I am challenged by Sine’s statement, “Jesus really was an extremist in his whole life, and those of us who have decided to follow him need to consider becoming ‘extremists’ in our whole lives too” (225).  It’s so much more comfortable to be moderate.  But I don’t want to be a comfortable Christian.  Comfortable Christians have stopped moving forward; they grow stagnant and breed mosquitoes.  I want to be moving always forward, toward God.  If that means being extremist, or dare I say, radical, then I’ll have to figure out what that means for me.  But you better believe I’ll do it, and you better come alongside me, because it’ll be too hard to do by myself.

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In this chapter, Sine drives home the crux of his current argument about the good life and better future. In his concluding lines, he writes, “It is only in Jesus’ paradoxical teachings of forgetting about ourselves and caring for others that we will ever discover the good life that God has for us” (126). This is the part the church gets confused about: how do we live out that paradox in our current culture with our theological principles? It’s easy to take a back seat and make it all a mind-soul kind of deal, but Sine (and Claiborne, and others) pushes for the addition of the bodily aspect. When Jesus says, “do to the least of these,” he actually means DO, physically. I’ll be the first to say I’m way more comfortable with the mind-soul part. Throwing the body in there makes the Christian life suddenly…a little more radical?

“God has chosen,” Sine writes, “to change the world through the lowly, ordinary and insignificant. This should give us all hope” (22). It’s true that we’re in a season of decline in the church, but the Spirit of God is moving in new ways. Sine wants to introduce a concept that is not new: God uses the foolish to shame the wise. That means we are all able to participate in the new thing that God is doing, not because we are capable but because God chooses to use us, us ordinary radicals, with our mustard-seed faith. That’s exciting!

Claiborne writes in his concluding chapter, “we are not just called to be candles. We are called to be fire [the kind that purifies and cleanses]” (352). And where do we get the fire symbolism? From the tongues of fire that were the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, er, apostles. And how do we see the Holy Spirit moving in the rest of the book of Acts after this monumental moment? Everyone gets a tongue of fire over his or her head. No! The Holy Spirit is constantly shaking things up (and sometimes literally). It’s the same with radical Christians. Claiborne exemplifies one way to be radical. A great way, a challenging way. But the Holy Spirit does not look or act the same in all places or in all people throughout his appearances in Acts, and neither is the body all fire. Some is water, and some a banquet, and some words, and some music, and some whatever else you can think of. I’m out of metaphors. It’s late.

The challenge of radical Christianity is putting your faith into visible, active practices that affect change in the world, even if it’s just the world for your next-door neighbor: “They cared for people and put stagnant nominal Christianity to shame. They took tremendous risks to invite people to experience love, grace, and community” (100). Do people say that about us here at Fuller? Do people say that about people in our home churches? Maybe nominal Christianity isn’t just in the South.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bonhoeffer since reading Claiborne’s book. He talks about the cost of discipleship in pretty challenging terms, and then he goes out and gets executed for living it out. Claiborne writes, “The temptation we face is to compromise the cost of discipleship, and in the process, the Christian identity can get lost” (105). We just looked together at all those articles in Fandom that kept reminding us how malleable our identities are, how susceptible we are to being defined in terms of our culture and media experiences. How quickly we fall into cheap grace.

And here’s a side note: I finish my degree in the fall, and I don’t know what’s next. Claiborne told people he was “more interested in who I am becoming” than in what he would do/be. He quotes Mother Theresa: “Do not worry about your career. Concern yourself with your vocation, and that is to be lovers of Jesus” (108). But I wonder if I’m brave enough for that.

I like that Claiborne defines “radical” as “getting to the root of things” (20). A radical Christian is rooted to the authentically daring life of our incarnational God. It’s true that “many of us feel God doing something new, something small and subtle” (25). I’ve been saying all year that I believe God is doing something new at Fuller, but I think it’s something big. Maybe I’ve been thinking about size in terms of radical rather than movements. And it’s true that we are transformed by “people and experiences” (28). Any emerging church leader will tell you that. As we fight pluralism, secularism, relativism, and even “dualism” (28), it is the personal experience of the new thing God is doing that will work change. And it’s our job as non-nominal Christians to live it out, and to tell the story. Claiborne tells his own story of being “suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God” (39). How many people like that are out there, those who love Jesus but hate the church, or maybe just don’t care?