Saturday, May 19, 2012

A BOOK REVIEW – David Platt, Radical

I. Introduction
David Platt is the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama; the church exceeds a four-thousand membership.  Platt’s education consists of three advanced degrees and a doctorate from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  His book under review is Radical.[1]  This review will include a summary of each chapter, a critical perspective, a personal application section, and conclude with brief reflections and recommendations for further study.  The purpose of this review will be to examine Platt’s views (specifically his understanding of “radical abandonment” to Christ) against the light of scriptural evidence, or lack thereof.       
II. Summary
Chapter one (Someone Worth Losing Everything For) attempts to answer the question of what “radical abandonment” to Jesus really means.  Platt readily admits he is the pastor of a large (mega) church and yet can’t help but think somewhere he has gone wrong.  He reflects on his church spending twenty-three million for a new building, yet only raising five thousand for refugees in Sudan (p. 16).  Platt cites examples of wealthy church members selling their homes, giving it all to the poor, and heading overseas in ministry (p. 20).  He concludes the chapter with the challenges to “commit to believe” and commit to obey” Jesus (p. 20) and that a believer’s “meaning” is found in giving for the sake of others (p. 21).
Chapter two (Too Hungry For Words) Platt recall his times spent outside the US with believers who have nothing but the word of God in their gatherings (p. 26).  He explains the human condition of being spiritually dead and blind (p. 31) and the biblical fact that no man can save himself (p. 32).  Platt argues against the “catch” phrases often heard in Christian circles about “accepting Jesus” into your heart; he emphasizes the believer’s total need for Jesus, not acceptance (p. 37).  Jesus alone is worthy of total surrender (p. 39).
Chapter three (Beginning at the End of Ourselves) stresses the importance of relying solely upon God’s power.  Platt contends the “American Dream” stresses our own power and abilities, while the gospel is solely centered on God’s power (p. 45).  Platt criticizes the American definition of the “successful church” (p. 49); entertainment, musical talents, and grand marketing strategies because it is done at the expense of prayer and calling out to God’s power (p. 51).  In essence, Platt calls all believers to imagine doing those things that only God can do, not them (p. 60).
Chapter four (The Great Way of God) Platt contends believers are created to enjoy God’s grace and to extend His glory (p. 65).  Platt objects to the concept of Christianity’s message being “God loves me”, instead he argues the message should be “God loves me so that I might make him - his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness – know to all nations” (p 70-71).  No matter where one lives, their hearts must be consumed with making the glory of God known to all nations (p. 77).  God has purposely designed the Christian’s life on a collision course with the world (p. 83).  
Chapter five (The Multiplying Community) Platt reminds his readers of the intensity and costly investment Christ made for His disciples; in fact Jesus lived for them (p. 89).  Jesus has asked His followers to do the same – ‘go and do the same’ (p. 90).  The context of “making disciples” is always done in a relational context (p. 93); learning God’s word should be done with the constant thought of how one can teach it to others (p. 102).  Platt contends something is terribly wrong when church members get saved and yet have no more impact on the world than before they were saved (p 105). Christians, who are true disciples, will have a life that involves going into the world risking their own lives for the sake of others (p 105).
Chapter six (How Much Is Enough?) examines the great gap of American wealth to a world in utter poverty.  Platt argues part of the problem rests in man’s sinful nature; choosing to ignore what we want and only seeing what we like (p. 108).  Platt makes it clear that caring for the poor does nothing for one’s salvation (p. 110), yet “materialism” could be a “blind spot” in American Christianity (p. 111).  Wealthy people, who neglect the needs of the poor, do not belong to God (p. 115).  Platt makes it clear; there is a war in the heart, a war against materialism (p. 136).  This is perhaps a blind spot that has been ignored for far too long in the Christian church.      
Chapter seven (There is No Plan B) examines seven scriptural truths that must be taken to the lost world.  To summarize: all people have knowledge of God, all people reject God, all people are guilty before God, all people are condemned for rejecting God, God has made away for salvation, all people must come by faith in Christ, and all believers are to take this message to all peoples (p. 143-157).  Platt argues a soft drink company in Atlanta has done a better job of getting sugar to the peoples of the world, than the church has done getting the gospel message to the world (p. 159).  Platt asks – “will we risk everything” to make the gospel known to all lost people groups? (p. 160). 
In chapter eight (Living When Dying is Gain), Platt attempts to argue both the risks and rewards of the “radical life”.  Platt argues the risks are clear – one’s life (p. 165).  The “radical life” will involve being betrayed, hated and persecuted (p. 166).  The rewards, on the other hand, will most assuredly not be associated with the “American Dream”; safety, security, comfort or greater prosperity (p. 171).  In fact, Platt argues the reward is indeed “radical” – since it is death (p. 179).  The great reward of the gospel is God Himself (p. 181). 
Chapter nine (The Radical Experiment) contains Platt’s one year plan that is to be utilized in turning the believer’s life upside down.  He encourages the reader to test his book’s claims to either discover them to be futile or reality (p. 183).  The challenge involves five components: pray for the entire world, read through the bible, sacrifice your money for a specific purpose, spend time in another context, and commit to a life that is multiplying community (p. 185).  He concludes with a summary of what he thinks the costs are in following Jesus: give up everything you have, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and go to places you may lose your life (p. 215).   When a martyr’s death becomes the “normal” characterization of obedience to Christ, then the believer has a “new normal” that is more concerned with eternal matters, than short term comforts (p. 216).       
III. Critique
            The first “red flag” that many evangelical conservative Christians may have, is the book’s endorsement by The Huffington Post’s writer, Jonathan Merritt; perhaps there is indeed a social gospel (curing the world’s ills) theme running heavily throughout Platt’s book.  Nevertheless, Platt’s book does raise some concerns in his treatment of specific scriptures to build upon his points.  Platt’s understanding of Mark 10:17-30 regarding the rich young ruler, is an example (p. 120-121).  Platt does not argue Christ will ask every believer to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor, but he does argue if Christ does, the believer must be willing to obey.  There is no problem here.  The problem arises when Platt argues the believer should ask God if this is His will for their lives (p 120).  This misses the entire point of the text.  Platt ignores, perhaps unintentionally the context of these verses; the rich young ruler had just told Jesus he had kept the law (verse 20), evidence of self righteousness, furthermore the young ruler was indeed genuinely seeking salvation.  Only Jesus, God in flesh, could have known the young ruler’s true love; his possessions. First and foremost, the young ruler had a heart problem, not an obedience problem.  At the same time, Platt is correct – God doesn’t give options for people to consider, He gives commands (p. 121).
            Dr. Gary Gilley, the long time pastor at Southern View Chapel in Springfield, IL gives a quick snap shot of some of Platt’s contradictions:        
• He condemns the American dream throughout the book (pp. 2, 7, 26-26, 48-50, 115, 119) and then concludes with an admission that every facet of the American dream is not negative (p. 214).
• He elevates, and gives examples of, people giving away all their wealth to the poor (pp. 13-17), then calls for simply placing a cap on our lifestyle so we can give more (pp. 127-128, 194-196).
• He complains of rich American churches as he pastors one of the richest in the country (pp. 15-19).
• He touts the story of a couple randomly giving away their possessions (p. 131) and then calls for informed giving so that our efforts are not wasted by giving to those who will misuse it (pp. 195-196).[2]
Perhaps the best way to described Platt’s views, taking into consideration the above, is that Platt almost implicitly sets up a ranking system among believers.  In other words, there are “first class” and “second class” followers of Christ.  He draws this out clearly in chapter eight: “Would I be willing for my wife and me to be that first missionary couple?  Would I be willing to be killed and cannibalized so that those who come after me would see people come to Christ?” (p. 165).  It appears as if Platt desires believers to do a thorough self examination, yet he fails to present any clear case that sacrificial living is not exemplified in works, but rather a changed heart.  By the end of this book, the reader may be begging for the gospel, the very message Platt argues believers should be willing to be cannibalized for simply because resting in God’s grace is virtually ignored.  In fact, even if every believer breathing today took Platt’s “radical” advice and gave all their money to the poor – the world’s spiritual condition and physical suffering would be absolutely no different.  One might argue there is an uncomfortable notion of a wealth redistribution philosophy underpinning some of Platt’s ideas, perhaps unintentional.          
IV. Personal Application
             After reading the first chapter, I had a sick feeling in my stomach this book would be an utter chore to read.  By the second chapter, probably the best chapter in the book, I became compelled to keep reading with a renewed sense of expectations.  This book does have its share of contradictions, some are so blaring I wondered how a pastor with Platt’s credentials and solid biblical doctrine could have missed them.  Nevertheless, the book heavily convicted me both in a spiritual and physical manner.  It also left me with many questions, good solid questions, which forced me to search scriptures in order to work out.
            There is no doubt, my financial giving has been half hearted.  I have often given money, never considering the fact that I am not even making a financial sacrifice.  I was forced to ask myself if I had something in common with the rich man who tossed scraps to the Lazarus’s outside my own door.  Inevitably, I was forced to consider my own selfishness, not only financially, but spiritually.  I was forced to realize that I too often, if not outright regularly, rarely make true sacrifices for others.  There is a big difference between tossing some “scraps” to those in need, and investing (sacrificing) for others in need.  While I understand giving to the poor and to those in need earn me no “points” in God’s eye, nor contribute a thing to salvation, I also realize “giving” is a reflection of my heart.  My heart has much selfishness that must be purged, and this can only happen when I am at the foot of the cross, reflecting on His blood for my blood in utter gratitude.         
            Enveloped in this “sacrificial” giving theme, is the concept of “dying to oneself”.  While I have absolutely no plans to “prove” my faith and allegiance to God by packing up my family to risk their lives and mine to preach the gospel in order to save some cannibals in a far off jungle, I must reconcile what I value most.  This is the area that leaves me with more questions than answers.  Would I take a bullet for my faith? - Probably; a bullet is relatively speaking an easy death.  Would I be tortured for Christ?  This is no easy answer I suspect for any genuine believer.  At the heart of struggling with theses difficult questions, Platt is correct – our perspectives are better suited when they are centered on God and eternity.  It is very easy to be distracted, whether chasing after the security and comforts of the “American dream” or worrying about what troubles tomorrow may bring.  If I am to live a life dedicated to sharing the gospel, no matter what the context, I must learn to put greater trust in Him and His sovereign will to carry me through.  The bottom line seems to be, if God does in fact call me to a jungle filled with cannibals to preach the gospel, I should have a heart prepared to obey, not negotiate.  I think this is the heart of what Platt is arguing, and it makes perfect biblical sense.                          
            Lastly, as I stated earlier, the book does leave me with many questions.  I think exploring these questions in light of scripture is always beneficial.  Do I really take risks and make sacrifices to propel the gospel in the world around me?  Do I give “scraps” instead of real sustaining “food” to those who need it?  Are my short falls truly reflecting precisely where my heart is, and will I walk away like the young ruler did?  There is much work to be done in my own heart.  I think at the center of these issues lies the age old spiritual disease of self righteousness that all humanity is born with.  Self righteousness is in fact, very deceiving, whether played out in false religions or in the hearts of men and women.  Selfless living, and sacrificial love for others is the life Christ lived; all believers should be willing and ready to do the same, especially among fellow believers.        
V. Conclusion
            There is a part of me that desires to recommend this book to anyone, yet regrettably I don’t think it will be helpful to anyone who is not already a believer.  In fact, the book could actually fuel the already destructive and anti-Christ philosophies of a social gospel, which is no gospel at all; I suspect Platt would readily agree.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the “American Dream” depending on how one understands it.  Freedom, wealth, and living comfortably are not sinful.  Man’s heart, however, is desperately wicked outside of Christ.  Too often the self righteous seek to comfort themselves by “giving”, never realizing they are still God’s enemy.  If a believer remembers his “giving” to the poor, my guess is God will not remember – their reward will be in the present world. 
For the average American believer, I would whole heartedly recommend this book.  My only caution is to resist the notion of “upper class” and “lower class” followers of Christ.  God calls, equips, and will bring unto completion what He alone has started (Philippians 1:6).  For further study, a good complementary book to Platt’s book would be John MacArthur’s book – The Gospel According to Jesus.[3]  Obedience and dying to one’s own interests are imperative to living a life that follows Christ.        

[1]David Platt, Radical (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books. 2011).
[2]Gary Gilley, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt” [article on-line] accessed 11May 2012 available from:; Internet.

[3]John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2008).


Neil said...

Thanks for the thorough review! I think you did a good job of sifting through the errors and finding some very valid points.

Just one question -- I'm not sure what he meant by "spend time in another context?"

Mark said...

Thanks Neil - "another context" would be spending time not only out of our comfort zone, but with different people groups, culture, etc.. He also would include things like a Prison ministry, inner cities etc... In essence, he wants us to go where the work seems utterly impossible so God can be the only reason there would be success - He alone gets the glory.

Anonymous said...

For me to take your review and comments seriously you need to get your facts straight. Reread chapter one pg. 16. You will see it was not his church but two articles in a newspaper he was referring to.

Mark said...

referring to what?