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Radical: A Book Review
When a book has the word “radical” in the title, you can expect to be challenged. When a book is entitled Radical, you can expect to have your feet kicked out from under you. That is exactly what David Platt accomplishes with his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
Hebrews 10:24 says we need to provoke, stir up, spur on one another to love and good deeds. Those terms are challenging terms. Used in any other context, they would seem to be negatives, but in this context they are a positive. When someone prods us to move forward in our growth, it may at times feel like having a metal spur rammed into our flank, pushing us to go further and accomplish more than we thought possible. Platt wields his spur like a master horseman. He provokes us to see our financial blessings as something more than an opportunity for our leisure. He stirs us up to see our time as something more than calendar opportunities for our entertainment. He spurs us on to move past the entertainment based religion of the day and strive to be co-workers in the kingdom of Christ worldwide.
Chapter 7, “There is No Plan B,” is worth the price of the book. It contains a message we all need to hear. It contains a message that we all need to preach. In fact, I plan to preach it. The whole world stands condemned before God because we have all rejected Him. There is only one way to get back to God and that is through Jesus. There is only one way for folks to go through Jesus and that is if we, Jesus’ people, take the good news to them (Romans 10:14-15). I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be challenged. I am thankful to have read this chapter and received this challenge.
Further, “The Radical Experiment” (chapter 9) is, I think, a challenge many of us Christians ought to take. I have already begun talking with my family about how we can work on this experiment. He challenges us to take one year to 1) pray for the entire world, 2) read the entire Word, 3) sacrifice our money for a specific purpose, 4) spend time in another context, and 5) commit our lives to a multiplying community. I am convinced a year spent like this will change our lives, deepen our relationship with God, and change our outlook on our purpose in His kingdom.
Yet, I am not pleased with all of Platt’s work. While I hope they will not keep us from accepting the positive and truly biblical challenges he does make, I believe he makes three grave mistakes that muddy the waters of his challenges. They are mistakes I cannot ignore.
I will warn you that my objections are shocking. In fact, they might be considered by our mainstream religious culture as more radical than Platt’s book. But I ask you to read both Platt’s book and my objections to decide for yourself which is more biblical.
First, while Platt fears American Christianity has been hijacked by the American dream, I fear he wants to run headlong into an American fantasy. Platt mixes God’s real global mission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19, ESV), with what I believe is an American fantasy, “Go therefore and feed the poor of all nations.” The first is a mission we should take seriously. It is a mission for which Platt does challenge us and cannot possibly challenge us enough. The second is, based on my reading of the New Testament, simply not biblical. This book definitely teaches that it is not enough to feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked. Just doing good works is not accomplishing real good. We must do so in a way that points them to Jesus and His gospel. I applaud this point. The problem is, however, it also definitely teaches that it is not enough to bring the gospel to the lost, living water to the spiritually parched, eternal life to the dying. The global mission is not simply to bring Jesus to a lost and dying world but to bring social benefits to the bereft. We must clothe the naked, feed the hungry, provide medical benefits to the poor (chapter 6, “How Much is Enough,” drives this home).
Do I think the well-off should have compassion on the less fortunate? Absolutely. Do I think we should take it to heart that more than 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day? Yes. Do I think it is tragic that 26,000 children will die before you go to sleep tonight due to starvation and preventable diseases? How could I not? But did this just start in our lifetime? Or was it also like this and perhaps worse during the writing of the New Testament? Why doesn’t one of Paul’s letters read like Platt’s book? I can only guess it is because Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost, not feed and fix the hungry.
I find it ironic that while most religious American conservatives are in a fight with the present governing administration to stop the government from feeding the poor with our taxes, Platt is encouraging them to place that burden on Christ’s church. Before you are totally shocked that I should think the church does not bear this burden, please consider I Timothy 5:16. Paul tells individual Christians to care for their widows so the church will not be burdened with their care. If God did not want the church to even be burdened by caring for widows related to Christians, why would He want it to be burdened with providing social welfare for the whole world?
If Platt is right, the way we are to bring the gospel to the lost is by bringing social aid to them in the name of Christ’s church. If we bring people food and water, we might convince them to eat of Jesus and drink His living water too (John 6:53). In my opinion, this approach makes one huge colossal mistake. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). Platt’s approach suggests if American churches add all these things to the people in our own ghettos and in the impoverished third-world, then perhaps they will seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This approach gets it exactly backwards from God’s Word.
In chapter 2, “Too Hungry for Words,” Platt describes an experiment in his home congregation. What would happen if they removed the entertainment and just provided the Word of God? What would happen if they removed the appeals to our flesh in our congregational worship and edification and just focused on God and His Word? That is an awesome and radical challenge. They tried that and were pleasantly surprised with the results. I wonder what might happen if we took a similar approach to our evangelism. What if we removed the appeals of the flesh? What would happen in our evangelism if we took the living water to the spiritually parched and quit trying to send drinking water as the front man for Jesus? What if instead of trying to add “all these things” to the impoverished world, we simply taught them to seek God’s kingdom and He would add these things to them? Now that would be radical.
No doubt, someone will say, “But Jesus fed the 5000; we should do the same.” Please consider Mark 6 and John 6 again. Jesus did not try to attract people to His teaching by feeding them. Rather, after they had already followed Him and listened to His teaching (seeking first His kingdom and righteousness), He had mercy on them because it was so late and they were exhausted. But when these would-be followers returned seeking food instead of His kingdom and righteousness in John 6:22ff, Jesus refused to feed them and taught them to eat Him instead. Even Platt knows this, saying, “By the end of that speech, all the crowds had left, and only twelve men remained. Jesus apparently wasn’t interested in marketing to the masses” (Radical, p. 2). Platt describes this as shockingly radical, but neglects to see exactly how radical it is. Jesus refused to do the very radical thing Platt says we must do to take Jesus to the world. Not only was Jesus not interested in marketing to the masses, He was apparently also not interested in feeding the masses as a means to drum up followers.
Second, while Platt is a masterful communicator and certainly a great persuader, I simply cannot find biblical support for his idea that everyone should be going all over the world. No doubt, the global mission is for the gospel to be taken to all nations. But how did that get accomplished in the New Testament? Why doesn’t Paul have a letter that reads like Radical telling all Christians to travel into foreign places? Why did God only select Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:2 to be world travellers for His cause from the Antioch church? Why didn’t God give the challenge for everyone to go into a different context at least one week out of every year? Why do we actually only read of a handful of travellers in the New Testament?
I certainly agree with Platt that “going” means taking the gospel to people where they are (pp. 93-94) and I appreciate some of the creative ways he has done his work (setting up a “fortune teller” stand to tell the eternal future for folks in the French Quarter was great). But does God’s message of “go” mean making foreign missionaries out of all Christians? While I am emotionally pulled by Platt’s arguments and while I don’t want to discourage anyone who is able to make such trips, I just don’t see this universal plea in the New Testament and, therefore, cannot warrant the guilt trip Platt places on all Christians. In the New Testament, there were a handful of travelling teachers. The great majority were expected to take the gospel to the people they were around in their everyday lives. Those people would then take it to the people they were around and so on.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he did not rebuke them because too many of them were staying in Philippi and only sending him money. Rather, he praised them because they were providing him material support (Philippians 4:15). In fact, he impresses on them that they are partners in his work. They were in full fellowship. Though they were not travelling with him, they were part of the work and the fruit born from it was laid to their credit (Philippians 4:17).
Rather than going through pages of guilt tripping for those who haven’t preached in the Sudan, Sri Lanka, or Nigeria, I think more time should be spent focusing on the principles highlighted on p. 203.
Consider what happens when all of us begin to look at our professions and areas of expertise not merely as means to an income or to career paths in our own contexts but as platforms for proclaiming the gospel in contexts around the world. Consider what happens when the church is not only sending traditional missionaries around the world but also businessmen and businesswomen, teachers and students, doctors and politicians, engineers and technicians who are living out the gospel in contexts where a traditional missionary could never go.
I believe this is the crux of global mission. Does my job take me to the Sudan or the inner city of Indianapolis, then let me not just go there and make money. Instead, let me use that opportunity to share the gospel. Has God blessed me so I can spend thousands of dollars on a foreign vacation? Then perhaps I should consider a working vacation for the Lord instead of simple trip of personal leisure. Do I pass the homeless on my commute to work, then perhaps I should take some time out of my day to learn to serve selflessly and spread the gospel instead of yelling, “Hey, get a job!” Let’s work on equipping folks to see the opportunities for spreading God’s gospel in the seemingly more mundane opportunities and blessings God has given them. Let’s not simply lay heavy guilt trips on people as if those who have done their work in their own communities and only given money to foreign work are weak Christians. The church Platt describes at the beginning of chapter 4, “The Great Why of God,” which said they would rather the lost of the world die was despicable. However, there is no cause to make Christians who haven’t travelled to third world nations think they might remotely be like that church just because they have only talked to their own family, friends, and neighbors about Jesus.
Finally, I can’t ignore what I consider a great doctrinal error. While on page 103, Platt says, “Making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching people…,” on page 93, however, he makes a common modern day religious error about baptism. There he wrote, “We are to go and make disciples of all nations. Then we are to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (emphasis Platt’s). Regrettably, his writing on baptism follows what he said on page 93 and not page 103. This suggests that someone becomes a disciple and then is baptized. It teaches that someone becomes God’s forgiven child and is later baptized as a symbol of that change.
The Bible teaches differently. Jesus actually said in Matthew 28:19 that disciples are made by baptizing and teaching. They are not made and then baptized and taught. Further, in Mark 16:16, Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (ESV). It does not say, “Whoever believes is saved and should be baptized.” Further, in Acts 2:38 Peter taught in the very first sermon that the people should, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins…” (ESV). He did not teach that they should get the remission of sins and then repent and be baptized. Finally, according to Colossians 2:11-14, we are spiritually circumcised, forgiven, buried with Him, raised to walk with Him, and made alive with Jesus in baptism, not before. Additionally, it was in being baptized that we had the record of our debt cancelled, not before.
Platt asked two very important questions on page 3. “Was I going to believe Jesus?” And “Was I going to obey Jesus?” He definitely wants to take that approach when it comes to the “going” of Matthew 28:19. I hope he will also consider taking the radical step with what Jesus really says about baptism as well. Will we believe Jesus about baptism? Will we obey Jesus about baptism?
Though I have some grave disagreements with Platt’s book, I’m thankful for his challenges. I encourage you to read the book for those challenges and also to decide for yourself whether his concepts or my objections are true. While I disagree with his concept of the global mission for the church, I do believe Galatians 6:10 says individual Christians should do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith. Further, I recognize I Timothy 6:17-19 says we must not set our hope on our riches but rather be generous and share. God has blessed us to be a blessing, not simply to hoard our wealth. We should share with others because it is the right thing to do, not because it is the global mission for Christ’s church. Additionally, we should take seriously the challenge to remove the appeals to the flesh in our worship and discipleship, learning to love God’s word and glorify Him instead of wanting to be entertained. Finally, we do need to know there is no Plan B for the salvation of the lost. I needed that reminder.
–Edwin L. Crozier
*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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