A number of folks recommended David Platt’s book Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream. Someone finally bought it for me, so I decided to read and see what all the rage was about.
Here’s my take on the book as a whole.
Challenging. The book is flat-out challenging because Jesus is flat-out challenging. The Jesus of the bible doesn’t really square with the Americanized version of Jesus who exists to give you a happy marriage, good kids, and a great smile. In fact he tells you to love Him more than your family (which is ironically the only way to actually love your family instead of making an idol out of them), and if you don’t, you can’t be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Easy there….Platt pulls no punches because Jesus pulls no punches. Not really sure what that saying means. But it is safe to say that Jesus is a thrower of punches, and the American Dream is often its recipient.
Giving up? Platt does a great job, particularly toward the close of the book, in emphasizing that giving up our lives is not really giving up anything. I love the example of Jon Patton he employs. When someone questions his leaving Scotland to head to a cannibalistic island, he says something to the effect of, “Whether worms eat me or people eat me makes no difference to me. We’ll still get a new body at the resurrection.” You don’t lose out. That’s a huge motivator because whether it’s going to bed early, not having the coolest stuff, or not being able to full a childhood dream, we tend to be scared of missing out. We don’t have to be. How cool is that?
Word and Deed. I also appreciated Platt’s emphasis on word and deed ministry. Neither was sacrificed upon the altar of the other. It is important to feed folks, provide clean water, eradicate diseases when possible. To ignore such things is not much different than the person who leaves the gospel tract that looks like money AS a tip. Not good.
Platt’s both/and approach to ministry in a local and foreign context. While he didn’t seem to be in favor of domestic church planting-and I am highly in favor of that-I still thought he recognized the importance of both contexts. Definitely an emphasis on the foreign, but I need to hear that drum beaten often.
Community. Platt does not tell people to go guns blazing by themselves. They have to be part of a church community, and even better when they are involved in a small group community which studies the word AND actually does ministry together.
Things I might do or say differently
I hesitate to call these negatives, so I didn’t. But there are a few of my concerns.
1.) Kevin DeYoung has a review here
. I wouldn’t call it a great review that I totally agree with, because I don’t. I definitely disagree with some of it. But it is another perspective. And he has a point in that it is necessary to ground our sanctification (this radical crazy selfless life poured out for Jesus) in our justification (our perfect status obtained already by Jesus’ live poured out for us). At some points, the reader can get lost in living radically without having the proper grounding and motivation.
Platt’s respsone to DeYoung shows he is on the same page. And I don’t think you need to say before every point, “Because Jesus has saved you, you are now free to live like this, and are forgiven when you don’t.” I really don’t. But perhaps he could have sprinkled it in the book a little more, rather than including the truth of justification, and then moving on. I told my teachers in our teacher training time, that they don’t have to say “Because Jesus died for you and freed you from this idol, you can now live like this…” every time they make an application. But our tendency is to forget the gospel truth, and just apply. The problem is that we can sometimes leave Jesus, who is the author and sustainer of our faith, behind.
2.) Radical obedience to Jesus doesn’t ONLY mean giving up way more than the tithe and going foreign, or going deeper locally. The gospel frees us to be generous to give more than the tithe, and frees us to walk across the street and get to know neighbors or go to India.
But a radical life also looks like someone honoring God with their work, working at it with all their heart (Col 3:23). Work, while a common American idol, is still a good thing and we don’t need all Christians to give up their work and head overseas. Some are called to that, but some are not. Both can be just as radical, or at least as faithful to Jesus.
Americans find their identity in work. They find their identity in hobbies, family, income, homes, etc…But these things need to be redeemed and the gospel light shed upon them. Work isn’t evil and I fear that perhaps some folks may leave the book thinking it is, or is a lesser calling.
With those things said, I would still recommend Radical. Our pendulums need to be swung on this direction and we need Platt’s voice, mainly because he echoes Jesus heart for the poor, needy, and broken. And Samuel Rutheford’s take on the cross gives us hope that we can follow Jesus where he leads. Check this out:
Some things for a Radical sequel, or if I were writing a book with similar title would be as follows. This is not the part where I say, “He should have added this or that.” Platt’s book was the right length. Books that are too long are ineffective for mass communication in my opinion. This is just my heart on what a radical life looks like.
1.) Commitment to corporate worship. When sports take you away from corporate worship, you don’t give in. I can’t wait (yeah right!) to deal with this because Connar loves anything that has to do with a ball. Perhaps not skipping church on Sundays in order to play soccer, basketball, or baseball might ruin a chance at a college scholarship? But to me it would be worth it if Connar loves Jesus and wants to worship with his church family when he goes off to college. Skipping church when kids are young FOR SPORTS, will lead our kids to believe church is unnecessary.
2.) Commitment to deep community. People with busy lives actually committing to come together, study the word, pray, fellowship, have fun, and actually minister together in some form of small group. It is very difficult to live out the plethora of “one another” commands found in the scripture outside some sort of regular and intentional small group.
3.) Commitment to outward facing community. How radical would it be to not just study the bible but to actually apply and live out the gospel together in your community? We don’t simply need more bible studies in the church but small groups of people committed to the gospel, one another, and their communities. The days of sitting on the couch and only studying the bible need serious evaluation. While these makes us feel good about ourselves, these miss 1/2 of what James 1:27 calls “true religion.” Whether as individuals or as a group, such a small group bible study has to encourage or offer outward expressions of faith in the community.
To me these things are just as radical. But they are also just as normal and consistent with a life of following Jesus.