David Platt, pastor of Church at Brook Hills in Alabama, may be quiet, unassuming, and modest, but his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream is anything but. The book is a barrage of challenges and hard-nosed critique of the church. Of course, there are a million books like that, a new critique of the church seems to come out every month. There is something that makes Platt’s book different, however. His critique is not merely presented in terms of cultural context, but it is saturated in Scripture. Furthermore, he speaks as one with great experience. Having seen first hand what the church is like in other parts of the world, David Platt is strongly convicted of the American church’s obsession with self-indulgence. His critique comes not just from the roots of rebellion, but rather from a personal conscience affected by the reality of discipleship in Scripture and in the rest of the world. Radical then isn’t so much a call to radical living as it is a call to Biblical living.
“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice” (3). So Platt begins his book, and he stets us up to experience two things as we read: 1) the reality that Christ’s call to discipleship looks vastly different from the model found in most American churches. Platt wants us to see that Jesus actually calls us to give up, sacrifice, and leave behind the things that this world and that we by nature value so much. He begins in chapter one by exploring some of the more intriguing responses Jesus gives to would-be disciples. He unpacks Luke 9, Mark 10, and Matthew 4 for us and shows us what is lying right before our eyes in the text, but which we have more often than not missed: we do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus (12). 2) He sets us up to experience the weightiness of saying no to this radical call. Platt warns us, right at the outset here in chapter one, that “the price of our nondiscipleship is high” (15). Platt will go on throughout the book to highlight how our “nondiscipleship” will cost the lost and the poor, but he warns us that it will cost us as well. Platt pulls a Piper here and turns to consider how the pursuit of Jesus leads ultimately to our greatest joy (of course the Bible screams this even more than Piper). He takes us to Matthew 13 and reminds us that Jesus is worth losing everything for. Sell all you own and buy the field with the great treasure, he urges. The book is filled with hard hitting, memorable, and straightforward warnings. Here is just one such example, Platt writes:
If we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of nondiscipleship is profoundly greater for us than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him (18).
The motivation to join Platt, and his mega-church, on this radical abandonment for Jesus has only just begun.
Platt spends some time in the next chapter reviewing the gospel for readers. He continually, throughout the book, draws a distinction between what he sees of the church in other parts of the world, particularly the underground church in Asia, and the church in America. He points out how their worship gatherings are so vastly different than ours. They don’t have all the amenities and luxuries that our churches have. “God’s Word is enough for millions of believers who gather in house churches just like this one…But is his Word enough for us” (26)? It is Platt’s conviction that if we will truly understand the gospel then we too can find our satisfaction in God’s Word. First, we must understand who God is if we are to rightly understand discipleship.
The gospel reveals eternal realities about God that we would sometimes not rather face. We prefer to sit back, enjoy our clichés, and picture God as a Father who might help us, all the while ignoring God as a Judge who might damn us. Maybe this is why we fill our lives with the constant drivel of entertainment in our culture – and in our church. We are afraid to stop and really look at God in his Word, we might discover he evokes greater awe and demands deeper worship than we are ready to give him (29).
This is the God of Scripture, not the fluffy God of so much modern American theology. Add to this the gospel picture of man as sinful and as rebels against God and we are getting closer to what drives radical discipleship. We are God’s enemies, already condemned because of our disobedience. In light of this, Platt tells us, we must turn to Jesus as our only hope. This is the gospel. “How should we respond to this gospel,” Platt asks. “Suddenly contemporary Christianity sales pitches don’t seem adequate anymore…Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seems appropriate” (36-37). The rest of the book, then, unpacks what it means to respond to this gospel biblically and rightly: the unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to all that he is (37).
Chapter three takes us on a journey to meet the end of our own strength. The gospel calls us to live, Platt argues (convincingly), to live in utter and total dependence upon God. The picture in the book of Acts concerning the growth of the church is quite different than the pragmatism and wealth obsessed culture of our churches; Platt does a quick survey of the scenes in Acts to paint the contrast clearly between our dependence on the self and their dependence on God. The difference, he says is the difference between powerful faith and puny faith. “Why would we ever want to settle for Christianity according to our ability or settle for church according to our resources? The power of the one who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, and as a result we have no need to muster up our own might” (60).
I am a guy of boxes and systems, of organization and progressive development. I like things structured and in order and so when I began reading chapter 6 it seemed out of place. It didn’t seem to make sense. I think part of the reason for this is that the issue of wealth, which chapter 6 deals with in detail, is taken for granted as an honorable pursuit. Platt spends a great amount of time building a theological case against the pursuit of wealth, looking at both Old Testament and New Testament teachings. The connection to the rest of the book comes, in the words of Platt, as both evidence of my salvation and as an aspect of gospel work. He writes:
Suddenly I began to realize that if I have been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and if poverty is rampant in the world to which God has called me, then I cannot ignore these realities. Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry. If I am going to address urgent spiritual need by sharing the gospel of Christ or building up the body of Christ around the world, then I cannot overlook dire physical need in the process (108-109).
Platt gives us global stats and personal stories to continue the motivation, they are each powerful in their own right. Most powerfully, however, is that he warns us of the danger of overlooking what could be sin in our hearts. “This frightens me. Good intentions, regular worship, and even study of the Bible do not prevent blindness in us. Part of our sinful nature instinctively chooses to see what we want to see and to ignore what we want to ignore. I can live my Christian life and even lead the church while unknowingly overlooking evil” (108).
Chapters 7 and 8 give us two last stirring motivations. The first highlights for us the urgency of the situation, it’s a negative motivation. “There is no plan B,” we are it! “If people are dying and going to hell without ever even knowing there is a gospel, then we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream” (143). Chapter 8 gives us the positive motivation by pointing out, again, that there is great reward in risking it all for Jesus. Dying is gain, Paul said, and Platt builds upon this theology to call us into radical living. “If you and I ever hope to free our lives from worldly desires, worldly thinking, worldly pleasures, worldly dreams, worldly ideals, worldly values, worldly ambitions, and worldly acclaim, then we must focus our lives on another world.” “Your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward” (179).
The book concludes with calling us to specific action. Often reading these types of books can be inspirational, but once the book has been read and re-shelved it becomes nothing more than a fond memory. Platt wants us to act on what we have learned. He invites us to join him and his church on this one year Radical Experiment. It involves reading through the whole Bible, praying for the whole world, sacrificing our money for a specific purpose, spending time in a different context, and committing to a local church family.
This book affected me in deep ways. When I read it I had been wrestling with my own self-indulgence for months, feeling God’s call on me to make serious changes. The problem for me, as I assume it is for most of us, is that I did not know where to begin. Radical provided me with specific targets. Each of his criticisms comes not just with condemnation for specific values and habits of the church but Biblical alternatives. The stories in each chapter from Platt’s own life and from the lives of his church family give concrete pictures of what this looks like. Best of all the work comes off with certainty where it can and humility where it should. Platt does not contend that he has this radical discipleship concept all figured out. He offers qualifiers where necessary, especially in chapters 6 on wealth, but he warns us too that it is easy to justify sin while we overlook the clear teachings of Scripture. The picture he paints of radical discipleship cries out to so many readers because it both gives purpose and freedom, and that is not by Platt’s design, it’s by Jesus’ design.
I don’t know David Platt personally. I have never been to his church, though I have heard great things about it. In fact I have only heard him preach on a few occasions and yet as I read from the pages of Radical I can’t help but feel his genuineness, honesty, humility, and passion come through the pages. Few books that critique the church as boldly as this one come off without being pretentious, Platt has achieved that nicely. In fact, David Platt’s call to radical Christian living doesn’t so much feel like his call. Rather, because his book is saturated in so much Scripture and Biblical-theological thinking, the call to radical Christian living sounds more like Jesus’ call.