Bradley said many Christian leaders have inadvertently encouraged the radical message by calling young people to make a difference and change the world. A growing disdain for American suburbs in favor of the inner city has also contributed as has the missional church movement, which encourages people to be missionaries in their own communities.
For many years, Christian legalism meant no drinking, smoking or dancing. Today, young adults struggle with a new form of it: the pressure to live radically for Christ.
It’s become such a concern that a slew of Christian books came out this year to extol the virtues of an “ordinary” Christian life.
Author Jonathan Hollingsworth wrote about his struggle in the newly published Runaway Radical.
“For me, it all started with the question, ‘Am I taking the words of Jesus seriously?'” he told CBN News.
Hollingsowrth answered that question in a radical way as a teenager, living comfortably with his middle-class family. He began to work with the homeless, then soon gave away his possessions. Finally, he left college to pursue missions in Africa.
“I was trying to prove to God that I was really dedicated to Him,” he explained. “And that to me is where the legalism crept in because legalism to me is sort of trying to measure your devotion to Him by your outward behavior.”
A New Legalism
This “new legalism” was first identified two years ago by Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City. He stumbled on the trend after numerous conversations with students.
A tweet he posted on how being “radical” and “missional” is the “new legalism” exploded over the Internet.
CBN News spoke with some students at The King’s College about the pressure they have experienced.
“There is a huge movement for this generation to make a difference, to have an impact and I think it’s just naturally seeped into the Christian world because you’re hearing stories of people who are starting non-profits when they’re 16,” Andrea Lopez explained.
Josh Chiang is considering a career in finance and said, “I think my biggest fear is ending up at some normal, average job doing normal stuff.”
Vincent Randazzo explained, “Growing up I was immersed in a culture, particularly an evangelical culture, that said ‘you’re going to do big things for God, Vincent. You’re going to change the world. You have so much potential’ and I got this from leaders, from ministry camps in the summer, from my church.”