Amid the Rise of ‘Radical’ Christianity, Have We Forgotten That Jesus’ Life Was More Ordinary Than Extraordinary?

Image: Rembrandt
Image: Rembrandt

I was in youth group when I first heard that God had an extraordinary plan for my life. This plan would include seeing revival, winning converts, helping the poor, and traveling overseas to preach the gospel, dig wells, and serve orphans. I attended youth conferences like Acquire the Fire where I learned what it meant to be an “on-fire-for-God” Christian, and was then sent out to be—in the words of Delirious?—a “history maker.”

The idea that I had an incredible destiny was only reinforced by my own study of Scripture. When I read the Book of Acts for the first time as a senior in high school, I concluded that the lives and habits of the first Christians were the norm. Like Jesus, they healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, opposed corrupt power structures, and preached to the masses. As Christians, our lives should take on the same quality as Jesus’ right?

Right. But could it be that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of history, is less extraordinary than the Jesus of Christian conferences and our guilty consciences?

About a year ago, in the CT cover story “Here Come the Radicals,” Matthew Lee Anderson explored “radical” Christianity books from David Platt, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and Kyle Idleman. Radicals, he noted, aim to understand what Jesus really meant in his teachings, what “radical abandonment to Jesus really looks like,” and “what it really means to follow Jesus.” For them, the “real” Christian life is radically abnormal.

Right now we’re in the middle of a backlash, with critics asking if radical Christianity is realistic or even sustainable. Instead of Radical, Greater, Weird, and Not a Fan, now we’re getting Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida, and The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster. These books—even when they disagree—all have important and biblical things to say about ethics, discipleship, spiritual growth, mission, and church life. But they generally don’t focus on how the Incarnation determines the nature and trajectory of our lives as Christians.

I’m not talking about “What Would Jesus Do.” The doctrine of union with Christ, a major theme throughout the New Testament, is much deeper. In a nutshell, it tells us that we are one with Christ, like a husband and wife are one flesh. Christ lives in us, and we live in him. What’s ours is his, and what’s his is ours. The Son of God joined himself to humanity so that we might be joined to his divinity. But this doctrine doesn’t simply describe an association; it tells us that we actually participate in Christ’s life. We go where he goes—from the Cross to the grave to new life and the heavenly places. Our lives take on the very quality of his.

So will our lives be extraordinary? Most likely not. Most of his wasn’t.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Kevin P. Emmert