Last week, when I spoke in Dave Black’s New Testament class on the book of Acts (see my notes and outline “The Church by Example in the Book of Acts“), the students had read and were discussion the book The Jesus Paradigm. As part of their assignment for the day, Dr. Black had asked them to write a reaction paper to this question (paraphrasing): “What is a radical Christian?”
At the beginning of the class, the students broke up into groups of four to read their papers to one another and to discuss the question. Later, Black asked four students to read their papers to the entire class. (By the way, this was not my assignment. It had been assigned by Dr. Black. But, I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the topic with four students and hearing several papers on the subject.)
When I began my lecture, I returned to that question: “What is a radical Christian?” I asked them to form an image of a “radical Christian” in their minds. Then, I asked them this question: “Would that ‘radical Christian’ seem normal or abnormal among the Christians that you gather with regularly, that is, among your church?” Almost the entire class said, “Abnormal.”
Then, as a follow-up, I asked this question, “Would you think that ‘radical Christian’ that you are imagining be normal or abnormal among the earliest Christians as described in the book of Acts?” Most of the students said, “Normal.” (I don’t remember anyone saying, “Abnormal,” but I didn’t take a poll.)
So, what has changed? Overall, our understanding of what it means to follow Christ (i.e., be a Christian) has changed. Primarily, it has changed from a way of life to professing a set of beliefs.
I suggested to the students that the term “radical Christian” should not be used to describe someone at a certain spiritual level. Instead, a Christian – a person following Christ – is simply someone who is continually being changed through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit such that that person’s life looks more and more like the life of Jesus Christ.
Dave Black’s book The Jesus Paradigm was originally titled The Downward Path of Jesus, and that’s exactly what a follower of Christ is. He or she is a person who is on the downward path away from self and toward Jesus Christ.
Maturity, then, is not a goal that we attain (with which most would agree, except for those who hold to perfectionism). Instead, maturity is a path or a way of life. It is continually submitting to the indwelling Holy Spirit, submitting plans, hopes, dreams, futures, retirement, education, vocation, thoughts, family, friends, travels, business, etc. etc. etc.
This is the downward path of Jesus – less of self, and more of Jesus. Those who are on that path are the true followers of Jesus, what today is unfortunately called “radical Christians.”