A grand vision for the Christian life
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, discusses his new book, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome, with Towers book review editor Matt Damico.
MD: Why did you write Risky Gospel?
OS: I wrote Risky Gospel because everybody today wants a Snuggie. You’ve heard about that commercial where you have this person sort of snoozing on the couch and they’re wearing this weird fleece blanket over them. Well, evangelicals want their own Christian version of a “gospel Snuggie.” We’re tempted today, at the very least, to want everything to be nice, neat, clean, easy and comfortable.
This spirit has very much affected the evangelical church. I looked at myself and I looked at my peers and I thought, “This is a problem; something is off.” And that became especially clear when I was reading through the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and reading about how Jesus commends this righteous servant who goes at once and makes more talents. Now, when you work off of the parable of the talents, oftentimes as a Christian, you apply it to money management or financial stewardship. That’s fine, but in that parable and in other places in Scripture, as I was studying it for my own personal benefit, I came to see that, really, that’s a way of life that Jesus is giving us. He’s outlining a mentality that I think many of us have lost in wanting endless ease and comfort to be ours. So that’s what drove me to write Risky Gospel, to disturb the peace, so to speak.
MD: What are some of the temptations and misconceptions you’re trying to address in Risky Gospel?
OS: We have witnessed a lot of change in the last few years. We’ve seen an economic crisis arise; over a decade ago the very foundations of our society were shaken, many of us still have not recovered from different aspects of the financial crisis. We’re in an age when the moral fabric of America is stretched and tested and seems, in some places, even to be breaking. This can be a scary moment for a lot of us, especially younger Christians who are witnessing these watershed cultural developments and don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to find their place in this new public square and this new cultural moment.
So, I’m going hard after those mindsets and those problems, and I’m trying to encourage Christians, in the power of the gospel, to see that we don’t have to fear the world. We don’t have to worry about what people are going to think about us. We’re not called to do brand management. We want to be wise and winsome, but at the end of the day what we are most called to do is follow Jesus, and make disciples and glorify the Lord in our daily lives.
So, those are some of the challenges I’m tackling in the book, and those are some of the solutions I’m trying to offer Christians in this day and age, especially younger Christians who don’t really know what they’re supposed to be doing with their lives in these uncertain times.
MD: What makes your book unique compared to some similar books, like Don’t Waste Your Life and Radical?
OS: Like so many other Millennials, I’ve been galvanized by John Piper’s writings. He’s really kicked-off this massive explosion of full-throttle, sold-out Christianity grounded in the cross work of Jesus Christ. So, I definitely have been influenced by Don’t Waste Your Life and other books -— Desiring God, Future Grace.
I think Risky Gospel is a part of the new radicalism. My contribution, though, as I see it, is to show believers that it is fantastic for you to be sold-out for Jesus, leave all your stuff and go far far away to tell people about the gospel — and many more of us need to do that, so may that only increase.
But here’s the deal: if you don’t move overseas, if you stay in your suburban house, if you continue to drive your SUV, or go to class, or work at your job or whatever it may be, if you go to the same church you’ve gone to for 20 years and nothing drastically changes in your life, but you still decide that you want to go all out for Jesus, you are leading a radical life. You’re leading a life of gospel risk, as I talk about in the book.
In other words, you’re trading in a small vision of your life that’s motivated by comfort, ease and prosperity, for a life that is driven by Jesus, a massive vision of his glory, his awesomeness and his authority, and you are resolving in every facet and corner of your existence to give him glory. I want to bring a lot of people back to the table and help them see that they, too, can lead a sold-out, risky, radical life in the power of the Spirit.
MD: What does it look like for a Christian to live fearlessly for God?
OS: Christians can live fearlessly whether they’re staring down terrorists who want to kill them, or whether they are staring down bills that are looming over their head. Christians can fundamentally view life in gospel-driven terms and see Jesus as the point of all things, and that understanding can infuse all of their daily labor with purpose, and meaning and value.
Too many of us still fall into this trap, where we think that if we’re not in full-time ministry, if we’re not sharing the gospel this very instant, then we’re not doing ministry and we’re not glorifying God. And I am trying, in Risky Gospel, to recapture an all-of-life understanding of Christianity.
If you are going to work and you are pouring your energy into that and you’re trying to make God look big and great by the way that you labor, you’re living a life of gospel risk. If you are at home and you’re changing the diapers and you’re caring for the kids and you are answering the thousandth question of the day about when there’s going to be a snack, and you’re laboring that way day after day, you are leading a life of gospel risk. If you’re a student, and you’ve got all these exams and all these papers and things to do and books to read, but you’re taking it on because you want to think better and you want to take dominion for Jesus, again, you’re leading a life of gospel risk.
All of those examples, and many many more, show Christians who are trading in a small and insufficient, malnourished vision of life and Christianity, and who are buying into a big vision of life fueled by God, his glory and his gospel. All of us have the opportunity to lead that kind of life, a life of gospel risk, in our own way.
MD: Why should a Christian be concerned for his or her community and society beyond proclaiming the gospel?
OS: In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus calls us to be salt and light. So Jesus doesn’t want Christians removed from the fray, watching it all from a safe distance, not plugged into their communities and their neighborhoods. Jesus wants us to be intimately, closely involved with the workings of our surroundings.
We’re also called, in the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Many of us remember that we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We know that we’re supposed to have good devotions and go to church, and we must do those things. But we are also called to love our neighbors. Now, I don’t think that means just baking them cookies. (I think that’s fantastic. Bake them chocolate chip cookies; I would like a plate myself.) But, I think we also need to get out there and get active and love our neighbors in all kinds of ways, namely by supporting the fabric of the community. Communities are vital, vibrant organisms, and if Christians retreat from those settings, then they’re going to leave people to wither and not to thrive and flourish. We want people to thrive; we want them to flourish in a holistic sense.
So, we’ve got to seek good legislation. We’ve got to try to have good, morally driven environments. We want good laws to be on the books. We want people to be protected. We want evil to be punished. We want to reach out to people who are not like us. For these and many other reasons, Christians need to be salt and light in tangible and practical ways in their communities.
MD: What do you hope readers take away from Risky Gospel?
OS: I hope readers come away from Risky Gospel with a red-hot passion to serve Jesus wherever they are. I hope they take the book, read it and then pray big prayers to an awesome God, and ask him to send them into whatever field of service he wants them to labor in. And that may mean a change. That may mean drastic change for some readers who are captivated by this vision of God’s awesome gospel and the Lord of the gospel, Jesus Christ.
It also may mean, for some readers, that they stay exactly where they are and that they approach their daily tasks and work and calling with fresh vigor and passion and energy. And so, Risky Gospel, by God’s grace, could end up sending them back to work and back to labor in the fields and harvest that God has given them.
So, I would love for there to be lots of different applications of the book. But most of all, I want sold-out Christians who see that life is not about avoiding toughness and difficulty. Following Jesus does not necessarily mean that life is going to get easier. Being sold-out for Christ may mean that life gets harder, but if you’re following the Lord and serving him in the way he wants you to, that’s a good thing, because you’re going to store up crowns and treasures in the life to come that will never fade. That is worth far more than hiding out and being safe and comfortable in this life.
Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College and executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Risky Gospel is available at all major Christian bookstores.