The real meaning of radical? (Andrew Wooding)

Tuesday, 27 May, 2008

Andrew Wooding asks what it really means to be radical.

I don't know about you, but when I hear a word too many times in quick succession, it starts to lose its meaning for me. It becomes just a sound or a noise. Try it yourself! Pick any word ('hospital', say) and repeat it to yourself over and over. At some point you will stop thinking of a medical building where sick people go for treatment, and you will hear just a succession of sounds and syllables that don't mean a thing.

Olde FriarsThis very nearly happened to me at a meeting of fresh expressions practitioners a few weeks ago. One of the buzz words was 'radical' and I heard it so often, from so many people, that I started to wonder what it meant.

I once heard a church leader say that one of his church's core values was to be 'radical'. When a number of other churches followed his church's example, he felt deeply uncomfortable at no longer being the most radical church in his network and decided to make his church even more 'radical' – out-radicalling those new upstart radicals!

But what did 'radical' actually look like in his church? Was it the fact that their music was louder and more 'out there'? Was it the fact that they showed controversial film clips, booked provocative speakers or tried to be headline-grabbing? Was their clothing slightly different – more cutting edge? Be honest: is that sort of thing really radical?

A page on Share, God seeks to transforms society, stresses the importance of being radical, and poses the questions: 'Are fresh expressions radical enough?' and 'Will fresh expressions as a whole develop in a socially conservative or radical direction?' The page name-drops JustChurch in Bradford where, as part of their worship, members write letters on behalf of pressure groups such as Amnesty International.

Is JustChurch's music loud and different? I don't know. Are they radical in their dress, language or choice of visual aids? I haven't visited, so I'm really not sure. What I do know is that they believe God can truly make a difference on all levels in this society and make time to express this in a practical way.

Maybe in a society where so many individuals struggle with self-worth and acceptance, a community that simply seeks to be nice to people is radical … that values people for who they are, rather than what they can contribute to 'our fresh expressions project'.

One fresh expressions practitioner in London describes himself as counter-cultural. He expresses this by humbly opening up his house to people to hang out and relax, in a city where not many homes are open or welcoming. Not very controversial or out there, is it – but radical? I think so.

What does it mean to be radical for Jesus? What does it look like in our fresh expressions to be socially radical, trying to bring about change for the better in society? How far do we go with being theologically radical? In short: what, in God's kingdom, is the real meaning of radical?

About the author: 

Andrew Wooding is Share website editor.

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