Dear David and Kevin,
David, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream was a fun and worthwhile read. My congratulations.
Kevin, your review of David’s book was just about as fun and worthwhile as David’s book itself. And you were very respectful and encouraging, too, even in your disagreements with David–a rarity these days.
Gentlemen, Kevin poses a challenge in his review which deserves further consideration. He writes:
I don’t worry for David’s theology, but I worry that some young Christians reading his book might walk away wondering if a life spent working as a loan officer, tithing to their church, praying for their kids, learning to love Christ more, and serving in the Sunday school could possibly be pleasing to God. We need to find a way to attack the American dream while still allowing for differing vocations and that sort of ordinary Christian life that can plod along for fifty years. I imagine David wants this same thing. I’m just not sure this came through consistently in the book.
I think this is a great subject for discussion, Kevin. “Consistently” may be the key word in your analysis.
David, I appreciated your honesty in the book that you are in fact still wrestling personally with this question. Maybe that is what Kevin is sensing when he raises the consistency question. On page 93, David, you wrote:
The more I read the Gospels, the more I marvel at the simple genius of what Jesus was doing with his disciples. My mind tends to wander toward grandiose dreams and intricate strategies, and I’m struck when I see Jesus simply, intentionally, systematically, patiently walking alongside twelve men.
I can sense the struggle on page 83, when you write about what radical abandonment to Christ looks like in ordinary lives: “It sounds idealistic, I know. Impact the world. But doesn’t it also sound biblical?”
It does, yes. And yet…
I read a fascinating article by Shannon Craigo-Snell in the October 2000 issue of Modern Theology magazine (“Command Performance: Rethinking Performance Interpretation in the Context of Divine Discourse“–sorry no link; alas, it’s subscription only) at the same time I was reading Radical. It proposes a different–and, I think, even more compelling and intriguing–definition of biblical. Shannon writes:
We act within the words and images of the Bible and strive to understand our present and envision our future inside the very fabric of the text (emphasis mine).
That’s a definition of biblical that is altogether rare these days, gentlemen.
Readers no longer fit themselves into the unified and accurately depicted biblical world in order to understand the stories and orient their lives. Instead, they began to try and fit the biblical stories into a larger and more general framework of meaning.
That, I think, is what makes “impact the world” ultimately a less radical notion of biblical than the one to which Jesus calls us in Matthew 7:24:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Hear the Word. Do the Word. Repeat. Or, as we say at the beginning of our .W Church meetings:
Beloved, we are brought together in faith and united in the common mission of receiving deeply and passing on fully the grace of God.
What I’m suggesting, gentlemen, is that a loan officer truly hearing and genuinely doing the word of God daily in his own sphere of influence is often far more radical than the retiree who heads to Sri Lanka to cook meals for the hungry in the middle of rebel fighting.
Example: This past month I received emails from four people who want to pay their way to the China border to smuggle Bibles into North Korea. Setting aside for the moment why it’s a supremely bad idea to have non-Korean speaking Caucasians endanger underground NK Christians by leading the police right to their door through their romantic Bible couriering escapades, I note that when I ask these would-be radicals “Have you previously hand-carried a Bible to any of your neighbors on your street?”, they all frown and walk away like the rich young ruler. Of course they haven’t taken Bibles to anyone on their street. That, after all, would be embarrassing.
On page 19 of your book, David, you exhort us, “We need to return with urgency to a biblical gospel.”
Biblical gospel–David, I think that may be the best phrase in your book. Someone may say, “Isn’t ‘biblical gospel’ redundant? Of course the gospel has to be biblical. If it’s not, then it can’t be called gospel.”
But I think that phrase is the key to unlocking the truly radical for Kevin’s imaginary loan officer. Maybe it’s even a helpful way for you, David, to resolve the personal wrestling you mentioned on page 93, which I noted above.
Returning to a Biblical gospel means stepping back into the Bible story without reference to the impact that has on the world.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we insulate ourselves from the billions who have not yet heard the gospel, or the twenty-six thousand children that will die of starvation today. By no means.
It does mean that, like Jesus in John 5:19, we turn the world upside down without ever looking at it, because our eyes are riveted on him:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
Hear the Word. Do the Word. Hear the Word. Do the Word. Never look around to consider whether we’re impacting the world or not. We’re called to be faithful, after all–not radical or impactful.
And that may be the most radical and impactful way of life of all.
With genuine warmth and appreciation from your brother in Christ,