June 24th, 2010
Platt, David. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2010. 240 pp. $14.99.
Narrated by David Platt. Esconido: christianaudio. 6 1/2 hours.
I purchased the actual book though I was offered the audio edition to review. This review is rather long, but, I pray, provides some areas of conversation for all Christians to discuss what it means to be sold out for Christ.
David Platt currently serves as lead pastor at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a noted minister with a love for missions and the Spiritual Disciplines. I can recall him “preaching” at a chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where his “sermon” was his reciting Romans 1-9 and then summing up the chapters with a short five minute commentary. I can honestly say that the power of the Holy Spirit showed up that day in chapelunlike any other chapel service I have witnessed. The essence of his message is that a radical shift in our understanding of missions and church is needed in America.
In a short, but challenging, 220 pages, Dr. David Platt takes the reader on a journey from comfort to radical abandonment. He begins by showing how Christ is the Someone worth losing everything for though we may not see it that way. He compares his experiences with churches here in America against churches in closed and third world countries.
He challenges the reader to a biblical understanding of discipleship as opposed to our programmatic understanding of teaching. If we are to fulfill what many call the Great Commission, then we need to train the next generation for such a purpose. Throughout the book, Platt offers numerous examples from his own church as members have moved from a life of luxury to a life of being sold out for the mission work assigned to each one of us as believers. The book concludes with a challenge to churches and Christians alike to take the “Radical Experiment.”
I have benefited much from the preaching ministry of Dr. David Platt. I have heard him a few times in person at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as on the Internet via iTunes. He certainly is a devoted follower of Christ and his motives are pure insofar as I can tell. His heart is enraptured by the awesomeness of proclaiming the gospel to the entire world. What he has written in Radical needs to be heard by most in the American Christian churches–we have become too lax in our devotion (if you can call it that). What follows is a critical assessment of an excellent book. Please know that I criticize as a fellow pastor within the same denomination as Dr. Platt and therefore he is more like family than anything else.
For an excellent theological and more critical review of Radical read Kevin DeYoung’s review and dialogue with David Platt here. While I agree with much of what DeYoung wrote, I would like to offer a couple observations myself from a slightly different perspective. Please note that this is not critical for the sake of being critical. These are merely observations that struck me as I read this excellent book.
First, Dr. Platt is challenging the American cultural context not with Scripture so much as he does with his experiences in various other cultural contexts. In many ways this is comparing apples and oranges. While I agree wholeheartedly that we must seek to understand the Bible outside our American mindset, I do not believe it is wise to compare our understanding of the faith to another country’s understanding and say that they have it right. It must be in accordance with Scripture which David does bring into the discussion. Regardless, we need to be careful that we do not set another culture’s practices of Christianity above ours and say that there is what we must strive for. From his perspective, it seems the best manner in which we can better become biblical Christians in the United States is if it were to become illegal and we were forced to the underground. (For what it’s worth, I do see this as a very viable possibility in the next 20 years or so).
Second, I honestly wonder if this book would have been written if Dr. David Platt was pastor of First Baptist Church Podunk. There are numerous churches with congregations less than 150 who are radical in their approach to Christianity. They sacrifice much for the kingdom knowing full well that their reward awaits them in heaven. Platt pastors a church of over 4,000 members in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Birmingham, Al.
Given our American cultural expectations, I honestly do not believe this book would have been published without the 4,000 member congregation changing their mindset and moving from comfort and luxury for the self to the radical faith in which Platt espouses. In other words, because it works there, we ought to take note because this is a “mega-church.”
The second point feeds into the third point which is the programmatic mindset that Platt rails against is actually a driving force behind the publishing of this book.
Finally, and this is a two-part criticism, the claims in Radical are very paradoxical. On one hand, Platt is saying you need to sell everything for Christ while at the same time you can download his podcasts on iTunes. Platt is telling you to sell everything for missions but, before you do, be sure to purchase these resources to better equip your congregation to do the same thing. (For the record, I have heard him state that all proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards missions.) Now, please don’t mistake these examples as being explicit in the book. They are not! However, they are implicit by the mere fact that all of this is available. As I said, it is paradoxical.
The ultimate last concern I have is that all throughout the book, Platt talks of how easy it is to become a Christian in the U.S. by walking an aisle, praying a prayer, and signing a card (I agree that these sacraments have done much harm to the church) but at the end of the book, he has a card that you can sign and date stating that, [you] “agree with the Radical claim that [you] can find satisfaction and real service to God only in abandonment to Jesus.” There is even a line for you to sign and date your commitment to the Radical Experiment.
The audio of this book is actually read by David Platt himself. This is nice in that the author is able to offer insight through his voice as to what he was thinking when he wrote the book. Nonetheless, having heard Dr. Platt preach on a few occasions, what is read here is nothing like what he has preached in the past. I am almost positive that I have heard chapters 1 and 2 preached from the pulpit. As a preacher, Platt flat out “brings it” with a “thus sayeth the Lord” approach that is lost in so many pulpits today.
While it may be an unfair assessment, I believe his reading falls far short of his preaching. This is an obvious statement to many, especially those who have preached, but is one thing I could not get past as I listened to much of the book.
I realize that I was fairly critical in this review, but be rest assured, this book is a must read. You will be challenged in many of your assumptions. There will be times when you will get angry at what David is asking you to do. But, you will quickly realize that this anger is from your own shallow understanding of the gospel that is found in most American churches. If you have struggled with what a more biblical approach to the Christian faith looks like, then Radical is a perfect read for you. You will see things from a different perspective and will learn how to think outside our Americanized preconceived notions of Christianity.