Can radical book tours change the world?

Young Anabaptist Radicals, quoting from Mark Van Steenwyck, Jesus Manifesto, asks if radical book tours can change the world. Here’s the challenge:

It seems to be assumed that the way we can build a movement in our society is by writing books, building platforms, and then touring around using our amassed social capital to woo large numbers of people to being a part of the movement. This often, it seems to me, leads to a sort of coopted radical space where folks never have to go beyond the figure head who is leading the movement.

Ouch! Now THAT’s a comment that grabs my attention. A verbal hand grenade lobbed at radical Christian authors. But, lest I get too comfortable, not being an author and all, there’s this:

Let’s be honest here: provocative ideas sell. If challenging the ideological status quo was a risky endeavor, dozens of authors (like Noam Chomsky, Shane Claiborne, Naomi Kline, or…to a much lesser degree…myself) wouldn’t have any career at all. Radical ideas matter, but the bread-and-butter of radicalism is radical activity. In other words, radical ideas must submit to radical action.

This draws me into deep self reflection. Am I more words than action? What radical acts have I engaged in lately? Well, I’m reasurred that it didn’t take long for some incidents to bubble to the surface, even from last weekend. But nevertheless, I found Mark’s commentsa very probing.

6 thoughts on “Can radical book tours change the world?

  1. It’s always good to ask question.
    I’d also note that depending on what radical ideas and radical actions you’re talking about, even words and more talking can be action in itself. For example, if one your radical ideas is building bridges with people outside of your own faith community, I’d argue spending time talking to people people outside your faith community is more than “just words.” 😉


  2. Thanks Jarred, actually one of the things I’m thinking of from last weekend was when I went and hung out with the ‘undesirables’ at the local Christmas carols. They were off to one corner, hanging by themselves and drinking and generally making themselves unapproachable to ‘respectable types’. But I thought, what the heck, and walked on up. I soon recognized two of them from some often stuff I’d down around the place and said, “Hey, I know you, you’re friends with…” and they were quite taken aback. So, ended up chatting for a while and deconstructing a few stereotypes both ways. Uncommon associations can lead to uncommon conversations.


  3. I imagine that was an awesome experience for everyone involved, Matt.
    As I thought more about this topic, I find myself wondering if part of problem behind the disconnect is that people overlook the simple, practical applications of these ideas in the face of all the hype. I mean, when you have leaders throwing around flashy words like “revolutionary,” I think it’s easy to look for flashy actions in response. So most everyone’s looking for that big revolutionary thing to do, and only a few stop to notice the “undesirables” at a party and think about what a simple, yet significant act it is to approach them. And even those who do think to do such simple things often undervalue them, thinking it’s not “big enough.”
    So perhaps one of the things that need to be stressed is that sometimes, a “revolutionary” idea is “revolutionary” because of how simple it really is.


  4. Oh, the other thing I’d note is that I’m hesitant to just how much of this disconnect between ideas and actions I’d lay at the feet of the authors and other leaders. Yes, they could probably do a better job in some ways, but then you can’t force people to act either. And I’ve known more than well meaning minister express frustration about how his congregation sat through an excellent and pointed sermon — even praised it — and then fell through when it came to applying the message of the sermon to their lives.
    In fact, come to think of it, I seem to recall Jesus having the same issue with his own disciples from time to time. So if the Son of God had trouble getting his immediate followers to “get” and follow through on his teaching from time to time, why should we be surprised when mere mortals don’t often get better results? 😉


  5. If what we’re hearing from the pulpit or the book is not translating into living differently, we need other sorts of leadership than just preachers and authors.
    Parents do not usually teach their children in lecture format, they do life with their children and teach them on the way.
    And so in areas where people are agreeing with what they hear (and presumably the activist is living it out himself) we need someone who is living it to take us by the hand and help us there.
    The Church needs pastors in that sense of the word, and they’ll be different people from the author/speaker times and often different from the leaders that go by the title of pastor.


  6. Jarred, actually I like the subtitle to Shane Clairborne’s “Irresistable Revolution”. It’s “living as an ordinary radical”. For me, a big part of it’s about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, the big things in the little things.
    As for inactive Christians, personally I think the problem goes beyond leaders and followers to the system itself, the system we’ve allowed to subvert the Spirit. It’s been said, an audience will never lead a revolution … so why do we treat disciples like audiences? This goes back to our understanding of church and the movement that gave birth to it. What is church? To my way of thinking, the original concept was much more akin to a coven or revolutionary cell than a rock concert. The first act of revolutionary Spirit is to act “as if”. To be the change you want it to be. If communication is 80% nonverbal, the first step in discipling people in radical Christianity is to act radically Christian.


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