Patrick Mitchel, director of studies at Irish Bible Institute has been posting an interesting series of thoughts and challenges inspired by Scot McKnight’s book One.Life; Jesus Calls, We Follow. In his latest offering (very much worth reading and considering) Mitchel poses a question that makes us Western believers flinch.
“Does the Western way of life so stifle, flatten and squash Jesus’ call to radical kingdom living that the only way authentically to follow him is to…resign from demands and values and comforts of Western capitalism?”
It isn’t uncommon for me to ask myself what it means to radically follow Jesus as a wife and stay-at-home-mom. You see, it usually doesn’t feel like I am doing anything very radical. And maybe I’m not. But what does following Jesus with abandon look like in my context, with my set of responsibilities?
When I read a question like Mitchel’s, my gut reaction is panic.
I knew it! What Jesus really wants is for me to move my family into a tent and give the rent money that is saved to a family in need! Then I will be freed from the distractions and demands of housekeeping and better able to turn my attention to serving and ministering to others. And just to be safe, I probably ought to sell my wardrobe as well…with the exception of a couple of the more homely outfits, of course.
Clearly, this response is ridiculous and impulsive. It might increase my ability to minister in some ways, but I would also be greatly limiting my ability to love and serve in other ways. So, how does Jesus’ call to “all in” kingdom living translate into the lives of ordinary people in the context of a Western capitalist culture?
I don’t think living within our Western cultural context is any kind of special hindrance to kingdom living. I don’t even think achieving success according to the standards of that culture is antithetical to a kingdom driven life.
Rather, it is when we personally adopt certain assumptions of our culture that we set ourselves up to fail in our endeavors to wholeheartedly follow Jesus. A few examples:
I should be pursuing whichever course is most financially rewarding or personally fulfilling to me.
When my financial situation allows for it, I really ought to purchase a nicer home and a newer car.
I need to take care of me and make sure I am satisfied before I can be of any good to anyone else.
My life, time, and resources are mine to do with as I please.
It is a matter of whether our lives are on the altar, presented as a sacrifice to God. Yes we ought to be willing to forsake all our earthly comforts and even our life—should God require it of us someday, but are we offering all that we are and all that we possess for his kingdom today? Are there areas of our lives that we don’t really even consider in light of God’s purposes because we are defaulting to cultural assumptions?
Following Jesus boils down to doing what we do out of the conviction that it is the best way to leverage our lives, our relationships, and our resources for the kingdom of God. It’s all about motive. Life with a mind to God’s priorities takes different shapes in accordance with culture, era, personal circumstances, and God’s leading—but a genuine, uncompromising commitment to kingdom living is radical and extreme in any context. It will not bend to the assumptions of culture. That’s the lifestyle that Jesus calls us to, and I believe it is possible—apart from an abandonment of all of the “demands and values and comforts of Western capitalism.”
A survey of the Bible will show that throughout human history there have been some cultural assumptions God sees fit to challenge and others he seems quite content to work with and through. Our situation is no different.
It is true that evidence of unwavering dedication to kingdom vision in the lives ordinary believers seems too rare, but it can be found. I shared one such story in July of last year.
I’d love to hear other stories of ‘ordinary’ people who creatively and radically offer their all to God in their ‘ordinary’ lives. Do you have one?