800px Blind Leading the Blind by Lee Mclaughlin


Our friend Dale Fincher is founder and president of Soulation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people become more fully human. He does this work with his wife, and together they lead thousands of souls into life and health through Jesus. His personal experience of spiritual abuse gives him a special vision for responding to Anthony Bradley’s charge that the “radical” mindset brings legalism and shame.

Read Live58’s earlier response to Bradley here.

When shame is crouching at the door, legalism is entering the house. That is Anthony Bradley’s concern in his recent viral article, “The New Legalism: Missional, Radical, Narcissistic, and Shamed.”

Missional philosophy, spearheaded by Lesslie Newbigin, is outlined in this article. Bradley’s shame detector notes an unanticipated, insidious theme in the modern “missional movement” that troubles many of us: a disdain for the ordinary. By ordinary, he means the unobserved vocational work of God in the repetitive life of most faithful Christians: the software programmer, the graphic artist, the window cleaner, the small business owner, the working mother.

I don’t believe missional philosophy is to blame. Perhaps the emotional appeal to crisis found in missional culture—digging wells, ending poverty and sex trafficking during our generation—gets extra emphasis for the fear that millennials are leaving the church. It’s seeker sensitivity in a new direction: be missional for millennials.

Missional thinking begins not with glorification of extraordinary Christians. In fact, the definition of “missional” is so broad, it is best defined by a long list of values.

But something has gone awry with many missional followers. They’ve fallen into a fear that following Jesus might lead them to the most uncomfortable place: ordinary living.

Have you heard that one of the major problems with young people is their narcissism? Brene Brown in her new book, Daring Greatly, offers another diagnosis. What appears as the narcissistic—”look how awesome my life is” Facebook status/tweet on Twitter—culture is a new manifestation of the “shame-based fear of being ordinary… the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

Shame-based fear is nothing new. Yet shame has found a new foothold. Missional Christians often derive their steam for their extraordinary, radical lives by re-appropriating the “old time religion’s” shame as their motivator. Through radical sacrifice, missionals want what their parent’s want: to increase the Protestant Church’s numbers again and give it a purpose.

Seeking to be novel and “radical” is not new to the Protestant Church. During my teen years in the late 80s and early 90s I heard Christian conference leaders preach on how to get “out of our comfort zone,” be “sold out,” and be a “Jesus freak.” In the minds of my leaders, unless I was “on fire” and shared their relentless enthusiasm, I did not love God enough.

Shame-based fear said my love for the God of Israel was measured by my emotional fervor. We bought T-shirts, albums, and joined a self-described “movement” that has now become a lucrative industry of its own. It was easy to point to who was out and who made it “in.”

Today, how easy is it to assume that a family who has adopted a child from another country is more spiritual than a family who has not? Or a couple who lives in the inner city than a couple who lives in the suburbs? We still have our list of who makes the spiritual grade.

I’ve witnessed the “missional movement” evolve into a product for sale, taking others’ ideas and repackaging them as their own.

In American culture, salesmanship usually requires guilt and shame to move a product and create a following and a lifestyle that captures our desire to be unique. That has created a shame culture that is not present in missional philosophy.

When shame runs the show, we are all eager to one-up each other to prove that we belong. This problem is not limited to Christians. We are, unfortunately, copying the secular world.

We believe Angelina Jolie is more loving because she’s adopted children from around the globe. We admire celebrities who use their money for poverty and world hunger.  Bland, suburban living gets mocked by both the church and the secular zeitgeist. It is no longer culturally risky to be “risky.” 

Perhaps most concerning to me and my work in helping end shame (soulation.org) is the missional temptation to be “more spiritual” by doing more, giving more, sacrificing more. You cannot drown shame by doing. You can only drown shame by allowing God to heal your humanity with grace.

I value the way missional philosophy has resurrected the importance of casting a vocational net for our entire lives. I respect how missional Christians refuse to be apathetic to the needs of suffering internationally. But I do not buy into the strain of exclusivity that missional Christianity promotes.  

A wealthy Christian is considered suspect unless she is donating her money for certain missionally-approved enterprises: such as wearing TOMS shoes, raising funds for wells in Africa, ending human trafficking, to name a few.

But if you are a wealthy Christian who chooses another road: owning a second home, faithfully loving your biological kids with emotional health, taking your family on ski vacations in winter, trips to Mexico on spring break, your spirituality is immediately suspect. 

How faithful are you to God if you’re not sacrificing until it hurts? How can you honor God when your house or your car or your clothes cost that much? Haven’t you heard it’s shameful to be in the 1 percent?

Quietness and humility, obedience and faithfulness, culture-creating through beautiful, ordinary living is still a mark of the Spirit of God (Isaiah 30:15).

To my mind, the missional movement has conflated sacrifice with obedience. God separates the two and I recommend we do the same (1 Sam 15:22). Sometimes an obedient life looks like going to Africa on mission, other times it looks like living in suburbia where you can love your spouse, your children and work quietly as unto the Lord.

Practical suggestions for the missional-minded

  • Develop a healthy view of money and power. Don’t amplify shame toward those who have it. Instead, look for fruits of the Spirit.
  • Ask non-missional people how they demonstrate love for God. Consider their quieter ways of sacrifice. They may be missional in practice too but in unnoticed ways.
  • Remain suspicious that sacrifice is a mark of holiness.
  • Refuse to compete with one another on a spiritual scorecard.

What are your thoughts on Dale’s response? Do you have your own response to Anthony Bradley’s article? Let us know in the comments below!