Call Me Radical; I’m Supposed To Be

Something that’s been brought back to the forefront of my mind in the past week is that words have different connotations associated with them regardless of whether we realize it or not. Part of what reminded me of this is the fact that I’m at linguistics boot camp for the summer, and that falls underneath the category of semantics and pragmatics, what words mean according to their definitions and what words mean according to how people use them. The other part of what reminded me of this has been reexamining what I want to be known for and what living like Jesus and being a Christian really mean, partially influenced by my reading of Love Does by Bob Goff, which everyone should read at some point in their lifetime.

But back to the main point. Since starting this blog earlier this year, I’ve been called a lot of things, some good and some seemingly bad. I won’t mention too many of the good things, just because I don’t want this to be about me, but what does seemingly bad mean? Well, they’re things that I’m sure people intended to be negative comments to express their disapproval, but that I take in stride and embrace. For example, a good amount of people have called me ‘radical’ or ‘too liberal,’ apparently as insults or something like that. And those things hurt at first, because the words ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ tend to have negative pragmatic connotations in Christian circles, but in recent weeks, I’ve come to embrace those things, because Christians are supposed to radical and Christians are supposed to be liberal, specifically in our love.

And radical love means doing things that don’t make sense from logical or political standpoints. Radical love means praying for members of ISIS to be saved, rather than advocating for the United States to send in military forces to destroy the “evil Muslims,” because their lives are just as sacred as the lives of unborn children. Radical love means not sentencing people to the death penalty for the same reason.

Radical love means actually following through on the statement ‘come as you are’ that so many churches like to use. It means accepting that people won to Christ don’t change overnight. It’s a process, meaning that your friends who just came to Christ aren’t going to stop swearing overnight. It also means being able to love people who don’t share the same viewpoints as you, and actually loving them, not just tolerating their existence.

Radical love means doing things that don’t make sense, because you care about people for who they are, not what their political or personal beliefs are. It means loving people as they are, not treating them like projects to fix up “for the Kingdom.” Radical love means loving people where they are, regardless of where they’ll end up and regardless of whether or what you’re going to get out of it. That’s what radical love is and so much more, too.

Now, I’m not an expert at doing any of these things, because these things are hard and I’m still working on them too. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but I’ll say it again, because it’s important and it’s true: love isn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling that you get inside. Love is messy. Love is uncomfortable. Love is hard. Love is work.

So to everyone that’s going to call me radical and liberal, thank you. It means that I’m doing my job properly. It means that I’m loving like it doesn’t make sense, and it means that I’m beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to live like Jesus did. After all, the religious people thought that He was crazy and that what He was doing didn’t make any sense either.

Paraphrasing from Bob Goff, a lot of people, Christians included, think that religious people are like the security guards who are in charge of deciding who gets in and who doesn’t, but that’s not true. We’re just the ushers, showing people the way they’re supposed to go. God is ultimately the One who decides who gets in, not us. Our only job is to love, because that love is the uniform of Christians proving Who we work for.

So I’ll take it. I’ll definitely take it. In the words of Peter and Paul, if all you can do is call me the same things they called Jesus, I guess I can’t be doing too badly.

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One thought on “Call Me Radical; I’m Supposed To Be

  1. So you say that if those on the right are dismissing what you say as excessively liberal or radical, that you’re doing your job – since in so doing you’ve demonstrated the liberality of love mandated by the ethics of the New Testament. This being the case, how would you respond to those from the left who might say you’ve failed to go far enough, to be sufficiently liberal in the way you love? It seems, if I’m reading you correctly, that you side with the historic church in her interpretation of scripture on the matter of human sexuality, and would agree that even publicly recognized, life-long, monogamous, same-sex relationships are precluded by scripture (e.g. Lev 18:22, Rom 1:26-27). If this is true, how would you respond to your progressive critics who would argue that you have failed to allow your radical embodiment of love to become sufficiently radical, thus open to the possibilities – gay marriage probably being the most culturally and theologically prominent of them in our time?

    My hesitance, I suppose, surrounds the nature of love and its deployment as a concept. The agape of the New Testament is an unmerited, unearned, non-preferential form of love. It is the love with which God first loves us through his Son, by whom and through whom we are enabled (imperfectly, feebly, and falteringly) to love God and love our neighbor. It is this kind of love to which you seem to be alluding. If we could just love sufficiently, you might say, then people would feel welcomed and included by the church, and we could truly get down to the business of being the community of disciples we were meant to be. However much I sympathize with this sentiment, I think the concept of love (specifically as agape) does not entirely fit the state of affairs you’ve diagnosed. Imperfect though our love may be, the deeper problem – in my judgement – is not a failure of the church to love, but a failure of the church to forgive. Forgiveness is the key here, precisely because it is a more specific embodiment of love. God does not merely love us to the bitter end, dying a shameful and unjust death as Jesus Christ, but he, much more scandalously, forgives us in this event of self-giving in Christ. A discussion of the nature of forgiveness and the theories of the atonement is out of place here, but I will say that the centrality of forgiveness at the cross is very much lost in the atonement tradition. But if this is nevertheless the case, then our vocation as Christians is not merely to embody the love of God in Christ, but to embody, proclaim, and perform God’s forgiveness by the call and command of Jesus. Indeed, as Jesus says to his disciples, just before the ascension, “repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations” (Lk 24:47). The forgiveness we receive in Christ and that we proclaim is not an abstract attribute or property of love, but is concretely and specifically directed at and to us. Likewise, recognizing the sinfulness of ourselves and those to whom we proclaim the gospel, it is necessary both to engender repentance in our hearers as well as enact forgiveness upon them. In this, I think endeavoring to embody and enact ever more richly God’s forgiveness is, in my judgment, a superior prescription for the problem you’ve identified.

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