Getting Radical

Frankly, I’m fed up with Anthony Bradley. Who, you might ask, is Anthony Bradley? Bradley is a professor of ethics and theology from King’s College in Philadelphia and is a research fellow at the right-wing Acton Institute. In the last year, it seems that Bradley has decided to make the “radical” movement his whipping boy in print. He’s written on how caring for the poor and relocating to underprivaleged neighborhoods is the “New Legalism” of the evangelical world, accusing pastors and authors like David Platt of all kinds of unsavory things.

It is, however, readily apparent from what he has written that he has conflated a number of different approaches and movements under a single roof, and that he doesn’t even accurately understand that which he is critiquing. Or, to say it a different way, he is unable to make sense of anything that doesn’t come to him in the pre-packaged categories of the neo-Reformed movement.

Bradley even says this. In his review of Platt’s excellent book Radical, he complains about Platt’s approach and then writes, “Admittedly, I am biased. I’m a Reformed theologian who understands the biblical story in terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.”

Yes, Bradley, you are biased.

Platt is not a 19th century or 2nd Great Awakening holdover revivalist, as Bradley complains. He writes, “in the end readers are left with nothing more than a ‘compassionate revivalist’ Christianity that fails to radically call Christians to live in harmony with God’s desire to redeem the entire creation.” Bradley is certainly right to say that we’re called to live in harmony with all of creation. The question is how we’re called to do that. How is the creation to be restored? Well, St. Paul tells us: “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” (Rom. 8:19). The creation is waiting for the redemption of all things that will begin with the unveiling of the Church. The “present time” is the former age that was passing away in St. Paul’s day, while the coming revelation of glory is the glory of Yahweh dwelling on earth in the Church. The Church is the principle place where the redemption of the creation takes place, because it is the redeemed community, the spring of New Creation in the world, the living Temple in which the Spirit dwells.

Somehow the Reformed community has gotten to a place where we think that making disciples and focusing on the community of the people of God is somehow retreatist, a charming holdover of pietists and Holy Rollers, fundie-anabaptists bent on fleeing the world. Reclaiming a good teaching (God is redeeming the whole creation) has bent our theology so far out of shape that we now think that this is His primary agenda, or that He will accomplish this miraculous deed outside of the Church. But when Jesus gave instructions for his Church to follow, He did not say, “Work according to your vocation, according to your skills, cooperating with a neo-capitalist society in order to live in harmony with God’s desire to redeem the entire creation.” You can’t find anybody in the NT that says this. What Jesus does say, however, is to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This statement replaces the creation mandate of Genesis 1 in the New Covenant. When did Reformed people stop understanding that this is a call for cosmic restoration? When did we start thinking that Jesus’ commands to us shouldn’t have to stand front and center, at the top of our list of things to do? When did we start pitting Jesus against some supposed doctrine that trumps His Own words?

This “radical” (pun!) restructuring of the priorities of the Christian faith is seen everywhere in Bradley’s review. “Christians are called to be more than disciple-makers.” “Disciple-making is a major part of the cosmic redemptive mission of God, but the work of the Kingdom transforms people, places, and things.”

Yes. That last command of Jesus couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the means by which we transform the whole creation. It’s a part. Maybe even important. But not the thing. Not the central thing. No, the central claim of the gospel is that we ought to adopt a neo-capitalistic work ethic and “do business” for the Kingdom of God.

Part of the problem, of course, is the pervasive confusion about the Church and the Kingdom. Most neo-Calvinists today see the Kingdom as broader than the Church. The Church is one thing, but Kingdom work is what’s really important, and our duties are duly outlined. Do your work, don’t complain, be content, get married, have babies, and work to support the common good. But the Kingdom of God is clearly and repeatedly identified as the Church. The Church is the Kingdom and the Kingdom is the Church. No, this doesn’t mean you should go get a “Church job,” but it might mean rethinking your vocational skills so that they operate within the sphere of the redeemed community. It might be that the only way to accomplish the good ends we say we want to accomplish will mean giving up on the dreams we thought could get us there. It might mean that God’s economy of sharing and vulnerability and risk is better, in the long run, at doing what we say we’re trying to do using Mammon’s economy.

The problem with Bradley’s radical alternative is that it simply isn’t radical enough yet.

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