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May 21 2013
A woman's take on the New Radicals.

In college, my philosophy professor used to talk with affection about how his wife "schooled" him when they were first married. After hearing a Christian speaker on campus, he came home inspired and shared with his wife the speaker's message: that life was all about big moments, and all the in-between stuff was just leading up to those climactic, world-changing events.

After he finished downloading, she looked at him with an eyebrow raised and said, "Sounds like a man. Men love to talk about 'quality time' and 'high moments,' but when you get up at 2 a.m. to change the sheets because our daughter threw up in bed, that's living. When you have to change diapers for the 1,000th time, that's living. All our time is 'living.'"

I have the same response to the New Radical movement, led by David Platt and other pastors, which rallies western Christians to leave behind the ease of 21st-century living and return to the iconoclast vision of the early church. (See Christianity Today's Here Come the Radicals). The New Radicals mean no harm. In fact, they mean great good. They want justice. They want change. They want complacent Christians pushed out of their comfort zones and into the slums of a suffering world. What's wrong with that?

Here's what: Their vision has the potential to leave suburban moms looking like lazy Christians. It's driven by a stereotypically male way of thinking that often values the dramatic over the mundane and loses sight of people who engage the greater good through the invisible monotony of home-making, childrearing, and other unseen acts of service. Men and women alike pine to make an impact—it's human nature at its best and the imago Dei at work in us—but by virtue of child-bearing biology and traditional ties to the domestic economy, women have been forced to come to terms with the "mundane good" in a more systematic way than most men. (That's changing, of course, with shifting roles in the home.) But no one gets medals or wall plaques for practicing the mundane good. By New Radical standards, we moms aren't Christian enough unless we're serving at a soup kitchen in the inner city or adopting orphans from Ethiopia.

In my early 20s, I lived by this vision. I served the urban homeless, worked with welfare families, and volunteered with orphans in the slums of Nairobi. I beat my fists against my chest in a spiritual war cry for global justice and swore never to set foot in the insular space of suburbia. Nominal, consumer Christians lived in suburbia, I thought. Real Christians were out on the frontlines fighting for great causes. Then I got married, had kids, and settled down in a cookie-cutter neighborhood of Austin, Texas, where I found myself forced to rethink what it meant to follow Christ and serve humanity in the context of the suburbs.

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