Is the solution to Christian nominalism radical discipleship? Sort of.
by Jonathan Leeman
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of books calling us to join a revolution, get radical and crazy for God, and so forth.
I haven’t spent much time in these books, but I trust they have much to commend them. The theme of radical discipleship makes sense in light of the state of many churches and Christians in the West. We are too often insipid, complacent, and nominal. Jesus’
radical words about taking up our crosses, gouging out our eyes, or
selling everything to follow him are as relevant as ever.
Yet I’d like to offer a complementary word,
if I may. I spent a good number of years eating the Turkish Delight of
nominalism. Throughout childhood and college, I claimed Christ as my
savior, but I was far more interested in pursuing the world on multiple
But a new challenge
was placed in front of me in my mid-twenties. It wasn’t the challenge
of radical discipleship. After all, I had heard such calls aplenty in
the Awana of my childhood and the youth group of my high school years,
and I always responded to that challenge in the same way: some
conviction, some guilt, maybe a brief resolution to try harder, or
maybe the resolution that someday soon I would try harder. In short, the challenge to radical discipleship, all by itself, pushed me to self-examination (which is good) and self-reliance (which is not good).
Furthermore, the challenge to radical discipleship, all by itself, taught me that there were good Christians (radical people like the apostle Paul) and less good Christians (like me); but since we’re all here by grace, I was, in the final analysis, okay. Nominal Me could co-exist with that challenge.
then a new challenge, as I said, came. I joined a church in Washington
DC where a man preached straight through books like Exodus and Joshua
and the Gospel of Mark. And I began listening to cds from another man
in Minneapolis. And through their preaching I discovered a really big and holy God who was not to be trifled with—a God who judges hypocrites like me. I discovered a God with whom I could not coexist as long as I continued to live on my terms. I had always thought I could be sort of for him. But this God was telling me that to be anything less that wholly for him was to be against him (e.g. Mt. 6:24; 12:30).
Not only that, I discovered that this holy God was deeply merciful and marvelously loving for sinners like me. He was beautiful. He was compelling and satisfying.
Through all of this, I discovered that there’s really no such thing as "good Christians" and "bad Christians";
there’s only forgiven Christians who can be more or less aware of that
forgiveness. And it was ONLY WHEN I realized all this that the call to
radical discipleship began to make sense, because the one who has been forgiven of much, loves much (Luke 7:47).