A Christianity Too Difficult
Are "missional" and "radical" just code words for the "new legalism"? A response to Anthony Bradley.

It started with this tweet by Dr. Anthony Bradley:

"Being a ‘radical,' ‘missional' Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.' We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40)."

Needless to say, he had my attention. As I read the ensuing article the tweet inspired called "The ‘New Legalism'" (World Magazine), my curiosity quickly turned to confusion, then frustration and finally disappointment. Bradley so misses the mark with this piece that I felt it important to respond in some detail. Please read the original article first, as I don't want you to rely entirely on my perspective.

Bradley starts by identifying a very real and prevalent problem:

"I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today's millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don't do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential."

My reaction to this dynamic is somewhat conflicted. On one hand, I have seen the suffering he identifies and agree that not only do we need to address it compassionately, but also root out the underlying causes. On the other hand, in light of how most Christians around the world live, I have a hard time feeling too much sympathy for those who are almost entirely made up of the world's most privileged few. It is in this sense of tension where I think the problem lies: there is certainly a problem that needs addressing, but the diagnoses of cause(s) and the remedies suggested are so off the mark that I fear they might very well cause more harm than they remedy.

Bradley identifies two significant factors that, in concert with each other, produce this "new legalism": anti-suburban Christianity; and missional/radical narcissism. Let's look at both, then address the proposed impact and solution that he offers.

Anti-Suburban Christianity:

Bradley asserts:

"In the 1970s and 1980s, the children and older grandchildren of the builder generation (born between 1901 and 1920) sorted themselves and headed to the suburbs to raise their children in safety, comfort, and material ease. And now millennials (born between 1977 and 1995), taking a cue from their baby boomer parents (born between 1946 and 1964) to despise the contexts that provided them advantages, have a disdain for America's suburbs. This despising of suburban life has been inadvertently encouraged by well-intentioned religious leaders inviting people to move to neglected cities to make a difference, because, after all, the Apostle Paul did his work primarily in cities, cities are important, and cities are the final destination of the Kingdom of God. They were told that God loves cities and they should, too. The unfortunate message became that you cannot live a meaningful Christian life in the suburbs."

May 06, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 36 comments

Josimar Salum

May 11, 2014  6:14pm

If the purpose in responding an article like the one written by Bradley is just the purpose itself, then JAMIE ARPIN-RICCI did it very well. However Jamie missed the clear message of Bradley's article, that simplicity is the virtue, accomplish the extraordinary is for very few and even for those who do it, what makes us all special is who we are and not what we accomplish.

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pastor v

May 15, 2013  11:21am

Sheerahkahn, "If you didn't want an answer, you shouldn't have asked me for one." I never said I didn't want an answer, nor that your answer was not appreciated. I simply meant that your answer presupposed a lot of things about me that I never intended to communicate, and that simply are not true. "perhaps if you had thrown in more snark I would have caught on to your jest, and not responded." It was not my intention to be snarky. I sincerely apologize that my comments came across that way. "I'm not sure if you are employing a clever form of 'well aren't you precious' again, or not." I can assure you that I most certainly was not attempting to be "clever", condescending or anything like that. "how bout you keep your 'special prayers' for yourself, and I'll just walk away." You are certainly welcome to walk away whenever you'd like, but I would really hate to think that I offended you so, and not have the opportunity to offer a genuinely sincere apology. There will always be a need to "read in between the lines" to a certain extent anytime we are dealing with language, especially with the written language. The majority of communication is non-verbal, such as body language, tone of voice, etc. Unfortunately, in a forum such as this, all of that is missing, and the only thing we have left are words. And words, divorced from the wider context of body language, tone of voice, etc., are notoriously challenging to interpret accurately. I take full responsibility for the miscommunication; and I ask, if not forgiveness, at least that you understand that I meant absolutely no offense. My intention, ironically, was to offer you some hope. The heart of my post was the paragraph speaking about Christ's love for his Church. Yes, I empathize with your frustration at all of the stupidity we are capable of. I can only speak for myself, but I know that that frustration can easily lead me to become bitter and cynical towards the Church. It is at those moments that God reminds me, through the gracious words of others, that he is not finished with the Church yet, and when he is finished, it will be the most beautiful creative work of his ever! I was trying to pass that hope on to you. I failed, obviously, and for that I am very sorry. So, in all sincerity, I do wish you God's richest blessings. I'm sorry that I frustrated you. You are free not to respond to my apology, if you so choose, but I hope that you at least read this post and realize how sorry I am for the miscommunication. And I will pray for you, as well as pray for myself, that God may teach me how to communicate his grace more clearly in every forum in which I communicate.

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Karen

May 15, 2013  8:09am

Thank you, Pastor V. Your ability to extend grace in your words to those who apparently don't understand either how to receive nor give it continues to impress me. Certainly, yes, this is the result of the grace of God. Glory to Him indeed!

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sheerahkahn

May 15, 2013  2:17am

"Wow, I don't really know where to start, except to say that I suspect you read a whole lot into my post to you that just wasn't there." If you didn't want an answer, you shouldn't have asked me for one. "The exclamation point was for the sole purpose of emphasis, and I apologize if it caused any confusion for you." Ah, employment of clever rhetoric...well, silly me...perhaps if you had thrown in more snark I would have caught on to your jest, and not responded. "You will be in my prayers in a very special way. And be of good cheer: God wins in the end!" Considering the rest of your piece, I'm not sure if you are employing a clever form of "well aren't you precious" again, or not...tell you what...how bout you keep your "special prayers" for yourself, and I'll just walk away...and we leave it at that.

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pastor v

May 14, 2013  6:26pm

Sheerahkahn, Wow, I don't really know where to start, except to say that I suspect you read a whole lot into my post to you that just wasn't there. Beginning with whether I meant an "!" or a "?". Well, just to clarify that specific point, I didn't mean a question mark. If I had, I would've written, "I'm just curious: how would you answer your own questions when they are turned back on you?" Rather, I wrote a declarative sentence: "I'm just curious as to 'x'." Perhaps I should've ended with a simple period. The exclamation point was for the sole purpose of emphasis, and I apologize if it caused any confusion for you. And I am very well aware that I am observed by a hostile crowd; and like you, I work with them every day as well. I have a full-time job in the "secular" world, and I fully understand and empathize with your frustration at being associated with a lot of the non-sense that Christianity comes up with. And thus, we arrive at the crux of the matter. In your own words, we all frustrate you. That's fine. As I said at first, if your original post, and your succeeding ones, were meant simply to vent...well, fair enough. And if you chose me to personalize your vent, I guess it wouldn't be the first time. I can handle it! I imagine, Christ, more than anyone, has reason to be frustrated with the whole lot of us. In the book of Revelation, he tells the Christians in Laodicea that they make him want to throw up! And yet, despite all our stupidity–and much worse–Christ still loves his church and gave himself for us. He loves us, not because of who we are, but because he knows what we will soon become in Him. That same book ends with the image of Christ's church–even those Laodiceans, who appeared to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever–as his bride, and of Christ dwelling with his bride in the renewed Garden of Eden for the rest of eternity. Our present looks very ugly. Our future, on the other hand, looks beautiful. That's a comforting thought, at least for me. "And frankly, I'm tired of our stupid mistakes like this thread...this post should have never seen the light of day." Yet, sometime after writing that, you still chose to hit "post." Just as Bradley chose to publish his article, and Arpin-Ricci chose to publish a response. At the end of the day, we are all ultimately responsible for our own choices, not those of someone else. So, I thank you for your answer, and I wish you God's richest blessings this week, my dear brother Sheerahkahn. You will be in my prayers in a very special way. And be of good cheer: God wins in the end!

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pastor v

May 14, 2013  5:30pm

Karen, I, in turn, appreciate your encouraging remarks, more than you will ever know. This world needs many more like you! I assure you that any way in which my congregation is blessed by my ministry is solely a result of God's wonderful grace. Soli Deo Gloria!

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pastor v

May 14, 2013  5:24pm

Tim, I appreciate your response to my primary two questions, and I apologize for not writing sooner, as I have been quite busy the last several days. I think I actually agree with much of the underlying points you make, but I would simply caution you to be careful how you word things. Remember the Apostle Paul's counsel that I quoted earlier: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Dismissing someone's discouragement as simply self-justification or whining is not particularly gracious (even if it may happen to be true!), especially if you don't know the person's specific background. "I would tell this brother he is not the first to struggle with this and that God knew it was coming." This is a much more gracious–and therefore a much more helpful–response, and I hope that your rebukes and admonishments would be more reflective of this kind of maturity and empathy. Blessings to you!

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sheerahkahn

May 11, 2013  12:50pm

Pastor V, I have waited for yours and Tim's exchange to cease as I did not want to add to the noise, and thus have you lose focus. You asked me a question, and I will give you an answer: "I'm just curious as to how you would answer your own questions when they are turned back on you!" I suspect, considering your use of words, that either you mistakenly used a "!" when you meant to use a "?" or you purposefully used a "!". Either way, herein is the point from which I will answer your question. Willful ignorance, by choice or by training has led many Christians to be the living definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Well, let me explain...here is the long view, and perhaps you, personally, will see what I am talking about. G-d has given the world permission to judge us, his followers. I want you, Pastor V, for effect, to re-read that previous sentence again, and let it soak into your head. I want you to feel the weight of being observed, of being watched, of being weighed not by your audience of laity, and not by well-wishers hanging on your every word.Rather, by a hostile crowd who are neither curious, nor interested in your exegetical dexterity or passionate scriptural exhortations. I want you to feel that distance between you and this crowd of people emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually because those people are the ones I deal with everyday, and they are the ones I have to explain your professions, and our faith's nonsense too. Every time a Christian takes a nose dive into science, I hear about it from the non-Christian scientists I work with...so, I investigate it, and then...as is often the case, I have to say, "yeah, that was pretty stupid." or is more often the case, "Oh G-d, just kill me now." And, every time a Christian takes a nose-dive into ancient history, I hear about it from non-Christian scientists, and associates...and I have to investigate it, and then...as is often the case, I have to say, "Yeah, hang on, this is what really happened historically, and this is contextual which will explain...", or, as is more often the case, "I...I don't know what to say to that other than...yeah, you got a good point." Every mistake, every word, every idea, every misuse of scripture your professions, and our brothers and sisters in faith commit in the name of whatever...I have to fix. I have to explain. I have to give an account for to these people whom you have never seen. And though my explanation is good, and often times settles that little brush-fire, I look back at the denizens of my faith, and all I can think of is, "G-d, save me from your followers." So, now that you have background, here is your answer: I didn't write what I wrote for your or any other believers benefit...I wrote what I wrote because you all frustrate me. And you don't even know it. You don't even know that when you dive into science, and pull out some scientific example that conveniently fits your message for the day that you are also inviting the entire topic of science into your message. And you all are completely clueless as to what you are inviting in. You don't even know that when you dive into history, and pull out some historical example that conveniently fits your message for the day that you are also inviting the entire scope of the lead up, and results of that historical example into your message. And your myopic use of historical examples is, once again, blinding you to all the events preceding or following that example. We are being watched by the world, and every time a Christian, be they laity or Pastor, makes a serious, grievous, mistake in scripture, science, or history, or society, or inter-personally...it will be noted, and disseminated throughout the world. And frankly, I'm tired of our stupid mistakes like this thread...this post should have never seen the light of day. So, whether you meant a "!" or "?", you got your answer.

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Karen

May 09, 2013  11:45pm

Pastor V, I have appreciated the thoughtfulness, balance, patience and discernment your comments show here. Your congregation is blessed to have you among them.

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Tim

May 09, 2013  2:10pm

Pastor V 1. Do you really believe that there is no legalism or shaming within the missional/radical movement AT ALL? No. There is no reason to brush this on this movement at all with zero specifics and substantive interaction to determine if the complaint is real or just a self-justifying defense mechanism. Self justifying at the face of admonishing to move forward with God in sacrifice is rampant. I hear it myself all the time. Whether it exists at all possibly is meaningless. 2. If a young man, whom you had never met before, were to visit your house church, and during the gathering he expressed that he was feeling stressed out... I would first question him regarding his claim that they said he was not good enough or whether they said something else that he interpreted as them saying this. I would admonish him to consider that no matter how he has moved forward with God in sacrifice, God does not intend for this to be a new plateau to rest on but a place to launch forward with greater love and good works. If someone is admonishing to move to a level of faith you are not mature enough to run on, then accept that the barrier is your own faith, not issue of negligence in the admonisher. Heb. 10:24,25 tell us God has designed every meeting or assembly of believers to be a zone for "spurring" or "provoking" each other to greater love and good works. This is not a comfort zone dynamic as most saints are used to with zero participation or interaction and mutuality. This is exactly what I would be doing heart to heart, face to face. If you read all of Chapter 10 you will see this is driven by Christ's great sacrifice for us and his instructions to "let us draw near" and "let us hold fast our confession of faith". If these two are lacking there will be little faith to participate in "let us consider how we can spur one another on to love and good works, not giving up the habit of meeting as some is, but encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the day approaching." The part after this is a very stern warning about "shrinking back" and it's consequences rather than persevering. I would tell this brother he is not the first to struggle with this and that God knew it was coming.

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