Over the weekend Dr. Anthony Bradley wrote an article over at World Magazine entitled “The New Legalism” in which he asserts that the recent push to be ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ discourages ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things to the glory of God.
“The combination of anti-suburbanism with new categories like “missional” and “radical” has positioned a generation of youth and young adults to experience an intense amount of shame for simply being ordinary Christians who desire to love God and love their neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, missional, radical Christianity could easily be called the “new legalism.””
Bradley goes on to say:
“As a result, living out one’s faith became narrowly celebratory only when done in a unique and special way, a “missional” way. Getting married and having children early, getting a job, saving and investing, being a good citizen, loving one’s neighbor, and the like, no longer qualify as virtuous. One has to be involved in arts and social justice activities—even if justice is pursued without sound economics or social teaching.”
Today Jamie Arpin-Ricci (a missional, inner-city, church-planter) wrote a response entitled A Christianity To Difficult in which he acknowledges some of the problems that Bradley identifies, however, in light of how most Christians around the world live, has a hard time feeling too much sympathy for those who are almost entirely made up of the world’s most privileged few.
“As some of the most privileged people in the history of humanity, I worry about any attempt to ease our “burden”, especially when our privilege was and is all too often bought on the suffering of others elsewhere. We cannot address African poverty without addressing North American affluence. We cannot think that we can do small acts of justice for the suffering out of wealth and power that contributes to the very injustices we are seeking to alleviate. Living as Christ calls us requires radical- not ambitious- faithfulness. The love that Jesus calls us to is recklessly radical. But in it we will find fullness of life.
Perhaps the biggest disagreement between these two men, and the tension that many young evangelical Christians find themselves in (including myself), is in trying to define what “being an ordinary Christian” actually looks like. We are all called to love our neighbor - but which neighborhood will that be in? We are all called to care for the poor - but should that involve selling all our earthly possessions or stewarding our resources faithfully?
And at a deeper and much more important level, what are the underlying reasons behind the choices we make? Are our lifestyles/callings being driven by a culture of shame, guilt, and spiritual narcissim? Or are they simply being reinforced by a culture of greed and materialism? As Alan Hirsch reminds us: “All forms of activism can become legalistic in their efforts to motivate God’s people from being mere consumers of religious goods and services to being active disciples, and so we always need to be watchful.”
What do you think? What does an ordinary Christian look like for you?