David Platt’s book Radical does exactly what it sets out to do: show the fallacy of trying to live both the call of Christ and the “American Dream” simultaneously. I purchased this book prior to my own church beginning to read it as an entire body. That being said, I have taken longer to read it than most! While I think it is a good book which challenges complacency and our tendency to settle into an American vision of “normal”, I had a lot of issues as I read which caused the reading to go slowly and laboriously.
What stands out most about the book is Platt’s own passion to follow Christ and question his preconceptions about church and faith. And added to that, to make the point, the book is full of examples from underground house churches around the world. These work as springboards to speak of his experiences with those suffering for the gospel, and how they have made him sick to his stomach about our American culture’s cosmetic and often gratuitous faith.
As well, there are numerous examples from his own church and community. He repeatedly uses his own church as an example of one struggling with the idea of being missional and communal, while being a mega-church. And while he quips, “I’m certainly not the best preacher, and I definitely don’t want to lead people to be critical of other preachers…”(p.41), I believe any pastor who has read that far in the book would definitely be feeling the sting. And it doesn’t stop with pastors. It is hardly possible to read the book without feeling stung, unless you are out doing evangelism in the third world with no ability to even purchase and read this book.
At the same time, you can see in that last quote the sense of self-deprecation that Platt is quick to employ. He certainly is taking personally the facts and implications of what he is saying, throughout the book. It is not a message he has no intention of applying to himself and his community.
But one thing that consistently put me at arm’s length as he was speaking was the over-the-top rhetoric employed. Early in the book he says the following:
Yes, God is a loving Father, but he is also a wrathful Judge. In his wrath he hates sin. Habakkuk prayed to God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” And in some sense, God also hates sinners. You might ask, “What happened to ‘God hates the sin and loves the sinner’? Well, the Bible happened to it. One Psalmist said to God, “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.” (p.29)
And while “in some sense” I don’t disagree, I felt like he frequently was using language to garner attention, more than it was necessary to make his point. And all the while he can use phrases like “in some sense” to distance himself from the thrust of his own argument.
Frequently I felt that he was neglecting the benefit and value of living Christian character wherever you are, and pushing instead “be focused on the needs and problems of the entire world.” I don’t think we should lose sight of the far reaches of the world, nor that he meant to denigrate faithfulness in the “wherever you are.” On page 77 he even remarks:
In all this mission talk, you may begin to think, Well, surely you’re not suggesting that we’re all supposed to move overseas. That is certainly not what I’m suggesting (though I’m not completely ruling it out!).
But the rest of the paragraph presents a cookie-cutter philosophy that even if you are not going to go overseas, your focus should be “the glory of God known in all the nations”. He even follows up a joke at his own expense with, “after all, isn’t that [overseas] where people who are passionate about the world go?” It seems an intimate involvement with and heart for the needs of the local hurting and lost is not good enough, even if that is what God has gifted and directed you to. He seems to want to distance himself from saying that directly, but imply it with many of the side comments he makes. While I fully agree that the church as a body has a local and global reach, Platt has not convinced me that this demands the same approach and practical mission for all individual believers within the body.
The most serious oversimplification and misapplication I found was his treatment of wealth on page 117:
The disciples would soon realize that a radical shift was taking place. It was not that God had changed or that the God of the Old Testament was somehow different from the God of the New Testament. Instead, the eternal plan of God was unfolding, and Jesus was ushering in a new phase in redemptive history, one that would affect the relationship between faith and material blessing.
In the dawn of this new phase in redemptive history, no teachers (including Jesus) in the New Testament ever promise material wealth as a reward for obedience…
I think this seriously misconstrues the thrust of the Old Testament, which amply speaks to wealth not being guaranteed for obedience. That the New Testament never “promises” material blessing also seems a leap. While it is clear that the prosperity gospel he is criticizing has gone well beyond biblical teaching, the New Testament does promise to bless materially (in the same way the Old Testament does!), though not for personal benefit, and certainly not as some magic formula towards greed, pride or self-satisfaction. That we have here a “shift in redemptive history” in relation to wealth is a glaring overreach. Jesus was not teaching something new about wealth, rather he was reiterating the repeated witness of the Old Testament. I’d suggest checking out the IVP commentary on 2 Corinthians 9, available online.
But he is able to get beyond this on page 118, as he sums up his argument: “I realized the extent to which we, as churches and Christians across America, are in some cases explicitly and in other cases implicitly exporting a theology that equates faith in Christ with prosperity in this world. This is fundamentally not the radical picture of Christianity we see in the New Testament.” To that I give a hearty, “Amen!”
In my opinion, the best part was the ending, where he posits a “radical” experiment – 5 goals to take up for a fixed time-span of 1 year. The final chapter is practical, engaging, and gives greater clarity to the major themes breached throughout the rest of the book. Those goals are:
- pray for the entire world;
- read through the entire Word;
- sacrifice your money for a specific purpose;
- spend your time in another context;
- commit your life to a multiplying community. (p.185)
Looking back, I almost wish he had begun and ended his book with this experiment; opening with his intention for the future, continuing with the background for each of the focuses in the experiment, and finishing with more detail. I think it would have given a better structure and coherency. If you are thinking about reading it in the future, how about just reading through the last chapter first, then continuing at the beginning? It won’t be the same as a well crafted beginning covering his intended experiment, but it may give you the staying-power to make it to the end of the book.
I give this book ★★★☆☆.
Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream
Author: David Platt
Soft Cover, 231 pages