Everyday Christianity

A Faith Free From The Accidental Pharisaism of Missional, Radical, Crazy and Other Superlatives

In the end, Christians don’t need adjectives, trending tribes, or superlatives that make them vulnerable to narcissism and shame to know what it “truly” means to follow Christ. The Bible’s language is sufficient. Instead, God’s people are invited to live lives free (Gal 5) from any from of direct or accidental legalism everyday. The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor.

 

Every day matters. This is the very simple message of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God and to live one’s life to the glory of God. You don’t need to be “missional.” You don’t even need to be “radical” (especially since radical commonly means “very different from the norm”).

In fact, the Bible does not encourage superlative adjectives to describe following Christ at all. Adjectival superlatives tend to create new forms of legalism whereby the work and person of Christ is no longer sufficient to be in right relationship with God. The norm is not enough. Although those promoting various adjectives have no intention of doing harm, hearers often embrace the adjective as the basis of genuine faith instead of the language of Scripture.

Young Christian adults are torn in a sea of modern adjectives that tend to become shame-filled and often debilitating burdens. Larry Osborne warns about five tribal communities that may be accidentally doing harm: (1) “Radical” Christians, (2) “Crazy” Christians, (3) “Missional” Christians, (4) “Gospel-Centered” Christians and (5)Revolutionary and Organic Christians. According to Osborne, each of these tribes has inadvertently created accidental pharisaism because if one does not live out one’s Christian life according to the norms and codes of their respective tribe one will be looked down upon. Moreover, for those within each tribe, it leaves them vulnerable to the arrogant narcissism that believes “our” tribe gets Christianity “right” while the others are substandard.

To be fair, the impulse that formed these tribes comes from a good place. They are all seeking to be faithful to what the Scriptures teach and are reacting to real problems that exist in the life of God’s people. The problem is that tribalism can cultivate a debilitating sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness that discourages God’s people from enjoying simple norms expressed in the dynamism of the ordinary.

As we look at the Bible and the Christian tradition there are at least seven good norms that give Christians freedom to embrace the Bible’s teaching of what it means to be bear God’s image and to walk away from the vulnerabilities of superlative Christianity.

(1) Christians are a people of love who live to glorify GodDavid Jones rightly summarizes that glorifying God is the controlling purpose of the Christian life (1 Cor. 10:31) that is motivated by loving God and loving neighbor (Matt 22:26-40) as Jesus teaches. The Christian life is consumed by love and, in love, his people glorify Him.

(2) Christians are a people of the GospelTheodore G. Stylianopoulos reminds us that the gospel is “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin and death are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the eschatological glorification of the whole cosmos.” Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race, (Rom 8:19-24) redemption must involve the entire creation, as Michael Williams righty argues. As such, everything matters in God’s redemptive plan. For example, every person matters to God because they bear his image, and the Holy Spirit uses the evangelicalism of God’s people to unite men and women to Christ. The rest of creation and culture also matter to God because, in the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, we play a role in seeing that the cosmos brings glory to God (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:23).

(3) Every community matters. One of the beautiful pictures that we get from reading the entire Biblical narrative is that God seeks out his people wherever they are, whether it be rural areas, small towns, big cities, urban, suburban, exurban neighborhoods, and everything in between. Every community, then, matters to God. Every race and class matter to God. God cares about whatever neighborhood has been affected by the Fall and he wants his people there as agents of grace.

(4) Every relationship matters. Herman Bavinck observes that we were created for community. God did not want Adam to be alone so he created Eve but God also did not want Adam and Eve to be alone so he commissioned them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:26-28) and establish family and community. So all of our relationships matter in everyday Christianity. Our families matter. Our parents and children matter. Our friends and coworkers matter. Every person we come in contact with everyday matters because with every human encounter is an opportunity to glorify God by loving everyone properly as He intends since they bear his image.

(5) Every vocation mattersGene Edward Veith reminds us that “vocation” is another word for “calling.” The doctrine of vocation means that God assigns us to a certain life—with its particular talents, tasks, responsibilities, and relationships—and then calls us to that assignment (1 Corinthians 7:17). Veith argues that “God himself works through human vocations in providential care as he governs the world. The purpose of every vocation, in all of the different spheres in which our multiple vocations occur—the family, the workplace, the culture, and the church—is to love and serve our neighbors.” This means that there are no little people in the Kingdom and no one has an insignificant career, job, or life. Being a bus driver is no less important than being a lawyer or a church planter in God’s economy. What matters is that God’s people are a love-driven people glorifying God wherever he places them.

(6) Virtues and values matterDavid Jones reminds us that Christian love is embodied in certain virtues and values that glorify God. Therefore, our characters matter. We are to be a people of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:32). These are the weightier matters of the law and, taken together, comprise the essence of all that God is calling us to do. Justice requires that we treat every human being according to what it means to be made in the image of God. The full revelation of God’s mercy brings with it the full responsibility to glorify God by living lives that reflect his mercy (Matt 5:7). Because God’s people are loved by a faithful God and depend entirely on his faithfulness they are disposed to practice the same in their own relationships and responsibilities. We see faithfulness worked out in exercising the virtues of prudence (James 1:5), courage (1 Cor 16:13-14), self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7), and humility (1 Peter 5:5).

(7) God’s plan matters. The Bible’s grand narrative can be summed up as this:creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In this story, the Creator God has a plan, focused on the work and person of Christ, to redeem a world corrupted by the fall that will be finally consummated when Christ returns. In the mystery of God’s mission the saints of God are a privileged part of this redemptive story. So, as Gerard Van Groningen writes, our creational and renewed worldview (Rom 12:2) and all of the kingdom activities of God’s people–from raising families to evangelism to worship to recreation–are mutually interrelated and correlated in God’s redemptive plan focused on the Son. The wonder of life is not in the spectacular, but in the ordinary and the everyday (Matt 6:25-34). Therefore, the social, political, moral, spiritual, and economic contexts that contribute to human flourishing matter both to God and his people.

In the end, Christians don’t need adjectives, trending tribes, or superlatives that make them vulnerable to narcissism and shame to know what it “truly” means to follow Christ. The Bible’s language is sufficient. Instead, God’s people are invited to live lives free (Gal 5) from any from of direct or accidental legalism everyday. The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor.

Anthony Bradley is an Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King’s College, NYC. This commentary is taken from the Acton Institute Power blog and is used with permission.

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