“You don’t have to live crazy to follow Jesus.” As the subtitle, that statement is a great summary of Josh Kelley’s new book, Radically Normal. As you may have already guessed, this book was written in response to some movements in American evangelicalism that lay a guilt trip on Christians for not following Jesus in radical ways (i.e. selling all and going on the mission field). Kelley’s book is a fine complement to Matt Redmond’s The God of the Mundane (which I reviewed here).
Josh Kelley is the pastor of a smaller evangelical church in Washington State. Having been raised in conservative evangelical circles, he had met Christians who were overly zealous (“Radical Randy”) and Christians who were too lazy. These are two extremes: obsessive Christians and complacent Christians. In this book, Kelley refutes both of these extremes and argues for a more biblical way: following Jesus in “normal” ways. This is how he states his case – and what he unpacks in the book:
“[Many Christians] look at missionaries, street preachers, and pastors and feel certain they just aren’t on the same level as professional Christians. Too many Christians feel guilty for their normal, everyday lives, which doesn’t involve performing miracles, standing behind a pulpit, or sharing the gospel in a distant jungle. …They live under the burden of believing that God would have been a little happier if they had sold everything and become missionaries…. I’ve come to believe that the entire system is absolute nonsense, a trap of the enemy that puffs up a few Christians and deflates the rest” (p. 35, 46).
From a different angle, Radically Normal might be viewed as a book that discusses (in a positive way) everyday Christian spirituality. Kelley discusses evangelism, money, holiness, legalism, worldliness, suffering, and other such aspects of the Christian life. I appreciated how he tried to stay balanced and level-headed throughout the book. Using many personal stories, Kelley calls the reader to follow Jesus in a serious way, but he focuses on the Scriptures that talk about living “ordinary” lives while following Jesus.
I did put a few question marks in the margins as I read. I’m not wild about giving up something for Lent or holding a Passover meal, as Kelley explained. I also wish he would have spoken more about the church – he did, to be sure, in a positive way, but without much detail. More emphasis on preaching and the sacraments would also have been nice, since God’s ordinary means of grace have everything to do with living ordinary Christian lives.
All in all, this book, Radically Normal, is a helpful evangelical counterpoint to the “radical” American evangelical emphases and movements (emphases and movements which have been around for more than 30 years). It’s well written, not too difficult to read, and provides a good remedy for those Christians who feel guilty for not being radical. Thankfully, you (usually) don’t have to quit your day job to follow the Lord Jesus in a biblical, God-glorifying way.
*Note: this book was given to me by the author (thanks Josh!) and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*