Theology

“Radical” review: 161-182

We are approaching the end of Radical, finally– there’s only one more chapter after this one, and then we’re moving on. On that note, recommendations for the next book review would be wonderful. I’m thinking about tackling a purity culture book this time around– maybe something like I Kissed Dating Goodbye or When God Writes Your Love Story? Is there a book that’s really popular in purity culture circles today?

Today’s chapter of Radical— “Living When Dying is Gain”– is one of the few chapters where I agree with the starting premise. It’s happened a handful of times through this reading (more often than any other book I’ve reviewed with the exception of Zimzum, I should note), but each time I ultimately disagree with the final conclusion, because David and I are working with very different theological underpinnings.

He focuses this chapter around Matthew 10, which, to be honest, has a bunch of contradictory and perplexing stuff in it. Jesus forbids the disciples from going to Gentiles and says “I do not bring peace but a sword,” but just a few chapters later he condemns those who take up swords. Needless to say, there’s a few things that seem to complicate this chapter that David just breezes right over– most noticeably here:

Out of all the amazing statements in Matthew 10 this one may be … the most important: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

… Jesus was telling them–and us–that we need to fear God, not people. God is the ultimate judge, and he holds eternity in his hands. (175)

The problem with this is that even the most cursory glance at the commentaries would tell you that we’ve argued over who exactly “the One” is for centuries. Some say it’s God, some say it’s Satan, and some people argue that it’s neither. But David ignores the contested nature of this verse and the translation difficulties and spends the last seven pages building his argument off this interpretation. Because he personally reads the text as “fear God who can [and will] destroy your soul and body in hell,” he extrapolates from that to argue how we need to see death as the ultimate reward and how this physical existence doesn’t matter (179).

Obviously that is where David and I definitely part ways. However, our paths diverged a long while before this because our basic assumptions about Matthew 10 are radically different. He reads the instructions Jesus gave to the apostles there and decided to see it in terms of the Christian missionary movement (175-78). He views Matthew 10 through the lens of missionary biographies and stories about Christian persecution. When he reads Jesus talking about how he’s “sending you out like sheep among wolves,” the way he thinks about it is colored by a life spent reading about Jim Elliot and Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

Except when he says that “It’s Christian history. Persecution and suffering as we see today in the Middle East, Asia, an Africa have marked followers of Christ from the beginning of the church” (168), he’s speaking ethnocentrically. He’s blithely ignoring the “Christian history” of things like the Crusades, or the Protestant campaign against Catholics that frequently led to burning priests. Modernly, Christians spread hate against Muslims that frequently lead to their deaths, to American Muslim homes being destroyed, and their Mosques attacked or defaced. In fact, he does that himself when he says “The tribe was 100 percent Muslim. Talk about sheep in the middle of wolves” (165).

Christians aren’t the only persecuted religious group. Far from it. Buddhists persecute Muslims in Myanmar, atheists are persecuted, sometimes killed, for their lack of belief in many countries, and Muslims persecute Hindus. David is either ignorant of this– something he cannot afford to be considering his work in global missions– or he is deliberately misleading his readers.

He puts forward that “if we really become like Jesus, the world will hate us. Why? Because the world hated him” (167), but he never bothers to ask the question why did they hate Jesus? The traditional evangelical understanding is that people hate Jesus because they don’t want to feel guilty about their sin. They want to live their lives in peace, unbothered by any attempts by Christians to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong and they could go to hell for it. They don’t like feeling convicted, so they hate either Christ or his messenger.

I read this passage differently. Because my view of the Bible is rooted in liberation theology, I read “I send you out as a sheep among wolves” and I’m reminded of the protests in Ferguson, or the protests against Trump rallies in Chicago and Kansas City last week. To me it’s clear that standing up against oppression and hatred is what Christ has called us to do, and few things earn you more hatred and revilement in this country than daring to take a stand against bigotry. Don’t obey, don’t comply, don’t keep your head down and keep walking– you could be assaulted, arrested, tear gassed, shot.

I agree with David that proclaiming the life and message of Christ can be dangerous to live out. We just fundamentally disagree about why. I believe there is something in the message of the Cross that many find deeply challenging because I believe that the Cross is a subversion of power. I believe that Jesus’ life flies in the face of Empire and systemic, institutionalized oppressions. If I am called to be like him– which I believe I am– then yes, I’m going to be hated, because Empire hates resistance. Those in power will always try to dominate and control the ones who have no power, and will always be shocked and then vengeful when we rebel. When we do not contort our faces when the old men say “smile,” when we step off a sidewalk at a protest, when we stand proudly in the face of a heil führer salute, those in power will loathe us.

Like Jesus said, we should not be surprised by that. We should not be surprised when our friends and family abandon us when we fight against racism, when they betray us and spread lies about us because we’re a feminist, when we’re disowned and thrown out into the street for being LGBT+ . . .

However, unlike David, I think that our resistance matters. I have hope that each time we fight can make a difference. I believe that participating in Jesus’ vision to bring the kingdom of God to earth is the whole point of the gospel.

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  • Trevel

    “Jesus forbids the disciples from going to Gentiles and says “I do not bring peace but a sword,” but just a few chapters later he condemns those who take up swords.”

    Jesus: “Guys, I said *I* was bringing the swords. Why did you bring swords too? Now we have too many swords, and no salad, no desserts… did any of you think to bring pie, when you were loading up on swords? This is why we have a sign up sheet!”

    • Jackalope

      That was the best!

  • Wicker Gate

    Another thought-provoking entry. So glad I found your blog. At times you’ve given me something new to ponder; often, it’s been a reminder that I’m not the only one to think these things. I’m struck today by how far once again I have wandered from the evangelical fold I inhabited back in college. Like you, I see Jesus’ warning of persecution and hardship not being for reminding people of their sin, but for calling for nations, societies and institutions to repent of injustice.

    Frankly I’m amazed people think otherwise.

  • Excellent thoughts as ever. I’d be interested in your take on Joshua Harris – I never read his book, but I have a feeling he’s mostly regurgitating Elizabeth Elliot, who I kinda consider ground-zero of the fundamentalist patriarchal movement. She wasn’t even subtle about it – her books had chapters like ‘Masculine Means Initiation’ and ‘Feminine Means Response’.

  • Anna

    I never read “When God Writes Your Love Story,” so I’d be curious to see that since I know it’s had a definite influence on purity culture, but one of Harris’ books would also be an interesting one. I chucked my copies of his books (and Elisabeth Elliot’s) years ago, but once upon a time, I did re-read them and underline and think at least some of it was a good idea. I still think being deliberate about relationships and open about your expectations is a good idea, but that’s the most positive take-away I have now. Think about “Passion and Purity” just makes me want to bang my head against the wall because Jim Elliot was kind of a jerk, for all she paints him as a saint.

  • Guest

    I grew up Catholic, so the purity culture “celebrities” I was exposed to were Jason and Crystalina Evert. I know Catholicism isn’t primarily your background, but I would be interested in your take on Jason Evert’s book “If You Really Loved Me”.

  • Kieran

    keen for the Joshua Harris review, or Passion and Purity. Eurgh, I still regret the time I wasted believing that rubbish…

  • Jordan Bates

    If you do I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it would be very cathartic… 🙂

  • circeandscylla

    I’d love to see a review of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was less influential in Australian evangelical and evangelical-lite circles, but some people I knew read it and agreed with parts.

  • Faye

    “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is the book I’ve had to unlearn the most, so that would be my first choice.

  • Jackalope

    Another book that I found was difficult (although I didn’t read the whole thing; I actually had another friend snatch it out of my hand and put it back on the book shelf when I told her one of the quotes) is “Marriable” by Hayley and Michael DiMarco. Although it covers territory similar to Joshua Harris, so that one might be better.

  • Maybe it’s both/and, not either/or as to the reasons the world hates Jesus. The gospel is an offensive message, telling people they are broken and not the authority of their own bodies. And it’s an exclusive message that says anyone who doesn’t believe it doesn’t get eternal life. But many Christians use the message of the world hating Jesus as an excuse to be jerks.

  • Oh, and as for book recommendations, I vote for Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity, since it’s a classic. Or Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Ethridge. But your other choices are good ones too.

    • Jackalope

      Every Woman’s Battle (or maybe Every Young Woman’s Battle; I forget now) was such a scarring book for me, even though I only read a tiny bit. This organization I worked with was going to use it with some young women we were doing classes with and so I read bits of it. I will never forget the chapter on flirting, where it talked about these girls flirting with guys who then sexually assaulted them, and “pointing out” that while what the guys did was scary, the girls asked for it, really. Classical purity culture victim blaming. Urgh.

      • I think it was the Young Woman’s battle. It’s been ten years since I read it but the guilt put on me by the author helped shape my mindset that I was damaged goods for hooking up consensually with the same man who later raped me. I didn’t think anyone else would want me.

  • Erik K

    Amazing. Thanks, Samantha. You’ve given me a lot to think about. It also helps to remember that most of the time in the New Testament when the Bible says “righteousness”, the original word more closely is talking about “justice”*. It makes some verses very, very different in meaning and tone then they’re commonly read as.

    *I first read this insight at Fred Clark’s site, and was just reminded of it in his blog post today. Coincidence?

    ***

    As far as book recommendations, I would absolutely love for you to do something by the Ludy’s sometimes. They were deeply meaningful for me. However, if you want to do I Kissed Dating Goodbye, then you could do one of the Ludy’s gender-roles books. They did one specifically for males (God’s Gift To Women) and one for women (Authentic Beauty). At least, those were the two that I read when I was young (and adored – ugh), though I see now via Wikipedia that they’ve continued to write and publish. Because of course they did. They also produced a music album, which one of their songs I used to dream about being performed at my wedding. Thankfully, that did not happen.

  • Sheila Warner

    When I reached the part where you quoted David as saying the tribe was 100% Muslim, I thought “what tribe?” There must have been more text in the book that you skipped over in order to just bring that quote out. I went back and read the NIV of Matthew 10, & it seems to me that Jesus was attempting to bring the warning of the impending arrival of the “Son of Man” to the Israelites. The disciples were not permitted to go to Samaria or to the Gentiles. So, how does David jump to 100% Muslims? Did he read through the chapter? Also, did he miss the part where Jesus told his disciples that their ministry wouldn’t even be completed before the “Son of Man” comes? How do we extrapolate the lack of inclusion by Jesus then to the inclusion we see today? Jesus was for the lost sheep of Israel only, in the chapter. I don’t see any context for either your conclusion or David’s. But, that’s just me.

    • It was a tribe in Indonesia, and he was speaking of them in the middle of several pages worth of missionary stories that included them facing death, like Jim Elliot. It was an incidental detail in a missionary story.

      Matthew 10 is just plain weird and I don’t get all of it. It’s one of the many reasons I’d like to go to seminary. However, the book of Matthew concludes with the “Great Commission” which instructs the apostles to “teach all nations” so whatever Jesus meant in chapter 10 isn’t the whole picture.

      • Sheila Warner

        Thx for the clarification. I know Matthew 10 isn’t the whole picture (I was raised Fundamentalist, so the Bible was hammered into me), but that chapter in particular seems out of place.

  • Kennedy

    In regards to your next book review- I am 20 years old, so not very far removed from my purity-culture-teaching-youth-group, and a book that I remember reading which was pretty popular with the people who ran in my circles was “Dateable: Are you? Are they?” by Justin Lookadoo & Hayley DiMarco. I haven’t read it since my deconversion, but I can tell you right away that it’s pretty horrific just based on what I remember. I read it when I was probably 13 or 14, and some of the things it said never really left me. Hell, I even had a free printout of what “dateable” girls do. It was BAD. And I would honestly love to see you break it down. It really needs to be done.

  • Laila

    Authentic Beauty by Leslie Ludy heavily shaped my views on dating, as well as many people I know, and was incredibly harmful. Anything by Joshua Harris would also be great to review!

  • Larissa Morgan

    I really enjoyed this post, and how you differentiate between the “liberation” model and, well, the more walled-in view of things… The only Christians I’ve come to befriend, respect, admire, and love are those who view Christ as an EXAMPLE for how to live, not as an excuse to judge, push selfish agendas, and interfere in others’ free will in order to “save” them.

    Though neo-pagan, my own personal, spiritual view as far as ethics, morals, and how to live mirror yours very closely. And, like you and others who believe that living right means doing right and giving others the freedom to do the same their way… I have been condemned and persecuted by others, including my family.

    But it doesn’t feel like a choice, really. I can’t imagine the apparently more simplistic, “easier” (?) viewpoint of binary, self-righteous, thinking. This knee-jerk reaction some have to keep trying to force other people into tight molds of black and white.

    I think I’m too naturally curious, exploratory, and take too much genuine joy in the spice palette and rainbows of differences in cultures and beliefs. I don’t understand why so many around the world wish everyone to be exactly the same– like them. Easy to understand and easy to control. WHY is that such a NEED in so many people?

    I think Christ, and many other spiritual leaders, who showed the path of Divine Grace and Love, made it obvious that more open and embracing attitudes are the path to salvation. There are many paths, and many colors, and spices, and dances– but the similar message is to stop trying to force people to exist in your own image, or what you think that image should be.

    Thanks again for continuing to write such thoughtful, insightful posts!

  • spacegal2003

    I’m a little scared to go back and read Passion and Purity. When I read it I found it helpful for dealing with the passions raging inside of me, though at the time I thought her purity standards were a little ridiculous (you shouldn’t agree to go steady with a guy until he shows his commitment to you, which he does by proposing marriage, for example) and I was by no means an evangelical at the time (nor have I ever been). I wonder if I just had more tolerance for mining truths from rubbish at the time, or if I would even agree that they were truths now. Maybe it’s good that the friend I lent it to never returned it – I can appreciate God working through it at the time, and now can leave it in the past where it belongs?