Is Missional Becoming the New Legalism?

I read this article, The New “Legalism” by Anthony Bradley in World Magazine that asks this question, “is missional becoming the new legalism.” I am hearing and reading more comments like a friend of mine who stated recently that not all Christians want to live a radical life.

Here are a couple of quotes from Dr. Bradley’s article:

“Is Paul’s urging to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) only for losers? Do you feel that you’re wasting your gifts if you “settle” into an ordinary job, get married early and start a family, or live in a small town or suburb?”

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

I understand that it is a reaction to popular books like Radical, Crazy Love, and Hole in the Gospel.

But I think we need to use caution that we don’t over-react.

One of Dr. Bradley’s assertions is that the missional movement is creating “stressed and burnt-out young people from the regular shaming …if they happen to not be doing something unique and special.”

He concludes his article with this statement—

radical Christianity was a well-intentioned attempt to address lukewarm Christians in the suburbs, but because it is primarily reactionary and does not provide a positive construction for the good life from God’s perspective, it misses “radical” ideas in Jesus’ own teachings like “love.”

I have a couple of thoughts of my own about this reaction to the missional movement.

Truths from God’s Word Do Not Shame

I agree that the verses referred to by Dr. Bradley are ways we ought to live life. I don’t agree that they are antithetical to scripture that calls us to care for the orphan and the widow. Or other verses that compel us, even command us, to make disciples. These verses convict me to use what God has blessed me with to bring Him glory. Conviction is different from shame.

Rhythm of Life

Soma Communities does a good job of teaching how to live a missional lifestyle within the rhythm of life.

missional or radical Christian lifestyle doesn’t cause stress, otherwise Jesus would have been stressed and burnt out. Trying to live life from our own strength causes it. This is true whether we live in a comfortable, suburban Christian environment, or we live in a dusty village in Northeast Thailand among animists and Buddhists.

I grew up in church trying to follow the rules. I remember feeling stressed trying to live a “Christian” life. Then I learned that abiding in Jesus Christ, loving Him, and obeying Him has a rhythm. A restful rhythm.

He Has All of Me

Today, Jesus Christ owns my life to do with as He wills—that is radical. Because He is a missionary God, if He has my life, He will send me. That is missional.

What about the Christian lifestyle stresses or burns you out?



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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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13 thoughts on “Is Missional Becoming the New Legalism?

  1. Kenny, I’m so glad you continue with your blogging, I really enjoy reading it and meditate on some of the points. Words that are important to me like prayer, faith and action were already mentioned here by others. From a personal experience I’m better at being pulled rather than pushed and have to say pushing others to do what I want or see important never really works either. However “doing together” with God and others what God has prepared or is doing already has taken me to places I’d never imagined not only physically but also and most importantly spiritually. I think often we get hung up on giving titles to what we’re doing instead of just doing what we are called to do here.

    • Martina, you always do a great job of encouraging me. Thank you!

      I like your last sentence—”I think often we get hung up on giving titles to what we are doing instead of just doing what we are called to do here.” Great insight!

  2. I think that sometimes we Christians put what we call “radical Christians” on a pedestal. These people are usually the ones that have given years in the mission field, sold all of their possessions, lived in a car, or things of that nature. I think we forget that God has called us all to be radical in our faith and He has given us each a mission in life whether we go across the world or we stay in our small towns to live out our faith. One of the most Godly women I know is a stay at home mom and is currently battling breast cancer. Her attitude in this temporary trial has given a new definition of “radical Christianity” to me. Not to say that she doesn’t struggle, but that she realizes that ,with God, she will pull through those struggles. We are currently doing Crazy Love at Sunday School and I’ve enjoyed trying to figure out how to be radical in my faith while I live in my small town and go to work each day. If by following God’s instructions for your life, you make a difference in someone else’s life, then I think that is being on the path of radical Christianity.

  3. Kenny, I understand and agree with your sentiments. I have found that being on mission is best as a natural flow out of the love relationship with Christ. I also understand the need for the “push” of being on mission from church leaders. I think there can be a positive response to the push, and a negative one, depending on the maturity of the believer. But I have found that it takes a push to get some in the game, and when they do, they grow, even if it started with a little pressure.

    • Kenny,

      Thanks for pointing out the fact that this is a life rhythm and I believe it starts, grows and ends in prayer, mixed with quiet time and putting faith into action. I think Keith hits the nail on the head too with “sometimes leaders need to apply a little pressure”.
      After Michelle and I went on our first mission trip to Thailand we felt impressed to pray for 9 people that they would experience missions in Thailand. We went home and told these individuals what God laid on our hearts and all of them said no way. We said we’d pray and that they should too. They have now all been to Thailand and one couple is now on mission in Ecuador, another has spent over a year in Thailand and recently married, in another year they will be looking for their specific mission field (even if it’s in the U.S.). The others are all living their lives as they should be, being a missionary where they are at.
      We often say we didn’t become missionaries on the plane to ???, we were missionaries where we were and now we’ve moved. Our pastor here says “you are either the missionary or the mission field”, I like that, be a missionary wherever you are and keep looking to the Lord to see if you are where He wants you. However if you are feeling comfortable and secure in what you are doing, you may want to get alone with the Lord. It’s been our experience that He doesn’t let us get to comfortable.

      Thank for the read Kenny

    • Keith, first of all thank you for subscribing to my blog via email.
      I find this comment interesting, “I also understand the need for the “push” of being on mission from church leaders. I think there can be a positive response to the push, and a negative one, depending on the maturity of the believer.” It is a matter of semantics maybe, but I think people respond better to leading by example. When a leader shares a personal story with me about how they are living a missional life it encourages me to live the same way.

  4. To the point of your original post, maybe it’s trying to become someone other Christians would accept.

  5. What stresses me out about the Christian lifestyle? Trying to become someone God would accept. That is a lie that I cannot get to go away.