Here Come the Radicals!
But most orthodox Christians don't need to be told how far they fall short of discipleship—and even less how much their self-described Christian neighbors need a "serious self-inventory." We've seen how "moralistic therapeutic deism" has infiltrated our churches. And it is little wonder that reductionist Christianity, with its stunted notion of "belief," has prompted the radical Christianity reaction. Yet no one seems to want to say what sort of belief actually "counts" head on.
Last year, Platt made waves by calling the Sinner's Prayer "superstitious." He explained that his critique was partly driven by his own fears.
"I can remember lying in my bed at night as a child/teenager, wondering about whether or not I'm really saved, and then thinking, Well, I just need to pray that prayer again—and really mean it this time—and then I'll know I'm saved," he said. "I don't want people to look to … a 'prayer they prayed' for assurance of salvation. I want them to look to Christ for this. Assurance of salvation is always based on his work, not ours."
Still, to join Platt and his church on their journey away from the American dream toward a "radical faith in a radical Jesus," Platt gives two preconditions: We must "commit to believe whatever Jesus says" and "commit to obey what we have heard."
These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us. Platt wants to safeguard the distinctness of God's saving work over and against our effort. But his primary concern is for the "outflow of the gospel." This means "putting everything in our lives on the table before God" and being "willing to sacrifice good things in the church in order to experience the great things of God."
The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity's language. Previous generations were content singing "trust and obey, for there's no other way." Today we have to really trust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches' vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.
And the intensifiers don't solve the problem. Replacing belief with commitment still places the burden of our formation on the sheer force of our will. As much as some of these radical pastors would say otherwise, their rhetoric still relies on listeners "making a decision." There is almost no explicit consideration of how beliefs actually take root, or whether that process is as conscious as we presume.
Or as dramatic. The heroes of the radical movement are martyrs and missionaries whose stories truly inspire, along with families who make sacrifices to adopt children. Yet the radicals' repeated portrait of faith underemphasizes the less spectacular, frequently boring, and overwhelmingly anonymous elements that make up much of the Christian life.
There's one significant exception to this: Each of these authors is keen to remind us of our mortality. Idleman lays out straightway that he's going to talk "more about death than life." Platt says, "Your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward." Chan says his sense of urgency comes from going to funerals a lot, and from losing his parents at a young age.