Three Ways to Be a Radical Christian

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Recently, Christianity Today and World Magazine both ran pieces on the growing trend of “radical Christianity.”

What’s it all about?

The “radical Christianity” movement encourages believers to eschew the relative comfort of our middle-class American lives in favor of walking out our faith with abandon.

I agree wholeheartedly that God is more interested in our character than our comfort. I also agree that sometimes God’s call on our life requires moving out of the suburbs and into the inner city to serve among the vulnerable, while others are called to leave the U.S. for a mission field in a developing nation.

However, I’d like to point out that there are other ways to becoming a radical Christian. Here are three additional things you can do to chip away at your sense of comfort and go against the tide of culture.

1. Get Married Young.

 Of course there’s nothing wrong with marrying later in life – but neither should young people feel they “have to” postpone marriage until they’re through with their post-graduate degrees and can purchase a move-in-ready house with a pool.

One of the reasons the age of first marriage for both men and women continues to creep upward is that young people are encouraged at every turn to finish school, get a good job and make something of themselves before they get married. Well, accomplishing all those goals takes a long time. It also sends the message that marriage isn’t something to aspire to – or, at least, that it takes a backseat to life’s “real” objectives.

As Christians, we know God holds marriage in high esteem. He created it, and He uses it to mold our character and teach us how to love sacrificially. This is why at Focus we advise young people who are strong in their faith to go ahead and prayerfully enter into marriage if they believe they’ve met the spouse God has for them. After all, there’s nothing wrong with moving into a small apartment and using secondhand furniture for a few years while you get on your feet – together.

2. Have Many Children.

More and more, childless marriages and small families are in vogue. I understand why some would want to take that route. Parenting is hard. There are sleepless nights with the baby and temper tantrums. Children can hamper a couple’s earning power (someone has to take care of those kids) and cause their parents to lay down their own lives in countless ways.

However, children also teach you to prioritize what’s really important. They can teach you more about the love God the Father has for you than a thousand sermons. They help us see the world with wonder and awe, and give us a heart of compassion.

In short, children are a gift.

3. Raise Your Kids to Love the Lord. 

The culture isn’t friendly to Christianity. It increasingly relegates faith to something that should be practiced within the confines of a church because it’s “offensive” when it’s boldly practiced in the public square. In today’s “me” culture, Christianity’s call to serve others in humility isn’t going to be immediately attractive.

This is why raising children who love the Lord and live out what they believe in school and when they’re out with their friends is such a radical act. It’s also an act that can help change the world. So go ahead – give your kids a Christian worldview. Model to them what it looks like to discern God’s will in everyday situations by applying the principles of Scripture. Help them speak up for truth, care for the vulnerable and love the unlovable. What a powerful witness godly children are to a watching world!

By all means – if God calls you to sell your home and give it all to the poor, do it. Just know that for some, living radically means getting married at 22, having five kids and buying a home in the suburbs. The same God who sends missionaries far from home plants families in Middle America who can be salt and light to their neighbors, colleagues and friends who need Jesus.

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Leave a Comment

Christopher Martin More than 1 year ago

I'd like to offer a different perspective on two of these points.

1. Get Married Young:  19th-century novels reflect the mentality that marriage should be delayed until the husband is able to support a family.  Living in poverty isn't the end of the world, but tight finances introduce unnecessary stress into a young marriage.  In addition, modern twentysomethings don't have the maturity that even pre-teens had 100 years ago, due to their significant household responsibilities.

3. Raise Your Kids to Love the Lord:  as esteemed author Larry Crabb notes in his more-recent work, modern Christendom is rife with "linear thinking."  That is, if I do "A," then "B" will always result.  From my own experience and through observation of other families, I can assure you that there are NO child-rearing guarantees.  One set of parents, using the same parenting methods, have kids turn out quite differently.  They may follow the Lord, or not; they are unique and make their own choices.  You may raise your kids to love the Lord, and one or more of them end up doing the opposite - to their grave.  You do not even have a guarantee about whether your spouse will keep following the Lord.

Timothy Johnson More than 1 year ago

Thanks for links to the articles on "radical Christianity" -- they helped me get a better understanding of this issue being discussed in the Christian community today.  The leaders at my local church actually recommended reading one of the books on this topic in the past year.

Guest #mbdamd shares a good perspective when she points out God calls believers in Christ to be holy (a life characterized by being unique and different from the world system in which we live).  "Radical" might be the current word some use to describe this, but the lifestyles promoted by the authors (referenced in the linked articles) seem primarily to be a reaction to Christianity as it's expressed in America rather than a call to a holy life that believers in Christ worldwide can model.  Perhaps the words "reacting to Western Christianity" rather than "radical Christianity" better describe their passion.

Additionally, if we all follow others' suggestions on living a radical Christian life, then we're molding ourselves after their vision rather than pursuing the life for which God has designed and gifted us.  Instead, each disciple of Jesus Christ needs to abide in Him (John 15) and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit wherever that may lead (location, vocation, marriage, children, etc.).  Even so your ideas do offer some good counter-cultural ways to implement the living of a Christian life that is different from the world around us.

Guest #wmsteacher also makes a good point in her/his post -- does Focus on the Family (FoF) consider the believer in Christ who is not married when they make a post like Jim's here?  In light of FoF's purpose, I understand this post's strong emphasis on marriage, children, and raising kids.  Yet the call to live a "radical" (holy) Christian life is not limited to married people.  For many of us who are single (and I assume you have more than a few such followers), we have to try to connect with the "family" Jesus indicated were closer to Him than His physical family -- the ones who hear God's Word and practice it (Luke 8:19-21).  When blogging on a topic that applies to believers in Christ on both the before and after sides of the marriage aisle, you might consider including ideas single "family" members can also try implementing into their lives.

Richard Stanley More than 1 year ago

I disagree with Jen concerning the number of children to parent. My daughter has 16 children (nine natural and seven adopted [two international]). It is joy to watch the growing process and the interaction of siblings and cousins. Incidentally, they are all home schooled with the first four attending or graduated from college on scholarships with no loan debts. My daughter and her husband married right after college graduation and are approaching their 29th anniversary and have never regretted their radical decision to raise a large family under God's guidance (on one salary).

Jules Nemo More than 1 year ago

@PoliSci, the weird thing is that the secular world tells their children to marry later in life and they end up with better results--less pre-marital sex, fewer teenage mothers and better job prospects. And to make it even weirder they can't figure out why that is. Their best current explanation is sort of twofold. It's just a fact that poorer and less educated people are more more religious and poverty and less education cause those bad outcomes. And by focusing the child on preparing for the future, sex and children of their own are also pushed into the future. That might be true but I think that a couple of others things are at play. Some, if not most, teenagers will simply do exactly the opposite of what they are told. If you tell them not to have sex then they will. If you tell them it would be alright but then load them up with all the contraception and safe sex info they figure out that sex is just too much of a hassle.

But I also think that our focus on marrying early the one and only person that you love sets our children up for failure. When secular teens falls in love they think, "this is just one in a series of people that I will love and who will love me." This may be someone that they love that they never have sex with. Our children think, "I'm in love and this is the person that God has chosen for me and we are going to be married forever." And since they are going to be having sex in the future there is little reason to wait.

Beth Pressley More than 1 year ago

Good post!  Jim isn't saying that being single is bad or that you should rush just to say you are married.  But by getting married young, to the right person, before you "have it all," you are growing TOGETHER.  Your shared experiences and goals give your marriage a foundation and serve you well later in life.  My husband and I married at 19 and 21, and just celebrated 37 years.  Hasn't been all fun and games, but lots of love and commitment.

Josue Sierra More than 1 year ago

Love this. My wife was young when we got married (...me, not so much), we have 3 kids with 1 more on the way, and we homeschool in order to ensure we have more hands-on time to disciple our children and influence their worldview.

I had not read this post or the two pieces Jim references from  Christianity Today and World Magazine, but a couple weeks ago I wrote an article on the value of getting married young for the MarriageGeneration website (marriagegeneration.org/.../hey-guys-marry-young). I've had mature adults criticize me for encouraging teens to work towards getting married young. So awesome to see influential leaders and publications talking about this more!

William Harris More than 1 year ago

You hit that nail on the head!  God designed us to marry young, and it is one whopper of a blessing.  Today, kids wonder what to do with themselves in the meantime.  The secular world tempts them with myriad lures... tobacco, alcohol, weed, narcotics... expensive clothes to define their crowds... wrong attitudes of all kinds... sexual diversions and diversity.  Meanwhile, they fall helplessly in and out of love, learning to be calloused, distrustful, cold and hard-hearted.  Marry young, and your consummation will seal that bond for life, through all of life's difficulties and all of your differences.

Laura Mohr More than 1 year ago

While I agree and understand this article, I would like to ask you where do singles fall into this? As a single Christian, I already deal with feeling on the outside at church (which is a "married" place) and sometimes wonder what is wrong with me, that God has not led me to a spouse. I would hope that your message here is not that I cannot be a "radical" Christian without being married....or that somehow it is not quite as good as being married!

Greg Williams More than 1 year ago

While I know that Mr. Daly is aware that there is much more to each of these 'Three Ways to Be a Radical Christian", this is certainly a very good start...much like the one that's emphasized in Scripture...marriage, family, discipleship, Church is an excellent Biblical formula (Truth priorities) for being a Christian and discipling others (nothing wrong either about choosing to remain single but latest research shows that 96% of all Americans will marry at least once before the age of 75 - quite a 'popular' plan the Lord instituted)!  What a 'novel' and 'radical' idea in today's world and culture!  Research shows overwhelmingly that strong marriages and families are by far the greatest indicator of so many positive personal (mental, physical, emotional, etc.), relational and socioeconomic factors and outcomes!  Again, what a 'radical' place to start and perhaps more than anything, today's postmodern Church would greatly benefit from this type of 'radical,' countercultural, Biblical Christianity!  Thanks for being 'radical' and God bless in Christ!

Nathan Perron More than 1 year ago

I thought the first two points were interesting choices for "radical" Christian lifestyles and I kind of take issue with them. I mean, what if you physically can't have children?? It's kind of presumptuous to say, "Have lots of children" as a way to be radically Christian. Plus, it's not like having less or no children is sinful, to contrast it with the point about rejecting materialism, which is definitely a Christian endeavor. Having babies is not even a "Christian" thing either, it's a human/natural thing. Obviously God is the author and designer of people, and we're created in His image, but I don't know if I agree with this point about having lots of babies as a way to be radical.

About the "marrying young" point, I know most men at least are not ready to get married at the young age of 18-22. At least I wasn't! But for some it works. And again, it's not like getting married older is a sinful activity (like materialism again, or not taking the great commission seriously by going and making disciples of all nations). It's just a matter of personal choice. Maybe somewhat counter-cultural for America's middle-upper class, but not what I would call "radical". Furthermore, getting married, while designed and instituted by God, is not just a Christian activity either.

As much as I love what Focus does and the voice they have in society, I don't always agree with the things that come out of from them. But I wholeheartedly say "Amen" to the third point. However, I don't think that "raising your kids to love the Lord" should be a quality of "radical" Christians, it should be a "normal" Christian activity. Every Christian parent should be striving for this. And when you think about it, I guess that all of the so-called "radical" Christian ideas that are trumpeted now (which are really just taking God's word seriously and not just cherry-picking verses that make us feel good) should be considered normal for true Christians, though.

Jules Nemo More than 1 year ago

While these certainly sound radical and may even be good things--except that marrying young is a real good way to increase the chance of divorce. But I don't see how they are particularly Christian. Christians are supposed to be little Christs, to be trying to be like him and to be doing the things that he told us to do. He never married and never had children and he never told us to do the same. And Saint Paul tells us that while it is permissible to marry, we would be better off if we did not. Jesus tells us to do radical things like sell our possessions and give the money to the poor and to ignore our family, take up our cross and follow him.

Linda Humberd More than 1 year ago

I agree. Not to push young couple too fast, but for them not to wait so long either. It just leads to living together a lot of times, or sleeping together. Also, now in my sixties, I believe God intended us to have many children, and I regret just having one. I see it as a lack of trust that I didn't leave that aspect to God. And, of course, raising all these kids to serve the Lord. What would our world look like now if we had all followed this?

MELISSA TINKER More than 1 year ago

Great article Jim.  I agree totally.  We need to get back to raising families the way God intended us to and maybe our world wouldn't be so messed up.  Also, another benefit to people getting married younger is that it keeps them from commiting sexual sins.  Let's face it, sexual desires are a part of the human genetic makeup.  If a young person has found that "right mate" that you talked about in your article, go ahead and make it legal in God's eyes.  

David Palmer More than 1 year ago

Yes, yes and yes! Apart from knowing the Lord, family is the best thing that happened to me.  The difficulty is that of expectation. You expect that some day your career will advance, your income will build, and you will have a nice suburban address. You can still serve wholeheartedly in your church and contribute to city or overseas missions. And you might be right on the button doing so. But God can be calling you to something much more radical, as he did with the disciples, but in the daily grind of life in the 'burbs you're not hearing him. 1 Cor. 9:5 indicates that a number of the disciples were married yet it's likely that all of them were radical.

Marybeth Dahl More than 1 year ago

My husband and I have been married for 18 yrs. Our intention has always been to live as committed Christians. For our family a few of the ways we seek to do that are:

*We don't watch TV.  We do have a TV but use it to watch family movies. On the occasion that my husband and want to watch a PG-13 or R (stands for rarely in our house) movie, my 15-yr. old daughter will voluntarily opt out.

*Nothing interferes with our church attendance on Sunday mornings.  Each of us serves faithfully in  one or more ministries at church which means we commit anywhere from 3 1/2 to 5 hrs. to church each Sunday.

*When in a restaurant, we say grace before meals, just as openly as we do at home.

*My teenage daughter is the only one in her youth group who attends Christian school. She is also the only teenage girl I know who refuses to wear anything but a dress or skirt to church and censors her own clothing for modesty.  This is radical considering that even at church, teen girls wear the shortest of shorts, the highest of hemlines, and strapless tops that reveal as much as possible,

*We openly give credit to the Lord whenever possible and look for openings to bring the Lord into any conversation.

*We live within our means and seek to bless others in the ways we've been blessed.

To some these few things may sound radical.  Given our culture today, in some ways they are.  My husband has never chased a lucrative career but the Lord has increasingly rewarded his work ethic.  My daughter doesn't seek popularity or strive after success in academics or extracurricular activities, but honors the Lord with the intelligence He's given her and seeks to live in holiness and purity.  I have submitted myself to the Lord's will in ways I never envisioned.

I only share these to say this:  God says we are to be holy as He is holy.  Holy means to be set apart. Today, as in any previous period in history, we are called, as Christians, to live in the world but not be of the world. THAT IS RADICAL!!!!!

Tim Hanson More than 1 year ago

I don't really agree with these three things. First, they are not essential to our faith as Christians.  Plenty of non-Christians can get married young and have big families.  And Christians can do this for wrong reasons.  Second, the first two points sometimes involve circumstances outside of our control.  For example, a woman may end up waiting for many years for a godly man to win her heart.  Or a married couple might be physically incapable of having children.

Each of these is subject to the people and circumstances.  There can be very mature 20 year olds who get married.  The bigger issue to me isn't age, but time spent dating/courting.  Longer relationship usually means better.

Beth Cave More than 1 year ago

I enjoyed this post.  There are all kinds of ways to live radical lives for Jesus Christ.  I had considered overseas missions seriously but have ended up serving the Lord in ways here.  We didn't marry early but had 7 kids in 10 years and tried to raise them for the Lord.  It has been a wonderful, challenging, faith-building journey.  It is not "ideal" but God is using our brokenness every bit as much as our apparent successes. It's not over.  Our kids are 13 to 23 and we have a lot of tuition ahead of us! Tragically for us, one is with the Lord due to a sudden autoimmune illness, but we have great comfort in knowing we will see him again.  Some of his siblings are struggling in their faith, but I know that God is faithful and will finish the work that He's begun in them.  

Jennifer Hartman More than 1 year ago

I tend to disagree w/ the advice to have many children.  I chose to have just 2 kids for both health reasons & lack of support.  You can't raise emotionally healthy kids in the wrong environment.  My dad's mom had 12 kids & most are in jail or something!  

Carol Cobb More than 1 year ago

I agree with encouraging young adults to marry early in many situations. I do think though families, churches, older Christians, retired Christians with strong marriages, etc. could help encourage, mentor and pray for them. I know someone who married right out of high school, is wonderfully expecting-they did wait until after the vows to sow that seed-whose husband is in college and holding down a job. It's not easy, but they do have a lot of help from family. Living expenses add up and there is a strong growth curve with so many new things to learn. I think offering to take them to dinner, pay for car insurance or maybe a class, would help. Even writing a note to let them know you're available would be great. If everyone would pitch in a little, it would make a difference in helping them to get a strong start and if they raise their children to love God, you would've been a part of that.  That doesn't mean it's impossible or not wanted to go it more alone. I know missionary mother who wishes she had it a little harder in the beginning to prepare her for what God has called her to now.  There are good points to both routes, and getting married early is a great prospect with all the energy and passion many young adults have.  What a beautiful time of life to build on.