I have seen a lot of articles FB posts, podcasts, and such talking about how people (particularly youth) are supposed to be “radical Christians.” I was originally going to write a cautionary note on this. To me the term “radical” suggests rebellious and reactionary (and noisy and odd). And while there is some truth in this, there is a fair bit of falsehood in this as well. A Christian (radical or otherwise) is supposed to have Jesus Christ as his or her model. Jesus, in many ways, wasn’t all that radical (as “radical” is commonly pictured). He fit into His culture quite well. He looked and dressed the role well (Judas had to identify Him to the authorities… presumably because His appearance was pretty ordinary according to 1st century Judean standards). Additionally, while some of Jesus’ behavior was considered radical to a subset of the people, it was quite ordinary to others (dining with common “sinners” would be seem “radical” to religious leaders but pretty normal for common people).
But then I looked up the word “radical” in the dictionary and realized that, while there are several meanings for the term, two different meanings stand out.
According to The World Book Dictionary (using an older version, 1970), radical means:
- Going to the root; fundamental; basic.
- Favoring extreme social changes or reforms; extreme.
I believe that when we talk about being a “radical Christian” the first meaning is preeminent. After all, the goal is not to be different or extreme for its own sake. Rather, a Christian should have had a radical change in his or her life… radical here meaning a fundamental, basic, change to their root or core. Being extreme, weird, separatistic, highly pietistic or having any other quality that puts one on the outskirts of one’s cultural setting is not really the point.
To me, the image of this is a ball on a string. If a ball on a string is tethered by that string to a solid point. Consider that point to be the foundation, or tether point. When there is kinetic energy (motion) related to the ball, it will rotate on that tether. There are two equal and opposite forces (ignoring gravity, wind resistance, and such). These are:
- Centripetal force. This is the force that seeks to constrain the ball and pull it back towards the tether point.
- Centrifugal force. This is a virtual force (a force derived from the inertial response to the centripetal force). It is resisting the centripetal force and pulling it away from the tether point.
The end result is that ball will move dynamically in a circle around the tether point.
Okay, enough on Physics 101. What does this have to do with being a “radical Christian”?
I believe the REAL Force of being a radical Christian is the centripetal force of Christ. Being radical is about being foundational… and that foundation is Christ. A radical Christian is centered on, empowered, and constrained by Christ.
I believe the VIRTUAL Force of being a radical Christian is the centrifugal force of cultural dissonance. Being Christlike will result in fitting into one’s culture quite nicely in some ways, and being heavily counter-cultural in others. It is a virtual force because we are not told to be odd or different (as a goal unto itself). Rather, we are called upon to be Christlike (the REAL Force). However, being conformed to Christ will typically result in being in conflict with (or being seen as being extreme to) the broader culture in various ways.
In other words (and redundantly reiterating myself again), radical Christianity is empowered by (and has as its goal) Christlikeness. Radical Christianity is not empowered by being “extreme.” Extremeness is simply the result sometimes of seeking Christlikeness over cultural conformity.
What is the result of the balance of these two (real and virtual) forces? Dynamic Equilibrium. A ball on a string that is spinning around has dynamic equilibrium, it is energized by under control. A radical Christian is also energized, but under control (God’s control).
Being radical is not about being noisy, out-of-control, or culturally weird. It is energized faithfulness to Christ impacting the surrounding culture (subversively but with targeted purpose, not reactionary or random).
- “Are You Radical for Christ?” (myworldintheword.wordpress.com)