Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 8.50.07 PM One of the surprises of Augustine Thompson’s recent biography of Saint Francis , as illuminated by this Mars Hill Audio interview , is that the “radical” Francis was something of a liturgical purist.  “Francis returned often to the theme of the Eucharist in his writing,” writes Thompson, “far more consistently than to that of poverty, which has attracted so much medieval and modern attention.”  I was reminded of this when reading Matthew Lee Anderson’s excellent cover article in the current Christianity Today , offering an evaluation of “radical” evangelicalism.
The urgent rhetoric of preaching the gospel to the billion unreached and helping the poor right now leaves little space to create the institutions and practices (art, literature, theology, liturgy, festivals, etc.) that can transmit such an inheritance to the next generation, and to form belief in deeper and more permanent ways . . .

What’s more, the radical message comes packaged in the Christian-conference-publishing-celebrity-industrial-complex . . .   The really radical path for a megachurch pastor these days would be to refuse to publish, to take a smaller church, to not podcast sermons, and to embrace a more monastic witness.  The irony is that if they tried, we’d probably turn them into larger celebrities and laud their humility.  The desert fathers had a similar problem.

The final paradox of emphasizing a radical faith is that the language of commitment and really risks allowing the very secularism they decry in through the back door.  By emphasizing the interior aspect of faith over the formal and distinctive elements of Christian worship - Communion, baptism, corporate singing - they risk missing just how secularized our communal life as Christians has become.


Any good that has come from the latest wave of radical Christianity should be able to withstand Anderson’s thoughtful critique.  “Judging by the tenor of their stories,” he writes, “being ‘radical’ is mainly for those who already have the upper-middle-class status to sacrifice.”  Indeed.  I remember visiting one of these radical urban communities a decade ago (before it became famous) with my suburban youth group. We left as there was a tussle in the sorting room over which of the well-shod volunteers would get to keep the Che Guevara shirt that turned up in the donation bag.

But Lent is no time to let myself off the hook.  Here I am blogging about the risks of publicity, hoping the buttons below will shatter First Thoughts records.  Please retweet!

Articles by Matthew Milliner

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