Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Recently, I read a brief article which mentioned the "Centre for Radical Christianity" (British spelling) in Sheffield, England. The Center is a part of the St. Mark's Anglican congregation. There were only two or three descriptive statements, but it was enough to pique my interest. Since I am prone to explore such ideas, I started asking myself "What would a Center for Radical Christianity" look like? Would it be a part of a particular faith community or just a loose-knit effort of some like-minded folk? This writing is to ask of you the same questions and I hope some of you will give it some good thought.

Right off the top, the first reaction may be against the adjective radical. There are already too many that describe Christianity. A quick survey produces terms like orthodox, neo-orthodox, conservative, liberal, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern, fundamentalist, evangelical, neo-evangelical, post-evangelical, moderate, and progressive. The descriptions alone are enough to make you want to quit!

The word radical is unsettling and perhaps it should be. Most will assign to it a definition that conveys extremism or fanaticism. But that's not the real meaning of the word. To be a radical is to be one who "goes to the root of something." Jesus was a radical. His life, teachings, and ministry sought ways to get to the root of life, not religion or beliefs, or creeds, or doctrines. He was interested in people understanding what participation in God's rule on earth was like, how one relates, what one does with their money or goods, whether one was open or closed to all others, who people ate with, how they treated those quite different, the shunning of acts of violence, and what they did with those in need.

I suppose a "Center" would need to have a location, but I'm not sure where. Maybe it could be transient and caravan from place to place. It might find roots in a church building, but for most I think that would be a pretty good leap. A small group, with conversation and questions, meeting in an out-of-the-way place could be considered. I know a lot of folk with a gut full of questions who like to gather around a table and drink wine or beer. A "theology on tap" session in a local pub would have an appeal.

And what would mark this group? First to come to mind is intellectual honesty. There are still too many of us who hold onto an old time religion that was good enough for all our predecessors, but it really is not good enough for us. We can recite creeds and tick off doctrinal statements in a systematic way, but do they work for us any longer? Many of us must plead real biblical ignorance. A commitment to questions and still more questions, a willingness to listen to each other, a fierce effort of study and reflection so that we might be able to give some shape to our new radicality probably is a minimal beginning.

An openness to new mediums of expression might help. Finding something of human condition and need, as well as good news, in art, music, drama, novels, biographies, poetry, and movies could perhaps deliver us from some of the misguided religiosity of the day and humanize us even more. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of "religionless Christianity," but he died before he could really develop that thought. That might be an assignment we could pick up.

And would it not have to mean continued speaking of truth to power and identification with "the least of these" to the point that a difference is made in their lives and hope is given?

A Center for Radical Christianity. Maybe there is a better term. I believe there was an exhibit long ago and it was called church. Or, people of the way. If we can ever experience it, then perhaps we can figure out what to call it.

1 comment:

  1. I think one of first associations that most folks have with “radicalism” is contempt for tradition. One only has to look at the history of the Christian church and read about many “traditions’ that were far from noble, uplifting or even just. I have always appreciated aspects of tradition handed down in the church as well as traditions that have been handed down within my own family. However, I agree that all traditions must be viewed with the “intellectual honesty” that you propose. I am comfortable to use the term Christian, but I also do so with a full appreciation that I must employ reason, empirical reflection, introspection, and a healthy skepticism to ask the question that Pilate asked: “And what is truth?”