“When was the last time you did something that was a little bit risky? I don’t mean ‘use the bathrooms at the local fast-food taco place’ risky; I mean something truly risky.”
So begins Kyle Idleman’s forward to the book Risky Gospel. In the book, author Owen Strachan puts forth a challenge that makes advances on the taco joint bathroom stall seem as tame as walking across your living room to pick up the remote control. As Strachan pries back the selfish armor of our hearts, we find ourselves realizing that “we play it safe, keep things calm…and stay stuck.” And that’s not at all a good way to live.
Building Something Awesome: Interview with Owen Strachan, author of Risky Gospel
With cultural awareness, sympathetic understanding, biblical integrity, and skillful writing, Owen Strachan lays out the case for gospel risk taking. Unlike Priscilla and Aquila, today’s Christians are not that likely to “risk our necks” (Romans 16:2) literally or figuratively for the sake of the gospel. Risky Gospel says um, yeah, so that’s not exactly what the gospel is all about. So, Strachan talks about risk, because as he demonstrates, “it’s the only way to live.”
Upon the publication of this book at the end of November, we got together with author Owen Strachan for a conversation about risk, his writing, and rap albums (sort of).
Sharefaith: The book apparently addresses a current and acute need among American Christians. How was the book born? What prompted its writing and development?
The book was born out of my personal study of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). I had only heard it referenced during discussions of wealth — ”See, Jesus is calling us to save our money with a good bank.” When I reread this parable and studied it deeply, I saw that Christ wasn’t just teaching tips for investment, but a way of life. The faithful servant was bold and aggressive in the name of his master. The wicked servant was fearful and unassertive. There’s a lesson here from Matthew 25; God is telling you to find great confidence in his saving gospel, and to get to work in his name.
At the same time, I saw in myself and other Christians a fearful, timid spirit. Life is hard; our culture is increasingly hostile to Christianity; many young people in particular don’t know what to do with their lives. These factors and others make us afraid. We don’t want to risk anything. We just want to huddle by ourselves, get through the day, not make anyone dislike us, and live comfortably and safely. The Parable of the Talents, and the gospel of Christ, calls us all — not just missionaries — to something greater: to risk our ease and comfort in order to glorify our Savior and experience true happiness.
Sharefaith: You serve on the CBMW, and are known for your bold view of biblical manhood and womanhood, a view which often cuts cross-grain to many conceptions. How does this topic get played out in the book?
I don’t talk a ton about gender roles specifically; I think Risky Gospel applies equally to both men and women. I want single young hipster dudes in Brooklyn to be fed by it, I want a young woman teaching third grade in rural Oklahoma to be charged up by it, I want parents who have lost their sense of calling to their children to be convicted by it, and I hope everyone in between is blessed by it. We’re all tempted to have a small gospel today. We want the gospel to do no harm. We want Jesus to be meek and mild. I think Scripture gives us a better call: it calls men and women alike to recognize that God’s awesomeness propels our faithfulness.
When I get to the more practical chapters, those that tackle how to “build something awesome” for Christ, there are a few places that apply more to one sex than the other. I want men, for example, to be godly and to step up and be courageous and win a woman’s heart so as to build a godly family. But most of the book can be applied by any Christian at any stage in life.
Sharefaith: Apart from the main issues that the book addresses — the need to face our fears with gospel boldness and risk-taking — what are some other glaring needs of the evangelical community at present?
We’re tempted to have a small view of our work, to simply punch the clock and go home. We’re tempted not to evangelize, but to pretend as if everyone’s okay and all religions are the same. We’re tempted not to speak up and defend our religious freedom, as if the gospel and wisdom are opposed. We need to recover a big gospel in our day, one that transforms every element of our lives. Christians used to talk and think like this. Today, if we have a comfortable life and no one hates us, we think we’re good to go. We need some Jesus-in-the-temple-like shaking up that wakes us out of our slumber and sets us on mission for God.
Sharefaith: You discuss the need to “put our comfort and ease and false security on the line.” This echoes some of the sentiment of David Platt’s Radical. Does the book share some of these themes, interact with any of Platt’s emphases, or take a different approach?
I appreciate Radical. I think Risky Gospel could be seen as an application of it to everyday life. Obviously Platt’s book applies, but I actually had not read it before I wrote my book. I was familiar with Platt’s challenge and Francis Chan’s work, and I saw similar problems in the church. But my book goes a pretty different way. I too want people to be charged up to support missions. But I wrote Risky Gospel for the college student who’s in debt and doesn’t know where to go in life. I wrote the book for the suburban dad who drives a minivan and feels like he doesn’t do anything important for God.
I wrote the book for a twentysomething woman in Washington, D. C. who is talented but not sure if she should use her talents in her vocation. I want people to see that the gospel transforms everyday living, but it doesn’t obliterate everyday living. If we’re grounded in the gospel, we can “build” big things for God. They may look small — families and careers and evangelistic witness to our neighbors — but they are not. They are cosmically important. Your daily commute in your SUV is cosmically important.
Sharefaith: I appreciated the selection of Kyle Idleman as the author of the foreword. How does Risky Gospel tie in with Not a Fan?
Kyle has challenged folks to embrace the gospel wild. I do something similar in Risky Gospel. We have pretty different content and messages. Like I said above, my particular focus is on how people can get from A to B to C. People who love Not a Fan and Radical and Crazy Love and other texts like those will find Risky Gospel similarly bold and humorous and fun, but with its own unique slant.
Sharefaith: “Risk” and “radicalism” can ignite a sense of bravery and excitement regarding the Christian faith. With this approach, however, Christians may feel that their own boring or unexciting faith doesn’t quite match up to the ideals of a radical or risky faith. With the emphasis on risky work, risky families, etc., do you think that elevating radicalism or risk may minimize the significance of the quiet and plodding faithfulness of “ordinary” Christians?
Great question. The “risk” I’m talking about in Risky Gospel is actually ordinary, everyday risk. In other words, I want people to risk their comfort, ease, and security. I want them to risk their small life for a bigger one, one fueled by a grand vision of an awesome God who doesn’t save us to make us afraid but fearless. But fearlessness doesn’t just or only mean selling everything you have and moving overseas. It also means being the best barista you can be. It means being the godliest mom you can be. The gospel transforms everyday life. It infuses all we do with purpose and hope. But if we’re going to taste the goodness of the godly life, we’ve got to put aside childish things. We’ve got to reject a small life. We’ve got to see all we see in IMAX. Every minute matters. Every decision matters. Forget goofing off and getting by — I want people to go all out for the Lord of heaven and earth.
Sharefaith: Do you anticipate any backlash or objections to Risky Gospel? Are there any positions or personalities that will be baited by the topics addressed or your positions on key issues?
I don’t anticipate trouble — though I’ve taken a risk in speaking a bold message. (That was a half-joke.) Some folks will disagree with my material, but I expect that. Some people want Christians to be so nice and like the world that the salt loses its saltiness, in my view. Many young Christians my age don’t want to be disliked for being a believer. Our movement is afflicted by a junior high mentality. We think that the worst thing in the world is being disliked or misrepresented. I look at the Scriptures and see Christ being crucified even as he loves the world. I see the apostles — 11 of 12 — dying for the faith. None of us should go out of our way to be hated, but Jesus told us we would be blessed if we were persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:11). We’ve lost that perspective today. I want to call fellow Millennials, especially, to avoid the popularity game and the beauty pageant. Let’s go hard after the glory of Jesus Christ and leave him to sort out the rest.
Sharefaith: If I’m not mistaken, this is your first non-biographical published book. Can we expect similar themes in the future? Another Christian living book? Maybe another rap album?
I’m writing my next book for Thomas Nelson on Chuck Colson, a man who lived the very kind of life I sketch in Risky Gospel. I also have a rap album planned in the next few months based on the theme of gospel risk. My immediate goal for it is to have someone besides my mom buy it. That’s a tough standard, but hey, I’m the guy who’s now written a book with the title “risky” in it!
About Owen Strachan:
Owen Strachan is executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and assistant professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. He also teaches for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. He is married to Bethany and is the father of two children.