, in our corporate jobs, in our middle-class neighborhoods, on our trips to Yellowstone and Disney World—and yes, even short-term mission trips—we stop to help those whom we meet in everyday life, reaching out in quiet, practical, and loving ways.