A Radically Ordinary Faith

radjcThere is much written about the radical nature of following Jesus. The call to come and follow Him. The call to take up your cross. The call to be a radical disciple.

Whatever way you put it Christianity can be portrayed as some type of hyper-enthusiastic, always active, and amazingly awesome life.

And then you have to clean the dishes that are lying in the sink, change the babies nappy, make your bed, or put the rubbish out.

That’s not amazing.

That’s mundane.

That’s ordinary.

And what do you do with a verse like 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…”?

Sounds pretty ordinary to me.

There can be a tendency to believe we’re not ‘radical’ enough in our faith. That we’re not doing enough radical stuff with our lives, the implication being we’re not being obedient, which means we’re not living up to the kind of discipleship Jesus requires of us.

When we begin to think this way we begin to diminish the life God has given us.

If God has created us, made us who we are, and has us in the place we currently find ourselves in then perhaps we can trust that our faith is ‘radical’ enough.

This isn’t to be used as an excuse for laziness, a reason to neglect serving others and seeking to grow in our faith. But, our faith must be something that relates and is relevant to our daily lives.

I always find it inspiring to hear of the adventures and opportunities missionaries have as they serve God overseas. It’s inspiring to see people get involved in missions, church planting and other evangelism initiatives. Every couple of months I get an email from one particular staff worker at a Melbourne university who is working among international students. The stories of what he and the team are doing are incredible. The other day they had their first meeting for the semester and nearly 40 people showed up. That’s very encouraging.

It’s inspiring to see the work these people are doing and even more exciting to see people become interested in who Jesus is. But I’m not sure they’d tell you they’re being radical in their faith because of the work they’re doing, neither will a missionary or a pastor.

And so what does a radical faith look like for freshly minted teaching graduate who is in the middle of a long first year, struggling to find time to read their Bible because the nightly preparation takes so long. Or the plumber who has been dealing with crap all day and is trying to spend time with the family among the household chores. Or the mum who looks after the children and is just waiting for her partner to arrive home from work in order to help her out.

What does ‘radical’ faith mean for them?

It may be me in my most cynical moments, where I totally turn deaf to this call to be radical, but I’m not sure whether telling people to be more radical is helpful. To me it adds another burden, another layer of guilt, where I end up feeling my faith isn’t good enough and I need to do more. I see the need to make the call for people to be more radical in their faith, many of us aren’t. But at the same time, what does it mean for my faith to be relevant in the mundane?

What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “A Radically Ordinary Faith

  1. Agreed re. the ordinariness of life and the collective shudder we should feel when Christian leaders make it out as though becoming a Christian will lead to a permanent state of euphoria when we find car parks, sip lattes, or just do pretty much do nothing.

    However, I’m not sure that I buy your central argument that the ordinariness that the NT is describing = the “quiet life”. There are in fact many contexts in which leading an ordinary existence, or “the quiet life” simply cannot be supported among those who claim to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

    Many people in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s just did the dishes, went to church on Sunday, changed their kids’ nappies, kissed their partners goodnight and had pleasant dreams. But today we, rightly, heap shame on them for in fact not just being ‘ordinary’, but for being quite extraordinary in their ordinariness; they were complicit with the heinous regime of the Nazis simply on account of doing nothing, and for being unable to see that the Gospel of Christ (or just the fact that they were human) meant that they could no longer do those ordinary things when so many injustices were being committed around them and claim to be living a Christian existence.

    Personally, I think that the same charge applies to Christians in the West today. We go about our days, praying for the mundane matters we each face, kissing our partners and children goodnight and thanking God for the ordinary, the beautiful, the every day. This is ok in some way, but completely wrong in many others. When there are literally refugees locked up in prison, a planet’s resources being completely trashed and a system of consumption that requires people ‘out of sight’ to work ghastly jobs to make our cheap goods, it all seems a bit like we haven’t understood the radicalness of Christ’s claims, or at least translated them into how we live, when we can happily do our ordinary things without giving barely a moment’s thought to the conditions that make our ordinary lives possible.

    Some practical suggestions would at the very least include calling on Christians to know the name of their MPs, to read the newspaper each day and to regularly pray and talk to their Christian leaders about issues that go beyond their own everyday life. What do you reckon? (Sorry for the rant, but you know what I think of these issues!!)

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    • LOL. Thanks for the rant. No worries.

      I agree with you!

      I wasn’t meaning for my central argument to be what you describe, I don’t mean for people to just sit around on their arse and do nothing about matters such as you list or living in a state of perpetual bliss and ignorance. My main angle is more on this constant call to be more and more ‘radical’ as a Christian, which often ends up being couched in having to move your family to a foreign country. Which again, people need to do, but not everyone. It’s more about how people can live out their faith in their everyday, which is quite often mundane and ordinary. This doesn’t mean people can’t do extraordinary things during those times.

      As for the engagement with the world in a way that highlights the radical nature of the Christian worldview (you can take me to task over what this might mean if you like) then I think that needs to be encouraged regularly. Not something I would’ve hoped this post was against!

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  2. No, and not one that this blog post does stand against explicitly. You know that I agree with you that going oversees isn’t the holy grail for Christian “radicalism”, in fact it has in the past it often led to complex global problems that a postcolonial critique, and institutions like the one you work for, have rightly put a spotlight on.

    What I was more saying is that there is a tendency to establish a false dichotomy here — radical vs. ordinary — without defining either term. I suspect that a focus on the “ordinary” can in fact mask the extraordinary ways in which Christians’ consumer practices, use of natural resources and political apathy, all part of an ordinary Western existence, shape the world we live in. This is completely different from sitting on one’s arse, because it is saying that even if we are just sitting doing nothing, we are sitting on a couch we bought, in a nationstate of which we vote for and on the soil of an earth that is rapidly deteriorating.

    “Ordinary” existence in the West is built on extraordinarily bad things. Recognising this is an essential step towards doing anything radical, whether that be at home or abroad.

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