I remember one Sunday morning in my teen years on which a woman at church made a passing comment that I was “very pious.”
The comment came during an angsty phase of my life, in which I was just beginning to learn theology and take my Christian walk more seriously. I was unsure how to take the comment. Pious, like that other byword puritan, is a word defined in the eye of the beholder. Was it a complement or a veiled insult?
Of course, I had plenty of growing left to do. I had head-knowledge, not necessarily love. I had youthful zeal and was unafraid to raise questions when I saw something that I believed to be out of alignment with Scripture. I was beginning to write online about spiritual topics and was attempting (albeit imperfectly) to engage in evangelism more frequently.
But in hindsight, I wonder—had she made her comment after the year, say, 2010, if she would have grasped for a different word instead, like radical.
A Loaded Term
“Radical” is another loaded term. A positive definition of a “radical” Christian might be one who aspires to overcome one’s own apathy and the materialistic malaise of the surrounding culture, laboring to live in accord with New Testament teaching—particularly those texts that have to do with sacrificial giving and missionary service.
Yet the term is not without negative connotations as well. A “radical” individual might develop a penchant for challenging anything that smacks of the ordinary or mundane. Those who aspire to live as “radicals” are open to the charge of possessing zeal without knowledge. Viewed from the outside, a Christian “radical” might also be labeled Jesus freak, Bible-thumper, souled-out, holy roller, or enthusiast. And of course, the whole idea of being “radical” is increasingly politically tainted. For some, radicals are those who deconstruct cherished institutions, ideals, and windows.
The irony here is that “radical” derives from the Latin radix, meaning “root.” Someone seeking to be “radical” is really someone turning ad fontes, back to the sources. To the word and the testimony. For the hot-under-the-collar evangelical college student, this might mean seeking those forms of Christian discipleship which are most original to those who knew Christ and his apostles.
Yet the word radical can also be freighted with connotations of restlessness that seem to run counter to the picture of rooted, consistent devotion given to us in texts such as Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:5-8, or John 15. Given that we are told to live quietly (1 Thess. 4:11), perhaps the word radical is not doing for us what we think it is.
Spiritual or Reasonable?
Speaking of slippery words, in biblical Greek, logos is one such term. Depending on context, logos can mean anything from “word” (its usage in the prologue of John’s Gospel), “reason,” “plan,” “discourse,” “logic,” and more. In Greek philosophy, the Logos was the intangible, rational principle which upheld the cosmos. Simply put, logos packs more horsepower than our English “word.”
Logos and its derivatives come to us many times in the New Testament. One such occasion comes just after Paul ascends his mountain of exposition of justification, sanctification, election, and reprobation spanning Romans 1-11:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (logikēn) worship” (Rom. 12:1).
The form of logikos is rendered variously by English translations as “spiritual” (ESV, NASB), “true and proper” (NIV), “true” (CSB), “reasonable” (KJV, NKJV, Berean Literal), “rational” (Amplified), and even “intelligent” (YLT). These translational choices, of course, have varying degrees of merit.
Of these choices, one stands out: spiritual. Interestingly, the word is also translated “spiritual” in 1 Peter 2:2 (“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation”).
Why translate logikos, from which we get our English word “logic,” as “spiritual”? In our minds, these concepts are mutually exclusive. We envision “spirituality” along the lines of inner, subjective experience in the realm of the ethereal and intangible. But this tension can be resolved if we look to the root concept. Logikos pertains to words. To be logikos is to dwell upon the meanings of words. Similarly, we use certain “spirit” in certain English expressions (like “spirit of the law”) that relate, roughly, to the foundational intent, purpose, or idea of a thing. Here, we can assume that Paul is also operating out of that overlap in meanings.
What, then, is that underlying word or concept on which the Apostle Paul would have us dwell? Simply put, it is the “mercies of God” by which he beseeches his readers in the preceding verse. This is the capstone of the epistle up to this point. Paul enjoins his readers: embrace a lifestyle of total devotion to God as the only rational, reasonable, worshipful response to the gospel.
Come, Let Us Reason Together
Returning to our earlier discussion, one of the pitfalls of speaking in terms of a “radical” Christian lifestyle is that it instantly places the person living in such a manner on an unattainable plane of super-Christianity. And if radical Christianity meant calling down fire from heaven, stopping lions’ mouths, and raising the dead, that would be one thing (though not itself without difficulty). But if radical Christianity means studying Scripture, seeking to apply it to all of life, giving generously and at times even sacrificially, seeking to evangelize whenever given the opportunity, and caring zealously to spread the glory of God among all the nations, then we should not relegate such radicalism to the super-pious elite. Instead, Scripture’s call is that we would live reasonably. And the only reasonable response to a crucified-and-risen Christ is complete abandon.
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom. 14:7-9).
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Well did Ursinus teach us to confess: “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ… [who] makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heidelberg Catechism Question 1).
Cross-carrying is normal Christian business. If we have framed our view of the Christian life in such a way as to give the impression that loving, joyful, total obedience to the Lord is reserved for a select few, we have failed. The Christian life is for every believer. Let us live in rational response to the gospel of grace, which is radical enough on its own, and has more than enough power to stir us to love and good works.
3 thoughts on “Radical or Reasonable?”
Reblogged this on Jeremy Wong.
As a word nerd, I love that you get to the root of things. I didn’t know the etymology of radical before. And I appreciate your application to radical Christianity. This is a post I’ll have to read again to do it justice–and I will read it again.