Brief take on Bad Religion: Take away paradox and you’ll become unorthdox

It took me a good long while to finally make it through Russ Douthat’s Bad Religion. But that was only because I read the book in small segments, at night, and in between football games, Parenthood, and Downton Abbey. I’m glad I read it and I’m glad I read it so slowly. One probably shouldn’t read anything in the religio-sociological category too quickly. At least not someone with a mind like mine.

Bad Religion chronicles America’s descent into various heresies. Douthat argues the problem is not that we have become a nation of apostates, abandoning all sense of religions conviction, but in essence that we have become a nation of heretics (of course the latter you can get from his title). Many have reviewed the book, and they are much smarter, more well read, and probably better than me in a number of areas, so I’ll just let their reviews stand.

Instead I’ll briefly offer you my “take” (as opposed to a review); I obviously listen to too much sportstalk. Better than simple positive self-talk as Douthat highlights in his chapter “The God-Within.” What I found most helpful and devotional as I read this well written book was his premise that most heresies have one major starting point and commonality. He writes:

The great Christian heresies vary wildly in their theological substance, but almost all have in common a desire to resolve Christianity’s contradictions, untie its knotty paradoxes, and produce a clearer and more coherent faith. Heretics are often stereotyped as wild mystics, but they’re just as likely to be problems solvers and logic choppers, well-intentioned seekers after a more reasonable version of Christian faith than orthodoxy supplies. They tend to see themselves, not irrationally, as rescuers rather than enemies of Christianity-saving the faith from self-contradiction and cultural irrelevance.

After this insightful introduction (this does sound like a review now….) Douthat sketches out how Christianity struggled and thrived in the American Post WWII era, in both its good and bad forms. Beginning with our unique religious history, Christian movements and counter-movements, he lays the foundation and common philosophies which inspired the specific heresies of our present day. 

Among them he discusses, the “Lost Gospels” and their effects (as well as their proponents’ underlying presuppositions), the health-and-wealth prosperity “gospel,” the “God Within,” and the Nationalistic heresy. All chapters are thoroughly researched, gracious, and come from an Orthdox Christian position. Douthat after all, is an orthodox Catholic but clearly sees God’s Spirit at work in traditions and camps far different than his own. That is, unless they cross over into heresy by seeking to flatten the orthodox paradoxes.

This paragraph was worth the price of the book. In response to scholars attempting to nail down a monolithic picture of Jesus, Douthat writes:

But for all the superficial diversity of these portraits, their intellectual method and their theological conclusions, they are remarkably similar. The method is almost always heresy’s either/or, rejecting any attempt to resolve contradictions or honor paradoxes in favor of a ruthless narrowing designed to make the character of Jesus more consistent, even if this achievement comes  at the expense of the tensions that make him fascinating. Either Jesus was divine or he was human. Either he was compassionate toward sinners or he preached a rigorous sexual morality. Either he preached in parables or he engaged in longer theological discourses. Either “all apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda,” as Funk puts it, or else Jesus should be understood exclusively as an end times prophet.

Jesus is much more robust than any one particular picture. In other words He is too robust to say, “He is only like this.” He just won’t fit on any canvas we create. Any image we draw in our mind is just too inadequate-wonder why we aren’t supposed to create images of Him? So if any one political party, person, group, can say my Jesus is only like this (masculine/tough, gentle/gracious, pro-Republican/Democrat agenda, pro-family/anti-family), graciously critique them. They’ve rejected the beautiful, wonderful, and often paradoxical picture of our Conquering King/Slain Lamb Savior in whom we alone can boast. In his place they have instead erected an understandable, reasonable, preferable, tame idol. Next stop is heresy.

Try to flatten the paradoxes and you’ll be on soon on your way to unorthodoxy. Celebrate the tension and you’ll soon find yourself before the throne of grace, filled with awe, wonder, and joy.


Kathy Keller on hermeneutics, ladies, and misinterpretation

A number of months back, blogger/speaker/writer Rachel Held Evans shared a number of reasons why she became disillusioned and left the church. I deemed this a helpful list, and even responded to that list here, here, and here,  though I obviously disagreed with her conclusions. Later she shared a list explaining why she returned to the church.

Now she has a book out called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on a roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master.

Apparently her publicist must have done some good work as Evans ended up on The Today Show. But do not count Tim Keller’s wife Kathy among her fans. I commend her review  called “A Year of Ridiculous Biblical Interpretation.”

Whether you intend to read Evan’s book or not (I don’t unless folks in my church start reading it), do yourself and your friends a favor and read the review, if for nothing else, then its sound, simple, but helpful lesson in hermeneutics. 

Hermeneutics is simply the method of interpreting something, though its use is often employed in reference to bible interpretation. Kathy gives several parameters which will help you interpret the bible. According to Keller, one of Evan’s main contentions with so called “Biblical Womanhood” is that primarily folks are simply picking and choosing which bible verses to apply. Yet Keller wisely recognizes in her review/open letter,In doing so, you (Evans) have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.” Here are a few things we can glean in regards to how to more responsibly interpret the bible.

  • Interpret the Old Testament with the new. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law and so we can eat bacon wrapped scallops now. It is not picking and choosing to not follow dietary or cleanliness  laws (Mark 7:19)
  • Narrative or Prescriptive? Is the author telling the story to condone/approve/teach evils (prescriptive) or does he include the “dirt” of God’s people to show everyone that even the “heroes” need a savior. Is Abraham’s passing off his wife as his sister to save his butt something the bible approves of/instructs us to do (prescriptive), or is it a display of a lack of faith ultimately displaying our need for Jesus? The writers no more condone or approve of evils perpetrated on women than a newspaper editors approve of a rape or murder they report. Nice one Kathy!
  • Intended meaning in context. What is the writer trying to communicate? She gives two examples. One includes a misapplication of proverbs as she literally stands on the corner of the street with a “Dan is great” sign when the text of proverbs reads, “Her husband is respected at the city gate.” It just means the husband is generally respected in the community. The 2nd is when Paul explains to Titus that even one of the Cretans own prophets declares that they are lazy. Paul isn’t being a racist, but instead reminding Titus that he his work cut out for him and their own prophets agree!

While Evans espouses a how will we pick and choose bible verses to apply, this is not how, even the bible writers, assume one should interpret it. In the end, hopefully one of Evans “gifts” to the community will be a heightened awareness that each person needs to  examine his heart when coming to any subject matter addressed in the bible. We should do all we can to make sure we aren’t picking and choosing which ones to apply. Unless of course, Jesus tells us specific ones (ceremonial law) not to apply in the ways they were first intended.

Like I said earlier, read the review, if only for the hermeneutics lesson. It’s well worth your 5 minutes or so.

Book Review: In the Presence of My Enemies

I regularly check Tim Challies blog for kindle deals. He has them almost every day. On many occasions I find books for under 4 dollars, and every so often I’ll get one for free such as In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham.

At first I feel a little weird about reviewing a book I paid nothing for, but then I realized, several of the books I’ve reviewed have actually been sent to me by the authors for free so that I would review them. Most of the “professional” reviewers do this anyway. Although this is a non-commissioned book review, I promise the cost of the book did not lower my expectations the way Net-Flix streamers tend to lower their expectations when browsing the plethora of “free” B quality movies.

For those unaware of the Gracia Burnham-which was me before I read the book-she and her husband Martin were missionaries with New Tribes Missions in the Philippines. Martin served as a pilot and Gracia did everything else besides flying, often even serving as air traffic controller. While vacationing away from their children on a nice anniversary trip, a militant Islamic group called the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the Burnhams along with a number of other vacationers.

The book chronicles their journey from that island paradise to a remote hellish rain forest  “with devils filled (another more famous Martin coined that phrase).” Burnham, do doubt assisted by fellow writer Dean Merrill-how much assistance is anyone’s guess-gives more than just an amazing survivor story, but details how the two arrived in the Philippines in the first place. Because missionaries are not born but made over providentially guided “circumstances,” this was very helpful. I mean, before you ask yourself, “How in the world did I get myself kidnapped,” one deals with a much more existential question, “How did I get to the point where I put myself in this position?”

In her introduction, Gracia acknowledges the fact that she wants to honor her husband Martin. That should tip off the reader that the story does take a sad turn before her rescue. It saddened me greatly, as I got to know this couple and loved them even more with each click of the arrow button.

I found the writing simple but engaging, enjoyable, and painted all the picture I needed to get a grasp of what it would be like to be kidnapped by a gang of incredibly self-righteous yet hypocritical militant muslims. What would it be like for you and your three children? You miss a whole year of their lives while they wait and pray they will see you again. Unbelievable.

But there remains yet another battle beyond the homesickness, kid-sickness, uncomfortabilty and uncertainty: God-sickness, or rather “sick” with God. What do you do with a God who doesn’t answer your prayers for rescue? Well at least not for 15 months and then you only get half your prayer answered. She details her struggle and how Martin walked with her through the dauting jungle of doubt and despair. 

Theologically I give it two different grades: one for the applied theology, another for her stated theology. In regards to applied theology, the Burnhams clearly demonstrate a powerful grip on their sin and the gospel. Gracia recognizes her own sin in new and deeper way. It is only through this recognition, and the concomitant deeper picture of the gospel she embraces, that she begins to have love her enemies. Very challenging stuff and they get an A+ for applying the theological truth of depravity and need for grace.
When it comes to a stated theology, I give her a B-. How do you reconcile God not answering your prayer for deliverance (or rather answering with a “no” which He is OK doing), or for God allowing such evil like the Abu Sayyaf in the world? Free-will. God will not violate someone’s right to be completely autonomous. She compares this “hands off” approach with the way America desired to perform the rescue operation, but yielded to the Philippines. The latter had right of first refusal and they wanted to do it their way. America had to respect the Philippines’ rights as a sovereign nation and would not exert its will. As a result, the Phillippinos came in with guns a-blazing in the middle of the day and accidentally shot all three hostages. Gracia alone survived the rescue attempt.

I realize this is a common perception of God and evil. He has his hands tied and can’t do anything about it. But can you imagine God talking in a booming voice, with the Earth shaking, “Sorry dude, I can’t do anything about it. They have free will, which I will not violate. I want them to choose me and do the right thing, but I have my hands tied. Sorry buddy!”

That’s not the God of the bible. At least how I interpret it. 

What made this analogy so saddening, if not befuddling, is that Gracia clearly gets the depths of the sin which has made its home deep in her heart. Yet I don’t think she follows through with its implications. If a Christian is that sinful, and needs God to intervene on his/her behalf (isn’t that what prayer is?), is it that much of a stretch to realize non-Christians need God to do the same thing for them? And that if he doesn’t, they remain dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:5-6).

While she didn’t connect the dots like I had hoped, I would only hope that my applied theology would be one third of hers. Of course, God is the only one who can make us love our enemies. So to Him be the glory and to us be the encouragement!

I highly recommend this book to you. We can read about WHY we should forgive. We can read about WHO and HOW to forgive. But there is something quite powerful to see WHEN people forgive and love their enemies. I’m encouraged and challenged the most when I  SEE the gospel change people. You’ll see it here. It will renew your hope that people like you and I can love our enemies.

Reflections on Tortured for Christ

I just finished reading the book Tortured for Christ by Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand. You can get it for free here. Like the title suggests, this book is not a feel good book. In fact, I’m not sure I felt good one minute while reading it. However, I’m glad that I read it, and there are a few reasons why I would commend it to you.

How to do it through Christ vs How I did it through Christ.

I’ve read books called Crazy Love and Radical. They are designed to challenge and convict the American Dream mentality that has crept into American Christianity. I think both writers have a voice that we need to hear-though in the end both fell short in my opinion of providing the necessary gospel motivation. Sometimes the best way to inspire folks (or at least it works best for me) is not to say, “Here’s why you should do _____,” but to see someone live out “Here’s why the gospel of Jesus motivated ME or OTHERS to do _______.” That’s the book in a nutshell. This joker lived through two different multi-year prison sentences under the communists, enduring constant torture and yet still loving his enemies. Instead of someone telling me this is how to do x, I could see how Jesus did it through His people. There are great books on reconciliation, but the most powerful book I’ve read on the subject is As We Forgive, which shows how the most bitter of enemies HAVE BEEN reconciled. The same thing goes with Tortured for Christ. It’s good to read books on how the gospel can help me follow Jesus as well as how the gospel tangibly empowers folks to follow Jesus despite awful tortures. Both have a place on our book shelves. But I have to admit that being more pragmatic myself I really like to see examples. These books help me apply my theology (Head), and be motivated (Heart) to my actual life (Hands). Jesus can really empower people to persevere through such torture. He does it all the time.

What would I do?

I felt something while reading this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. Perhaps a mix of fear, anger, heaviness, sadness, conviction for my complacency….But part of me had to ask the honest question, what would I do if threatened with torture, and the reality of leaving behind a wife and kids that often wouldn’t be taken care of (it was illegal to help them)? I’ve had kidney stones and I can imagine doing anything that would stop such pain. How would I hold up? How would you? None of us can with pride say what we would do in such a situation. But we can say with hope that God will never leave us nor forsake us, nor will he allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Cor 10:13). He will give us the power on that day to do what we need to do to follow Him regardless of how much of a wuss we are. We can say, “Well its me, I can’t imagine enduring that…” But God has had martyrs in every century since the gospel burst onto the scene. I would imagine that folks might have had similar fears. With books like this one, we know that there are many who have been empowered to endure torture and death. Young and old. We can see them. It’s not just theoretical, but historical. I need that.


We are complacent in the West. We need to repent. Our problems are minor compared to what our brothers and sisters face every day in certain areas. We don’t need to feel guilty for where we were born or live because God has determined the places where we were born or live so that we would hear the gospel (Acts 17). However, when our suburban Christianity begins to look not much more different that our suburban non-believing neighbors, we ought to think that something is wrong. We do need to repent over the energy we spend trying to make ourselves more comfortable (demanding bigger houses, better spouses, etc..) and fix our hope on Jesus. Instead of demanding the comforts of heaven NOW, we can be spending our energy praying and longing for God’s will in heaven be done on Earth. Ironically, we’ll find more comfort and joy that way.

Our boldness should increase

In Philippians chapter 1, Paul recognizes that his prison time is currently making his fellow Christians bolder than ever. God used the persecution of one to make another bold. I hope that I become more bold, not fearing the “Gosh, you’re weird or intolerant” remark. In the end, if I continue to drink deeply of the gospel and rest in God’s assurance and protection over me, I’ll get bolder. But because the bible says persecution does indeed have an emboldening effect, I hope that as we read about and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith we grow bolder by the day.

Review for The Quest For Comfort

When you hear catechism, what words come to your mind? Honestly? Seriously, if I had to do a word association with catechism, I think I’d hear, or maybe say (I confess) words like “rigid,” “heady,” “for pastors,” “for a different kind of Christian.” You may have had experiences with those who embrace different catechisms, and think, “Well those aren’t my kind of guys or gals.” Or you may think that a catechism is something you memorize as a kid, or have as a resource as adult, to make you smarter. Regardless, catechism and comfort don’t regularly find their way together in the same sentence. They should.

You will see comfort and catechism collide in William Boekestein’s The Quest for Comfort. This is the 2nd book of his I’ve had the opportunity to read and review: Faithfulness Under Fire was my first.  Through vivid illustrations, and simple language, he uniquely connects the quest for true godly comfort with the devotional riches found in the Heidelberg catechism.

This book is a children’s book. It is designed for children, and illustrated for children, but it is just as devotional to parents. As a P.C.A minister, I’m fairly well versed in the history surrounding the Westminster Confession of Faith. However, I found myself woefully ignorant of the events which fortunately forged the Heidelberg Catechism.

Just as the events surrounding the hymn “It Is Well With Soul” make it that much more comforting-that God could provide comfort after such a tragedy-so do these events add to the rich experience of the Heidelberg Catechism.  In fact, not long after finishing The Quest for Comfort,  I “went out” and purchased the Heidelberg Catechism for my kindle.

Boekestein draws the reader into the timeless struggle of trying to understand and apply the scriptures amidst a culture and human heart which naturally rejects it. While the whole story makes for a fun and quick read, there are three reasons why I WANT to read the Heidelberg catechism, and this book again for that matter.

The Need for such a catechism. We hear of a deacon and preacher actually get in a fist fight over doctrinal questions. How crazy is that! Reminds me of Robert Duval’s character in The Apostle when Billy Bob Thornton’s character tries to stir up trouble and experiences quite a “beat-down.” Tension makes for a great story. But more than making for a great story, it reminds us how helpful a tool a catechism can be in understanding and applying the bible today. We have folks who can help us understand and apply it today, even though they lived a long time ago.

Comfort of a catechism. Like the title suggests, Boekestein frames this catechism not just historically, but existentially. While folks at the time had access to the Belgic Confession, Frederick III wanted, “something simpler, more personal, more peaceful. He wanted a book that showed the heart of the gospel to men, women, boys, and girls who needed the comfort that only God can give.” The goal was not to exhaustively cover every biblical topic but to provide some objective truth which comforts the heart and set the hands and feet in motion to service. We should seek comfort in the gospel and this is a great place to find and experience it.

Restore adventure to the Christian life. As adults we can sometimes lose that sense of adventure as we live in a place of religious freedom. But what a time to rekindle that passion. We don’t need to pretend we live in the same time period, or same “place” (many Christians do now though), or feel guilty we don’t. However, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), we should take encouragement that God worked in them, and He’ll work in us. One can almost hear them encouraging us, “You guys have opportunities and challenges we didn’t face. Look to Jesus and He’ll take not only take care of you, but He’ll take you on an adventure.”

I commend this short book to you. It will do your soul, and the soul of your little one’s some good. And if you’re at all like me, you’ll go out and get your hands on the Heidelberg catechism.

Washed and Waiting thoughts

I’ve almost completed Wesley Hills new book entitled Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian faithfulness and Homosexuality. I first saw this book reviewed on Darryl Dash’s blog, and found the review, as well as the content, not only fascinating, but highly pertinent. And ever so pertinent with things like “It gets better project.”

Instead of writing a “official” review on it, I’ll just share some fresh (at least fresh to me) insights I received from this book.

1.) While the book doesn’t give any kind of numbers, Wesley Hill does give an indication of a group of folks within the church who struggle with same sex attraction. In other words, they are only attracted to certain members of the same sex, yet recognize that following their desires to the bedroom truly dishonors God. I realized that such folks existed, but hadn’t thought much about it. Hill’s real life battle with unfulfilled desires really puts flesh on something many of us may not deal with or even care about. But we do need to care about and care for such folks in our church. I’m thankful for the courage of such folks to a.) remain in the church b.) not run to the gay community or simply go to a gay church to support their lifestyle.

2.) It’s not that easy to know why some folks have same-sex attraction. One of my electives in seminary at RTS-Orlando was on human sexuality. We studied some of the factors which lead to homosexuality, such as the distant father, overbearing mother, lack of same sex-friends growing up. Some homosexuals have this kind of background, but not all of them. In fact, Hill actually describes his loving Christian parents, as well as his leadership in the church youth group. Why does he struggle with same-sex attraction? He and we just don’t know.

3.) You can change? Some folks struggling with same sex attraction, can over time, slowly see their desires begin to change with the intake of the Word, good counseling, and good community. However, sometimes such desires never change. Some folks marry but don’t have sex. We cannot hold out a false hope, or expect a false hope, that same-sex attraction will necessarily change by becoming a Christian, growing as a Christian, or getting good counseling. Some times those desires will never change, as he gives the example of well known priest Henry Nouwen who remained celibate despite these intense struggles. That was sobering and saddening to hear. 

4.) The struggle for Christians with same-sex attraction is similar to that of the bachelor-to-the rapture (I’m assuming Jesus will not return in 5 months) Christian. Both sets of folks will live with unfulfilled sexual desires. Both folks will emotionally ache for that companionship of a special “help-mate” but not have one. In a way, I felt Hill expressing this to his readers: “We’re both on similar, very different, counter-cultural paths so I’m not asking for your pity. We both have crosses to carry.”

I’ve nearly completed this book and commend it to you. It will help you learn how to best minister to, and pray for such Christians struggling side-by-side with you throughout the week. In addition, you’ll be challenged by the similarity and difficulty of our struggles, as well as the need for intimate community in our ultimate journey to the promised land: The New Heavens and New Earth. 

Review of Faithfulness Under Fire: The story of Guido de Bres

I received an email the other day offering me the opportunity to review the book Faithfulness Under Fire: The story of Guido de Bres. Of course I jumped on it, and am glad I did.

Faithfulness Under Fire does a remarkable job of telling a short, but robust story, of the short, but robust story of a man named Guido de Bres. Pronounced “Gee-doe de Bray,” this remarkable man lived in Belgium in the early to middle 1500’s. Influenced by the Reformation truths of justification by faith alone, and the protestant discovery that you could read the bible for yourself, he soon became a marked man. On several occasions he fled to different countries like England and Switzerland to study and learn God’s Word under Calvin and Company. Eventually he married and returned to Belgium. He began pastoring and preaching in secret, though those longing for the spiritual milk of the Word began to number in the thousands. You can’t be too discreet with those numbers! 

Dodging the Holy Roman Emperor King Phillip II could last only so long. Eventually he was imprisoned and hung for his faith.  Yet during his short life time of 44 years, he penned what became known as the Belgic Confession of Faith, still used by many Reformed churches today.  

The illustrations in this short children’s book really make Guido’s story come alive today. My spirit truly stirred within me. I personally hadn’t ever heard of this man before, but upon reading this story, I now have a greater appreciation for the story behind the Belgic Confession. I’m quite guilty of looking at such confessions as though they appeared out of nowhere. Familiar with the story and creation of the Westminster Confession (part of our denomination’s constitution), I know little of the blood, sweat, tears, and martyrdom which often accompany many such articulations of faith. Such documents are more than documents: they are doctrine not just penned by authors but sealed and spread by the very blood of those who believed in such doctrine.  Nowadays such formulations and articulations of doctrine cost us very little. But that was not always the case. Faithfulness Under Fire moves us to a simple, but greater appreciation of such confessions.

As a children’s story, I think the book also succeeds in telling the story of someone very much in love with the person of Jesus. He loved Jesus so much he was willing to die for him. I didn’t find the details overly graphic or morbid, but instead felt they helped illustrate the true battle for the gospel. A battle which sometimes, and in may places today, gets more heated than it does here in the States. Boekstein does a good job of capturing the past Protestant struggle against an oppressive Catholic Empire without trying to re-cast the present day Roman Catholic church in the same light. 

With every biography, we must take pains to not make it a hagiography. In a short book like this, no flaws in de Bres were addressed. And that is OK, because we don’t get a picture of flaws in the book of Daniel either. Biographies, as with bible stories where the “main character” is Noah, David, or Daniel, must point us and our little ones to the true Hero behind the story. The Jesus Storybook Bible uses language like, “God sent someone to deliver His people” and then concludes the David v. Goliath story pointing to One who would later come to deliver His people for good. I don’t know if we can expect a short children’s book to explain all of this or completely contextualize this story in the larger story of redemption. Parents can do this with any book or story very easily.

So provided the parent provides this framework, this and other short biographies can be very powerful to show that Jesus’ love for us truly does compel and empower us to live boldly and not even shrink before death, much less peer pressure. He writes, “By God’s grace, Guido lived a life of total service to God.” It is clear to the reader where this power came from. But as a parent, we need to be intentional at certain points in the story. For instance we must regularly ask such questions with biographies and stories like, “How did this dude get so bold? How was she able to persevere?” These kinds of questions can transform a biography to a true Christ-centered teach devotional.

On the last page Boekstein gives some instructions for thinking through this story and how to read it to children. 

This is the value we see in teaching our children about Guido de Bres-not to glorify him, but to be drawn by his example to live to the glory of God.

I think there is much value in reading biographies ourselves, as well as teaching them to our children. The goal is not to make much of Guido but make much of Jesus for His work in Guido. Yet we also need not ignore the great examples in church history of what it actually looks like to follow Jesus in this world. I learn what forgiveness looks like not simply by studying a passage, but also by reading As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda.

We’ve been surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both in the present and in the past. We would do well to learn about them. Not for the simple goal of emulation, but to encourage us that Jesus testimony is true: he can save a life from not only the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin and fear. 

This review is quite a bit longer than the actual book itself, which I commend to you. For more information, check out the you tube trailer.  

My take on Radical

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: “Those who can take that crabbed tree handsomely upon their back, and fasten it on cannily, shall find it such a burden as wings unto a bird or sails to a ship.” The cross is freedom.
A Sequel?

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.