BCC Staff Note: This review by Aaron Armstrong first appeared at his Blogging Theologically site. We re-post it at the BCC’s Book Review site with Aaron’s permission. You can read his original book list post here.
A Compelling and Realistic Vision
In the whole “radical” Christianity discussion, there’s an elephant in the room. We know the goofy, “it’s a wonderful life” style of faith doesn’t work. We’re stressing ourselves out chasing the American dream, but we’re not really sure how to change it. So we hear the call to radical obedience, to take big risks in following the Lord, and our hearts resonate, but we’re not sure where to go with it. So some of us find ourselves back on the proverbial treadmill, but instead of chasing the American dream, we’re chasing after attempts to be radical “enough.”
But that doesn’t work either. And so we’re stuck with the pachyderm eating all our peanuts. We need to know, “What do I actually do with this?”
Owen Strachan wants to give readers a bit of encouragement—being a sold-out follower of Christ is not going to be easy, but it might look pretty ordinary. This is the message at the heart of his new book, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.
What Strachan presents in this book is a compelling and realistic vision of following Christ in the everyday. Boldly following Jesus doesn’t mean you have to sell all your possessions and move to the mission field. But it does mean living out your faith unashamedly at work, at school, as a husband, a wife or a child—in short, it means being faithful to Jesus, even when it’s inconvenient.
The fundamental call of Christ is to take up our crosses and follow him, but our selfish nature doesn’t want us to sacrifice. Satan wants us to pity ourselves, turn away from self-sacrifice, and justify our selfishness with a thousand excuses.
You know what this all means? It means that when I am selfish, I am not living according to the biblical idea of gospel risk. I’m embracing comfort and ease and selfishness. I’m turning down the opportunity given me by the Spirit to be like Christ (p. 75).
This is the critical issue so few of us in North America seem to understand. We don’t get to add a side of Jesus to our already awesome life. We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the faith work for our lives. We don’t get to see options, when Christ gives us orders.
“Jesus Is My Co-Pilot” Is Not the Call of Christianity
So why do we act like it? Because it’s easier. At least, that’s why I do it. But if you follow Jesus, your life inherently involves risk—not necessarily risk of physical harm (at least, not here in the West), but certainly you don’t win points with the culture at large by saying, “I believe same-sex marriage is sinful,” “abortion is wrong,” or “addressing poverty requires more than money.” A private profession of faith in Christ demands a public demonstration of that faith. The two go hand-in-hand, something, Strachan, observes, the Bible makes abundantly clear when he writes, “There is absolutely zero tension in the Bible between being a ‘private’ and a ‘public’ Christian” (p. 195).
The problem, is, of course, one of discipline. Not that we lack it, but that it’s focused on the wrong thing. We’re focused on what Strachan calls self-driven discipline, the pursuit of things that we think will bring us happiness, but really aren’t worth the effort. We don’t find what we’re looking for in those things. “We do, however, find the kind of life our hearts crave when we risk worldly things and pursue gospel-driven discipline” (p. 77).
It’s obvious, but not. We find what empowers us to actually live out our faith publicly through the pursuit of holiness—the pursuit of Christ. This is the answer to our question. When we hear the “radical” call, the call to go full-tilt into the faith, and not hold back, this is, first and foremost, what we need to do before anything else. We need to go after Christ—hard. Whether the particulars of our days change isn’t the point. We might never find ourselves passing out Bibles in a remote village. We might forever be chasing deadlines from behind a desk. But wherever we find ourselves, we have to ask:
Am I pursuing Christ passionately?
If the answer is yes, then, my friend, you’re being plenty risky. It’s going to force you to deal with your sin. It’s going to make you speak about Jesus like you really mean it. It’s going to cause you to invest in people, including people who aren’t like you. This is what reading Risky Gospel reminded me of. It’s a reminder I need pretty regularly. How about you?
Get this book. Read it, enjoy it. Be frustrated and challenged by it. But whatever you do, be prepared to take Strachan’s encouragement seriously: following Christ isn’t easy, but it might look pretty ordinary.