Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Is Missional "The New Legalism?"

There's a post from World Magazine making the rounds in Christian circles by Anthony Bradley entitled, "The New Legalism." He wrote it in response to a tweet he sent out that said:
“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”
 He goes on to decry the people that call for Christians to live missional lives and to walk in a radical Christianity. He makes a case that it comes from Millenials disdaining the suburbs they were raised in and the narcissistic world we live in now where everyone is special and needs to do grand things for God in order to be fully walking as Jesus walked.

I saw it posted by Mike Duran and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary, both mentioning it as an interesting read. It is a thought-provoking piece, but I think it is a flawed premise that misleads by focusing on a few points in exclusion to the whole context.

There are some areas where I agree with Anthony. I came of age in Christianity in the Charismatic/Third Wave movement of the 80s and 90s. Well-meaning preachers would call us the Joshua Generation (Psalm 24) and proclaim how we would do great things. Prophecies were made (it was Charismatic after all) and I was encouraged that I could be a leader/teacher/missionary and so on. I believed I had a call to missions, and I did two stints with Youth With A Mission in their Discipleship Training School and School of Biblical Studies.

Something happened in Bible school. God told me to get a skill. I went into medicine, thinking it could open doors for the mission field. Except...I got married. Now, I married my best friend who had also been in missions, and she taught school which would be another great tent-making opportunity. Except...we started having kids. And I had school loans. We bought a house.

All of a sudden I was settled down into a suburban life. I went to church on Sundays, tried to establish my career, coached kids in soccer, and wondered when I would get into missions, my real call.

This is where I agree with Anthony. In the Charismatic stream I came from, greatness was the promise we were told God had for us. I could see myself traveling and teaching, ministering in different countries. There was some narcissism there. Prophets never seemed to say, "You're going to live a boring life in the town you grew up in." There was always more suggested.

The problem was that basic commitment to serve the Lord in whatever way He called us. I was always willing to do whatever, or at least that's what I said. Still, I had my idea what that meant, and I struggled when things didn't go that way. If I had a heart for missions, why was I still in the U.S.?

Then last year things were turned upside down in our lives.

We found ourselves in a like-minded group that didn't have expectations of going to a regular church and doing the "typical Sunday things." We asked God what we could do. He gave us the Outreach Saga, where we met locally in the midst of a low-income housing area and worked with people that felt on the outside of church.

In the midst of this upheaval I've started following people like Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, and David Platt, people associated with groups like the Verge Conference. Verge talks a lot about missional, radical Christianity. And Anthony wonders if too much pressure is being placed on young Christians, teens and college students, to do something extraordinary in their lives. If they don't do certain things, they aren't being the best Christians they can.

Anthony creates a straw man argument here. Yes, if leaders are telling people that you can only live for God if you do a certain set of things, it is a form of legalism just like the Pharisees. The problem with this is that it is an extreme and not the norm, as far as my perspective goes. I think Anthony has a particular theological slant against David Platt as evidenced by his review of Platt's book. I don't know all of Platt's teachings, so there may be more here than I realize.

However, Anthony's article makes it sound like every Christian is being told by the missional/radical movement should move to the inner city, do social justice and artistic work, and give up worldly possessions to proclaim the gospel.

You know what. Why not?

I think it comes down to being obedient to what God calls you to do. If it is to work in a successful law firm and make money so you can support other ministries and causes, that is great. If it is to volunteer your law skills to help victims of trafficking, great.

Anthony seems to be asking for a corrective. Americans are very into themselves, and I know that some of the theology and teaching/prophecy from my early years tickled my ears more than spoke of true discipleship. But doesn't the church in America need awakening?

I have many friends that give up so much for the sake of the gospel. I have other friends that love God but segment their lives and don't live in the fullness I believe God has for them. They travel out of town to a large, fancier church with a gifted teacher as the pastor to worship and get fed...and that's it. I know they go there so it can be no muss, no fuss. They don't have to get involved with the church, because it is large and they are anonymous. They don't have to get in the midst of people's messy lives if they don't want to.

I fear this is a large segment of American Christianity. Thus I believe a call to discover missional living, where people are intentional in all they do in order to be used for the Kingdom, is sorely needed. I see the need for Christians to be called to "radical" Christianity. The issue is that it shouldn't be radical in the first place - it should be common-place of a disciple of Christ.

The intro to Anthony's article states:
Is Paul’s urging to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) only for losers? Do you feel that you’re wasting your gifts if you “settle” into an ordinary job, get married early and start a family, or live in a small town or suburb?

I did struggle with this for a time. I knew God was an extraordinary God, and I wondered if I was missing out. I was faithful serving in my local church, and walked with Him the best I could. Slowly I realized there are seasons of testing or training, and there are seasons of adventure. I knew in my head that we are all missionaries wherever we are, but now I am living it in my heart as I work among the people at the housing complex. I don't have to travel or speak to large groups. I am allowing God to use me to target a small, specific group of people, and it is right where I am supposed to be. I don't worry about not fulfilling my call, because I know I am now.

God can use us in so many ways. But "living quietly" in the above verse also must be alongside "take up my cross and follow Me."

I'm glad I read the article. It sharpened my thinking in this arena. But I disagree with the premise that a missional or radical emphasis is inherently legalistic. My blog is called Spoiled For The Ordinary. We may live an "ordinary" life. But our God is anything but ordinary, and I believe all Christians would do well to see the crazy love He gives us and then go and do likewise. 

1 comment:

  1. Jason, I know you write this a couple weeks ago, but I just read it today, and interestingly enough, yesterday I wrote a post on this subject that ended up in cyberspace somewhere. I have wondered about the legalism of this new missio (my pastor likes the Latin--go figure) emphasis. It's one of those fine line things, I think. I tend to believe Jesus made it clear we are to listen to His words and put them in practice (Luke 8, I think). And James says we should be doers of the Word, not merely hearers. BUT the problem I see today is not in the doing as much as it is in the listening. I can't help but wonder how much we really are paying attention to God's Word, letting Him speak through its pages to us.

    I don't know if you know who Katie Davis is. In short she became a missionary to Africa, on her own really, when she was 17. She's about 24 now and has started her own ministry for the people of Uganda where she lives. Oh, and she adopted 13 children of her own. But I think of her because in her book she says clearly that she realized from reading God's Word when she was, like, thirteen that what she read and what she saw in her life were different. So, hello! Maybe the wake up call we need isn't to be told to go out and do this or that ministry or become this or that great person for God. Maybe what we need is a reminder that Jesus wants us to hear His Word and do it. Hear first. Do what we hear.

    OK, so there's my lost blog post in a nutshell. ;-)