What comes to your mind when you hear the word “radical”? You can think of math (square roots), extreme politics (the radical right or left), grammar, or perhaps more rarely, roots. When I hear the word “radical”, I think of revolution and extreme difference. What then of radical Christianity? Let’s go for “root” rather than “revolutionary” when we speak of it.Some time ago the book Radical by David Platt came out, talking about living some “radical” version of Christianity. On the cover is a house turned upside down, as though the roots of modern Christianity must fly skyward for good things to start happening again. In modern Christianity we do have a lot of things to change, even starting from the roots. Once we make the root changes, we have to turn away from the roots and start caring for the branches. The initial uprooting is thrilling, but once we sink the roots of our Christianity into Christ, it is easy to lose the long-term goal of fruit in the tedium of pruning and weeding.
Being “radical” in the Christian way means that we root our Christianity into a new normal rather than fight in an ongoing revolution. After a certain point, radical excitement ends. Perhaps excitement about the roots returns in twenty years when the roots are clogging up the water lines, but real Christianity happens with “a long obedience in the same direction” rather than regular 180-degree repentances. Trees have to remain in the same place for a few years before they can start to reliably produce fruit.
The life of the tree comes from the roots, but it does not play itself out in the roots. The life of the tree comes out in the branches and ultimately the fruit, and gardeners attend to the branches much more carefully than the safely sunken roots. Even though extensive pruning and limbing can happen above, the gardener does not disturb the roots again after they go into the intended soil. If you must be radical, be radical in view of the harvest that God expects rather than for the excitement of digging and uprooting.
Putting aside the shovels of radicality and taking up the pruning shears of spiritual husbandry is all about maturing purposefully. We have to leave time for God to improve the condition of the fruit that we takes from us. We have to tend to the leafy mysteries above rather than the well-turned dirt beneath. Christ, as the place we root our Christianity, does not change; the branches relying upon the roots do change. Gardeners have to be sure that the branches bear fruit, so they actively prune branches that hinder the growth of fruit. The gardeners put water and fertilizer down for the roots, but they do not disturb their growth again.
Rightly placed, the roots will sink down of their own accord. We water and fertilize at the roots, but they do not have to be pruned as the branches do. If you want radical Christianity, Christianity at the roots, then you will have to go for Jesus’ normal rather than Jesus Revolution. To talk about roots and trees from a different angle, I have it on good authority that Jesus has a department that is all about planting in soil that has never before been tilled. If you want a piece of the action taking care of roots, do not potter about the established orchards but go where there are not yet trees. If you always poke about the roots of well established trees, then you may very well become fruitless yourself. If you plant where there are no trees, then you will bear fruit indeed.