More Missional Confusion: Anthony Bradley and “The New Legalism”

May 7, 2013 at 10:13 am

1186848_course_srb_1World Magazine recently posted a piece in which Anthony Bradley argues that “the push to be ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ discourages ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things to the glory of God.”

A few days ago on Facebook and Twitter I made the following observation:

“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”

He goes on to say:

I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special.

After considering the “anti-Suburban” bent of much moder “missional” thinking, Bradley ties the push to be “missional” and “radical” with narcissism and an unhealthy push towards being “radical.” Bradley concludes and asks:

The combination of anti-suburbanism with new categories like “missional” and “radical” has positioned a generation of youth and young adults to experience an intense amount of shame for simply being ordinary Christians who desire to love God and love their neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40).

Bradley pointedly asks:

Why is Christ’s command to love God and neighbor not enough for these leaders?

The other day, I noted that knocking down straw-men is simply not enough for humble but challenging discourse. Sadly, I wonder if that’s not exactly what Bradley has done. Bradley has presented an understanding of being “missional” that excludes and condemns everyday believers (all of us). However, I think he has simply taken a caricature of “missional” and run with it. While there certainly may be missional practitioners who foster this kind of environment, I can’t help but read Bradley’s concerns through my church family’s understanding and practice of striving to be “missional.”

I want to humbly challenge Bradley to look beyond the hype machines to the actual missional conversation that is happening behind the spotlights. His notion that being missional is not for everyone is simply ludicrous. After all, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester have presented our church family with the notion of living “everyday life with Gospel intentionality.”

In other words, the primary context for missional living is the everyday life of the everyday believer. We as a church family have intentionally sought to strip away the church calendar in order to free people up to live ordinary life; just differently. Though my main concern here is not the “new radicals” that Bradley lumps in with his missional concerns, is the call to die to self really something “ordinary” Christians are exempt from?

I have to be honest and say that I am confused by what Bradley expects everyday believers (which, by the way, his very notion perpetuates the myth of laity vs. clergy, but that’s another point entirely) to be doing and how that varies from the call of a vast number of missional theologian practitioners. Bradley concludes:

Perhaps the best antidote to these pendulum swings and fads is simply to recover an mature understanding of vocation so that youth and young adults understand that they can make important contributions to human flourishing in any sphere of life because there are no little people or insignificant callings in the Kingdom.

While I disagree that missional is a fad, his notion that “youth and young adults” can and should “make important contributions to human flourishing in any sphere of life because there are no little people or insignificant callings in the Kingdom” is exactly how I would describe missionally. Followers of Jesus should be striving to redeem the everyday. Freeing people up to live as missionaries in their everyday context is anything but legalism. In fact, I have seen numbers of people finally “wake up” from their Evangelical pew sitting slumbers.

While I appreciate the dialogue and even the pushback against “missional,” I am deeply concerned that so many well-intentioned evangelical writers simply mischaracterize what it the vast majority of people I read, learn from and interact with mean by “missional.” The thrust is exactly what Bradley says it’s not: you don’t have to be a superstar to live an extraordinary life in and for the Kingdom. In fact, that’s exactly who thrives in Jesus’ upside-down economy.

The missional types I interact with are at the forefront of regaining a healthy theology of vocation, they are pushing people to not add lots of church events to their calendars but to sieze the day, every day with the numerous ways God gives every one of us to live faithfully. They are urging people to intentionally serve others, to build relationships of discipleship and gospel fluency no matter where someone might be along the spectrum of faith.

It’s amazing to me that what one person sees as the freedom of the Christian life that’s so often lacking in modern evangelicalism, another sees as the new legalism while arguing for exactly what so many missional types are expounding. How is it that the term “missional” is now so widely used but so poorly defined in any sort of consensus. I understand the term to be exactly what Bradley argues for.

What do you think?


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