Ordinary Radicals

I was thumbing through a Christian magazine the other day when I came across a full-page ad that I thought was for a mission organization. Turns out it was actually an ad for an insurance company. But I didn’t notice at the time because three-quarters of the page was taken up by the picture of a young person, possibly of college age, who was about to eat a large green bug. The youth in the photograph was wearing sunglasses, a hat and sported a large, toothy grin. The insect, which looked like it might be a grasshopper, was almost as wide as her smile. My first thought when I saw the picture was that if it was me, I would not be smiling. I have no desire to eat bugs, not even for the glory of God.

 I’m not saying that I would never eat a bug. A few years ago I walked into the chapel service at Moody and saw my friend Ray standing there holding something that looked like corn curls. “What are you eating?” I asked. He handed me a couple and I popped them in my mouth, remembering too late that Ray was the chairman of the missions department. “What are these?” I asked, against my better judgment. “Fried caterpillars” Ray replied, with a grin not unlike the one displayed by the girl in the magazine ad. Had I known that, I would not have asked. But by then it was too late to change my mind. Pride and trajectory compelled me to suffer the consequences of my ill-conceived question. As the little morsels landed on my tongue, I managed to ask, “Should I chew or swallow?” “If you want to experience their full flavor, you need to chew them” Ray replied. I did not want to experience their full flavor.

 As you can probably tell, I am not a thrill seeker. I don’t hunger for new experiences. When I go to the restaurant, I want to have something I have ordered off the menu before. That way I know I’ll like it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like adventure as much as the next guy. I just prefer mine in a novel. I suppose I should be bolder. After all, it was my generation that made radical chic. I came of age in the era of mass demonstrations. But I wasn’t very radical even then. While others were marching for free speech, and civil rights, carrying signs and demanding that we get our troops out of Viet Nam, the only demonstration that I remember participating in was one to change the dress code in my high school. I did hitch hike to Lansing, Michigan once but only for the weekend. The truth is I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I was relieved when we were picked up by the police for thumbing a ride on the expressway and deposited on a safer road a few miles from where we lived. The convenience was worth the price of the ticket the officer gave me.

 Maybe that’s why I am more interested in ordinary faith than in radical Christianity. Because it seems to me that the areas where I have the most trouble obeying are in the ordinary circumstances of life. Things like, showing love to that annoying co-worker. Or showing love to that person who thinks that I am that annoying co-worker. Laying down my life for my spouse and my children. Forgiving that person who has slighted me. Would I eat a bug for Jesus? I suppose so, but not willingly. To tell you the truth, many of the things I already do for Jesus seem harder than that. Does that make me a radical?

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John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

5 thoughts on “Ordinary Radicals”

  1. Hey Dr. Koessler I really enjoyed this post. I hope you didn’t notice me laughing out loud while I read it in your pastoral Theo class. I blogged a similar post on my site about how easy it is to be radical in the church pews but when it comes to the streets, not so much.

  2. Thanks, Dr. Koessler! I definitely needed that reminder this morning. It’s probably easier to focus on the “bug-eating” ways to be radical because those opportunities are so rare (and end up being good blog material!). The “real-life” ways of being radical like love and forgiveness… they’re much too common.

  3. Haha! I agree, there are so many of us “radical” Christians who may not be as radical as missionaries, but at the same time giving our all for Jesus in the seemingly small situations! Thanks for this blog!

  4. I was surprised to see a link to this post from The Gospel Coalition’s website the other day. As always you certainly have a way of describing Christianity in ways I can identify with but wish I couldn’t! That is, I find myself convicted with how often I dream of doing “great things” for Jesus when what would be truly great and glorifying to Him is, as you say, obedience in the ordinary circumstances of life.

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