Here Come the Radicals!
In addition, Keswick theology arose just as evangelicalism started its decline in England—just as material comforts increased. Evangelicalism had exploded after a cholera epidemic had killed thousands some 40 years before. An awareness of death's imminence was one key to the movement's advancement. In the later 1800s, though, as the Keswick fervor took hold, the death rate fell—which, Bebbington slyly muses, "must not have been advantageous for recruitment."
For the poor, dying, and those excluded from upper-class leisure, it's natural that the gospel very much is about comfort and good news. But today's radicals believe that the church has become a country club. And yet, the poor and dying still exist in many places—and the radical movement keeps thrusting that fact before us. Because middle-class comforts inoculate us from those realities, it seems necessary to add adjectives—total, radical, complete—as though the substance of faith has dissipated.
'Really' vs. Reality
The Church at Brook Hills's slum stage reflects the tensions of the radical movement. The movement is marked by the sincerity of young, energetic pastors and writers eager to make a difference for the poor. Yet the message constantly fights with the medium. It occurs in massive church buildings in middle-class surroundings, spoken to people who shop at the Gap, on platforms called stages rather than pulpits. In order to inject the message with more power and meaning, we revert to the language and symbols of the theater—one of our culture's favorite pastimes.
Which is to say, the problem with the call to radical Christianity is that it may not be radical enough. It's clear that middle- and upper-class Christians are looking for a deeper, more profound experience of faith. Yet it's unclear whether we can invigorate faith without revisiting our worship and community practices, asking whether they are forming disciples at subterranean levels.
Consider the reminder that we are all going to die. This truth is easily forgotten in a prosperous society where the aged and infirm are cordoned off in their own communities. It is one thing for pastors to remind us of death in their sermons. But that won't engender more serious discipleship any more than, as Platt recognizes, a sermon on missions will engender love for missions. Concern for missions grows when missions are embedded into the life of a church, such as regular short-term missions. The same is true when it comes to facing our mortality. In the early church, persecuted Christians met in the catacombs out of necessity, but later Christians buried their own in graveyards around the churches. In both instances, the church was surrounded with reminders of mortality; such reminders were built into its architecture and practices. Staged slums take a church only so far.