the deradicalisation of christianity?
A conversation with a friend today led to us asking the question – how did Christianity become so de-radicalised?
After all the story of the early Church, both in Acts and as implied in the Epistles and Revelation, seems to reflect a community that was at odds in almost every way with the surrounding culture.
(By being at odds with the dominant culture I do not mean abusing gays, doing apologetics or marginalising sex…)
How did we become so at home in the dominant culture? When did “taking up our crosses” come to refer to something other than directly confronting the dominant culture of idolatry and systems of injustice?
Can we really say we are Christians, meaning “little Christs” or “followers of Christ”, when Jesus posed a real threat to the way of life represented by the dominant culture (enough to be liquidated) but most of us revel in it?
Such questions bring to mind the words of Walter Brueggemann, who in discussing the work of Flannery O’Connor writes:
As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”
Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”
Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.
When our minds have become so co-opted by the dominant way of thinking and living in our world, we lose the ability to imagine another way. At this point we need to be reminded that Christians are meant to live according to a different story to what goes on around them, and we need to let that story permeate our every part. This is why Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly;” this story, when manifested in our lives, animates a different Way.
And the Way of Jesus is indeed a very different way. It should challenge every assumption held in the dominant narrative. Think about Paul’s letter to the Colossians (with my expansions added):
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy (whole and set apart from “normality”) and beloved (thus not needing to compete with each other for God’s approval), compassionate hearts (standing with the vulnerable least of these), kindness (putting others, including the earth, before ourselves) , humility (seeing God as he is, rejecting abuse of power and serving the humble not the powerful), meekness (suffering without committing violence or claiming rights over others) , and patience (not settling for a quick fix, but holding out for something of greater worth, especially God’s completed kingdom), bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other (because loving communities need to let go of offense to thrive, including global ones); as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (choosing to love unifies and heals). And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body (not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of positive justice harmony and wholeness). And be thankful (be grateful for what you have, being content with limits and happy to say “enough!”). Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (live according to a different story for your social, political and economic life), teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (worshipping, because you become like what you worship – the image of God or the image of Caesar), with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (not just your private life!), giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
For a community like the Colossian church, struggling to live in the midst of the oppressive Roman Empire such words were a call to a different way to Rome’s violence, economic exploitation and idolatry. Paul’s writing was a radical manifesto in such a context!
It is of course no less radical today. So why then do we feel at home in the dominant culture? Why do too many of us support global violence, market exploitation and cultural idolatry?
Perhaps it is called taking up our cross because it is actually meant to be hard.
 “But it doesn’t mean that!” I hear some of you saying. On the contrary, since crucifixion was, in the Roman period, a form of capital punishment set aside specifically for political rebels, Jesus’ reference to it surely alludes to this dimension (as opposed to, say, a contextless idea of self-denial or sacrifice).
 Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
 Why not your private, spiritual life? This is, of course, important, but if you read Colossians you will see that this is not what Paul is discussing.
Posted on August 10, 2011, in Church, Mission, New Testament and tagged Colossians 3, Cross, Deradicalisation, Deradicalization, Prophetic Imagination, Radical, Walter Brueggemann. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.