Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011
My Rating: 10 out of 10 – this may never happen again!!!
Quick Summary: I read a lot of books! I enjoy reading and reviewing them. Some books are quickly read and forgotten. I find myself asking why they were published and why I wasted my time. Others provide useful information. I learn “how to” do something. Some books are intellectually stimulating. But then a book comes along that truly challenges my faith. Radical is just such a book. It is life transforming!
Dr. David Platt has earned multiple graduate degrees including his Ph.D from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and pastors The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. This book records his journey, along with his wife and faith family, into biblical Christianity. In our day, so many are toning down the implications of the Gospel, but in the midst of it, Platt is calling for a radical commitment to Jesus Christ and living biblical Christianity.
Platt introduces us to the Jesus of the Gospels, whose methods were radically different than modern church growth methods. He says, “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” (3). In Luke 9, Jesus challenged would be followers to consider the cost of following him, and did not make it easy for them. Platt contends that we have often, unknowingly turned away from truly following Jesus (Ch. 1).
Platt continues by asking how much of American Christianity is biblical. He says that the Gospel reveals the Glory of God and questions our presentation and response to the Gospel. He says, “…the gospel demands and enables us to turn from our sin, to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, and to follow Jesus” (38-39). Is this our invitation today? (Ch. 2).
The American way depends upon our power and resources to accomplish the task, but instead of depending on our resources, will we allow ourselves to be desperate for God and His working (45). The problem is that when we do accomplish tasks the American way, then who gets the glory? We do! Who should receive the glory? God should. He guides us to asking God for his working (Luke 11; Matthew 7). Prayer is key (Ch. 3).
Jesus commands us to go. God formed us to enjoy His grace and extend His glory, and He blesses people for this cause. In clarifying the Gospel, Platt says, “The message of biblical Christianity is ‘God loves me so that I might make him…known among all nations’” (70-71). He continues by answering objections to Jesus’ command to go (Ch. 4).
Platt builds upon the previous chapter by asking, “How do we make God’s glory known in all nations?” (87). Jesus’ strategy for accomplishing this purpose was to call and train twelve men. We “make disciples” to accomplish God’s purpose for God’s glory. He comments, “…people are God’s method for winning the world to himself” (90). It is about empowering believers for the task of making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching (Ch. 5).
Platt begins chapter 6 by saying, “We all have blind spots” (107). For American Christianity, we often overlook poverty and embrace materialism. We need to possess our possessions rather than being possessed by them. Using the stories of the Rich man and Lazarus, and the Rich Young Rule, he challenges us to soberly consider how we handle our money and possessions. What if we shifted our question from how much can we spare to how much will it take to accomplish God’s purpose (Ch. 6)?
We tend toward intellectual or practical universalism (see my review of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins). Using the Book of Romans, Platt carefully walks us through the case against this position. There are several important, clear biblical truths: 1) All people have knowledge of God; 2) All people reject God; 3) All people are guilty before God; 4) All people are condemned for rejecting God; 5) God has made a way of salvation for the lost; 6) People cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ; and 7) Christ commands the church to make the Gospel known to all peoples (Ch. 7).
We are God’s tools for accomplishing His purpose. So, how do we respond? Platt suggests several things. First, we go to the need (162ff.). We go into danger (164ff.). We face betrayal (166ff.). YET, Jesus repeatedly says, “Don’t be afraid!” After giving several reasons not to fear, he comments that “your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward” (179). Knowing God is what the Gospel is all about, and at death, we know God more fully (Ch. 8).
Lastly, Platt finishes by challenging us to commit to doing five things for one year: 1) Pray for the entire world; 2) Read the entire Word; 3) Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose; 4) Spend time in another context; and 5) Commit your life to a multiplying community (Ch. 9).
Evangelical Assessment: First, I want to make some general, non-theological comments about Radical. The book is very well-written and interesting. While Platt incorporates Scripture and often builds a biblical case, he uses stories from his life and the lives of others to illustrate and demonstrate what he teaches. Thus, while incredibly challenging, the book is very interesting and enjoyable to read.
Second, the book is thoroughly evangelical and biblical. There is no question in my mind concerning this, but there are several times when I think that he narrows things too much. But several times, when I found myself thinking that he narrowed things too much, he would come back to it in the next chapter and clarify what he said or say that each believer needed to work it out for themselves before God.
Early in the book, it seemed like Platt was saying that all Christians should be foreign missionaries. He is right that each Christian must accept responsibility for the Great Commission, but how do we accept this responsibility? He does a good job of fleshing this out for us as well as allowing believers’ responsibility before God.
Third, this example leads me to another point. Platt’s approach empowers believers to obey the Great Commission. It goes beyond programmatic approaches. As a matter of fact, he acknowledged that early on they were trying to control this at their church, and finally, they realized the need to turn people loose and encourage them to serve!
Fourth, he offers a badly needed challenge to American Christianity in terms of materialism, money, possessions, and caring for the poor. While other evangelicals have sounded this alarm (Randy Alcorn and Ron Sider), and many evangelicals have become more socially aware, we have still have a long way to go.
Lastly, this book reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, which Platt mentions, as well as John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, and Michael Slaughter’s Real Followers. They provide a needed to correction to the American understanding of the Gospel. They challenge us to compare Scripture with our culture. Often, we find that we have bought into our culture’s version of Christianity more than Scripture.
Who might this book interest? This book might interest any American Christian, especially American Evangelicals. This book provides a needed corrective and challenge.