Radical Exemptions?

Radical Blog Series Graphic

I’m not a parent and so I realize that writing about parenting is a risk.  I’ve only written about parenting one or two times before, and both times, I hit the “publish” button with fear and trembling.  I feared and trembled because I know I haven’t earned my parenting badge of honor and I’m not an expert.  I don’t know what it’s like to raise a child.  And no one likes the person who thinks they’re an expert when they’re not.  I’m acknowledging that I’m not an expert, but I’d like to engage in a conversation that was started last week and hopefully create some more conversation this week.  And so, today, with fear and trembling, I am yet again pushing the publish button on a blog that involves parents.

I read this article last week from a suburban mom in response to the “New Radical Movement” that’s spreading in American Christendom.  The author’s perspective seems to be that the concept of radical Christianity is a more of a male, adventure-seeking construct and not an accurate depiction of following Jesus.  The author worries that the radical movement views suburban moms as “lazy”, and elevates missionaries and pastors to a holier status.  The author said she worried Platt would yawn at the monotony of her day to day looking-after-children-life.  (This is a quick and dirty version, please read the whole article for more context).  A week after reading this article, I can’t shut off all my thoughts and I need to process it.  So here’s my start at a discussion, please join in.

The call of Jesus is radical.  To follow Jesus is radical.  All of us, who claim to be followers of this radical Jesus have the same calling.  Our calling is to live out the great commandment and the great commission:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

If we’ve grown up in Church, or spent a few years in pews, we’ve undoubtedly heard these verses, maybe even committed them to memory.  They sound simple enough when repeated over and over, but they aren’t simple at all.  The call of the follower of Jesus requires focus, intention, and sacrifice.

And that, in summary, is what the “Radical movement”, championed by David Platt, Francis Chan, and a growing handful of others is all about.  It’s been labeled by some as the “New Radical Movement” probably because of David Platt’s first book which is entitled Radical.

These radical champions challenge American Christians to look deeper at the message and calling of the gospel and compare them to what we are experiencing in our churches and day to day lives. “Somewhere along the way, we missed what was radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.  We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” (Platt, Radical)

The radical movement isn’t necessarily a call for every American Christ-follower to give up everything and move to the inner city or another country (although it braces us to be open to that very thing), but the radical movement is about the condition of our hearts.  When Jesus called the disciples, they abandoned their careers, their hometowns, and their families to follow Jesus.  The disciples abandoned themselves when they followed Jesus.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Platt and Chan didn’t make up the unpopular message that following Jesus is costly; Jesus did.  When we decide to follow Jesus, we are agreeing to a lifetime of following.  And following isn’t easy, especially during certain seasons of life.

The truth is, we don’t get temporary leave from following Jesus’ call when we have life changing events like going off to college, or starting a new job, or getting married, or even having children.  Our family status doesn’t interrupt or exempt our calling, although, it might impact the scope and reach of our calling.

The radical movement isn’t a call for everyone to uproot from the suburbs and move to Africa or the inner city.  It’s a call to be radical where we’re called.  And if we get called to Africa, we need to be radical there.  If we get called to the roughest part of downtown, we need to be radical there.  If we feel called to stay where we are, we need to be radical there.

No matter our family makeup, we are called to serve, love, and sacrifice.  Christ-followers are not exempt from answering the call because money is tight, or because of marital status, or because of a recent birth or adoption, or because of aging-parents.  All Christ followers are called to share Jesus with our neighbors locally and globally.  All Christ-followers are called to serve the poor.  All Christ-followers are called to care for orphans and widows and the oppressed.  We can do that from the suburbs, from the city, or from China.  And we can not do that from the suburbs, from the city, or from China.

Being radical is about our hearts, our intentions, and our actions; not about our location.

Having children isn’t a “get out of radical living free” card.  I don’t know this personally, but I watch many of my friends continue to live out the call of Jesus after adding children to their families.  I have friends that are living radically within the confines of their neighborhoods; some live in the suburbs, some live in cities, some live communally, and some live overseas.  The choice to have children doesn’t negate the call to follow Jesus wherever and however He leads.

Being a parent is an incredibly high calling, but it isn’t a mom or dad’s only calling.  We are called to Jesus and His kingdom first.  We aren’t called to focus on our families first.  We are called to raise up children to know and follow Jesus, and this doesn’t only happen in Sunday School and VBS and nighttime prayers.  Children learn how to follow Jesus by watching how their parents follow Jesus.

If parents are whole-heartedly following Jesus, children learn how to whole-heartedly follow Jesus.  If parents are safely following Jesus, children learn how to safely follow Jesus.  If parents are only following Jesus to church, children will only follow Jesus to church.  If parents want to raise up the next generation of leaders, parents need to lead how they want their children to lead.

When children see parents serving the poor, praying for the world, taking care of the environment, sharing Jesus with neighbors, and giving sacrificially, children will learn that’s what following the call of Jesus means.

And I get that all this sounds well and good in theory, but I’ve been around enough moms and dads with little ones to know that day to day work with children is, well, work.  Kids are little, but they produce unthinkable amounts of laundry and messes and they eat a lot, and subsequently go to the bathroom a lot.  Little ones nap a lot, too, which impedes flexibility.

But I would argue that while it may not be as persistent, urgent, or difficult to neglect, all of us have monotonous daily tasks that consume our lives.   The majority of us work jobs that are routine, monotonous, time-consuming, and time-constraining.  We all do laundry, cook, clean, shower, do yard work, and go to the bathroom whether we live in the burbs or the ghetto or a remote village. If we do or don’t have children, we all have monotonous tasks.  All of us have to battle the monotony.  A radical response to the Gospel doesn’t mean that we won’t have monotony, it means that we’ll be intentional within the monotony about our purpose.

We all  have to fight the battle of the ordinary, whether we live in the suburbs or the city or overseas.  We all have to fight to remember that we are called to live differently

Romans 12:1 says it perfectly: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

Since I don’t know what it’s like to have children and still live out my calling as a Christ-follower, I decided to ask some of my blogging parent friends to share this week about how they are living radically while juggling feedings and nap schedules and squeezing in a few hours of sleep.  Please jump in the discussion this week and stay tuned as we hear from some friends who are downright radical parents in their everyday lives.

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12 thoughts on “Radical Exemptions?

  1. Allison I loved this blog! I really enjoyed your perspective and there is a lot of truth packed in. I will probably reread it from time to time as a reminder. Good stuff!

  2. Here are some quick, unresearched thoughts on a worthy topic that deserves a great deal of consideration. I think it is accurate to say that families and parents are not exempt from expanding the kingdom. I also think it is risky to make the implication that being called to focus on your family is somehow separate from being called to Jesus and His Kingdom. If one is looking for the “radical” life (and I have some misgivings about how I see it playing out, but I also have not read the book), it should be within the context of applying the principles to your family. At certain points it appears that you suggest that we need to find ways to do apply those principles in spite of your family.

    To those without kids, I think the same dynamic would be true with any relationships. Do we lead our friends to follow Jesus safely/to church/etc? Same recipe. Different ingredients, although our friends don’t typically live with us and need help when they wet their bed. If they do, maybe new friends?

    Perhaps another cause for the singling out of raising kids is that there is not a clear example of this in the New Testament for us to hold up as an example. It would be much easier to have a traveling family with Paul to give us something. Thanks for nothing, Paul! It’s for this reason, I tend to lean on my (limited) understanding of the Catholic idea of vocation. In short, it’s that being a good parent/husband/worker etc is actually worship to God and He is glorified in that even if it may not seem as radical.

    In sum, I am curious to see the discussion play out and will be following along.

    1. Hey Brandon,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. You have some really good insights and make some great points. I was “picking on parents” if you will simply because of that article that I read that was from a parent’s perspective. (Not sure if you read that one that I linked to, but that’s what got me thinking). The author made it seem as though there was a distinction between those who have kids and those who don’t. My goal was to point out that there aren’t distinctions as followers and that we all struggle and that we all are called to follow wherever and however he leads-parents and non parents alike.

      I definitely didn’t mean to indicate that parents should follow the principles of following Jesus in spite of family, so I’m glad you pointed that out. (See, comments are good so we know how well we did or did not get our thoughts out). I think that whatever our familial makeup, we figure out how to follow Jesus with that makeup. For me, it’s married. For some, it’s single. For others, it’s with kids. The guest post today has some really great insights about including children in following Jesus, I think you’ll enjoy that perspective.

      And I fully agree with you that parents and non-parents alike are responsible to demonstrate “following Jesus whole-heartedly/safely/to church…” to others. Again, this was more of a reaction to that article, less my intentions to pick on parents.

      I think it would be easier if the NT had examples of different family makeups as examples. Married couples at least have Priscilla and Aquila (well, and Ananias and Sapphira – although I don’t want our story to end up that way)… I know to the extent that I can know without living the experience that children alter parents lives. I don’t think there’s a way around that. But I guess it didn’t seem right or fair that children can be a copout to following Jesus. Does that make any sense?

      I like the catholic view of vocation in the sense of worship and calling. The radical movement adds a component, though, of being wary of excess, and of sharing our abundance with others. A lot of the reviews of the book and movement seem inaccurate to me – perhaps that arguers didn’t read the book. It’s not all that radical at all in light of Jesus message. It just seems radical compared to how a lot of us have viewed and experienced Christianity.

      If you ever read it, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

      Since I know that I don’t know what it’s like to have kids, I’ve asked some friends who are parents to share their stories this week. Hopefully their ideas and perspectives will clear up, make clear, or re-purpose my thoughts into something more coherent.

      Thanks for following along. I look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout the week.

  3. Allison, God moved us to Hawaii & 2 blocks from our missional church. So as our children grew & participated in sports they also participated in the youth activities. One be came a youth pastor (he is the one that told us about Chan), the other a servant of God in a 3rd world country, (He is the one that told us about Platt). We have not been able to GO, but we do Go in our living & work arenas. Thank you for writing this.

    1. What a beautiful legacy you have created! Whether we go or stay, we are all called to love others. That’s the beauty of this whole following Jesus. Thank you for sharing!

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