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.