Radical Spirituality: Repentance, Resistance, Revolution
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Michael Anthony Howard
The Kingdom language of the New Testament implies an entirely new order. If we are not a part of that order, we participate in the disorder of the world. Sadly, much of the church today is self-serving, entertainment oriented, and has more in common with the disorder of the world than God’s Kingdom. By seeking to be attractional, the church has lost its ability to be transformational. Radical Living, a community of Christ’s followers embedded deep within the rhythms of Brooklyn, offers an alternative. As cofounder Jason Storbakken describes it, Radical Living is an intentional community of Christ’s followers aimed at impacting the world around them with the lived Gospel.
Radical Spirituality: Repentance, Resistance, and Revolution is Storbakken’s personal testimony mixed with an articulation of his radical ecclesiology. He articulates his own call to discipleship in light of the practices of the early church through the lens of his Hutterite ancestry. This allows Storbakken, who is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA, to tell the story of his journey to faith in a way that is rooted firmly in the gospel, yet simultaneously colored by his own nonconformist and anarchist convictions. By sharing his story, he illustrates how Radical Living embodies many of the same characteristics of other New Monastic intentional communities, while emphasizing its focus on liberation.
Storbakken’s ecclesiastical vision is unapologetically womanist and empire critical. Too many Christians today identify more with empire than they do with Jesus, who Storbakken rightly reminds us was a first-century peasant that began a nonviolent revolution. Thus, too many Christians today identify more with empire than with those who suffer from the consequences of empire. This danger is especially true for Christian men of European decent, like Storbakken. “If a straight white Christian man does not actively seek to identify with the marginalized and oppressed,” Storbakken explains, “he will easily find himself identified with the oppressor. Thus, to deepen in commitment to the way of Christ, straight white men must take a posture of continual repentance, in particular repenting of their complicity with white supremacist society” (107).
Dismantling the structures of societal injustices, for Storbakken, is what following Jesus is all about. This helps highlight why repentance, as he describes it, implies revolution. Metanoia, which can mean change, can also mean overturning. This language of change and overturning implies a revolt against the present order, against the hopelessness and greed of the present system, against measuring ourselves according to the standards of this world. “In the Kingdom of God there is hope and justice and enough—enough food, enough resources, enough housing, enough love—for everyone” (97). Storbakken sees John the Baptist and Jesus as first-century revolutionaries. Unlike the violent revolutionaries of their day—such as Simon of Perea and Judas of Gamala, who are now merely side notes in history—John and Jesus never raised a sword or ordered others to kill. Nevertheless, they initiated a movement for peace and justice that continues today in communities like Radical Living. “When Jesus sent his disciples into the world,” Storbakken tells us, “he began a perpetual revolution that will not end until it is ‘on earth as it is in heaven” (101). Thus, discipleship is central to how Jesus chose to do this overturning and recreating.