Thursday, February 05, 2015

Runaway Radical review



Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World Paperback – February 24, 2015


This book is coming out soon.  I'd thought I'd review it here for you.  I'm not very experienced with book reviews, and no two book-reviews are the same, but I'll just jot down some of the many things I was thinking as I was processing this gem.

Quick synopsis: When Jonathan began to get serious about his faith, it encompassed all of his life.  He was the radical -- giving to the poor, helping the poor, serving kids in the area, helping at church, going on missions, loving deeply etc.  His life gave all the signs of someone living passionately for Christ.  Ultimately he decides to spend a year in Africa serving the underprivileged and hurting.  His faith and passion for people is honorable.

But the year wrecks him.  He is spiritually abused by power-wielding leaders, both by those present with him in Africa and by those in America.  It's heartbreaking.  Numerous times I just wanted to leap into the story and rescue this soft-hearted young man from the grips of idiot pastors and missionaries.  To them, Jonathan was a chess piece to move as they willed.  He was completely under their control.

In the midst of this abuse (which lasts the time he is in Africa, which ends up being shorter than intended), Jonathan's understanding of his faith crumbles.  Depression sets.  The abuse is made complete.  The end reads as really a series of journal entries, blog posts, and thoughts of both Jonathan and his mother throughout their grieving process.  It is really great stuff.  He eventually finds his faith again, albeit a bit changed.

If that were the entire book, I would heartily recommend it to anyone.  But it is the motive-level wrestling that the reader is invited into that really makes the book shine in my opinion.  What was it that drove Jonathan to Africa to care for orphans?  Why did he care for the poor?  What made him want to take these radical steps?

I work for a missions organization.  I ask or send lots of students on these missions trips every year.  The one thoughts I kept having was, "I'd really like to pass this book out to those considering one-year missions trips."  It would serve as both a caution and a sort of litmus test of the heart.

You can accomplish great things for God for many reasons.  Yet the faithful way, the Christian way, is a drive to serve and love passionately and radically because you've just been enraptured in the love and life of your King Jesus.  No other motive will work.  No other motive will last.  And every other motive will end up in disappointment, disillusionment, and/or despair.

Not "I need to tell people about Jesus so they don't go to Hell!"  Not "The poor have nothing, let's help them!"  Not "What it means to be a seriously real Christian is to be a missionary!"  Not "I need to do God pleasing things!"  Not "I'm going to be radical for Jesus!"

But instead say, "Jesus you are the best thing that has ever happened to me."  Like watching a movie, and just being so in love with what you've seen you can't help but share it with others.  Not out of duty, but out of sheer delight in what you've seen.

Every missionary should check their motives regularly.  Jonathan leads us here, and for that I'm grateful.  He invites us deep into his reasons for being the way he was, and doing the things he did.  What he found deep in his heart was perhaps not as great as he would've liked, yet he had the courage to go there nonetheless.

I think if we all had the courage to dig as deeply, we'd be pretty disillusioned and despairing of what we've found as well.  I hope Jonathan's story will encourage others to check their "Radical" Christianity in favor of a more faithful, loving one.

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