Radical | Notes & Review

Posted on March 3, 2012


David Platt. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. Multnomah, 2010. (230 pages)


1. Someone Worth Losing Everything For

Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important. So what was I to do? I found myself faced with two big questions (2)

The first was simple. Was I going to believe Jesus? …The second question was more challenging. Was I going to obey Jesus? (3)

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)

We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves. (7)

And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with. (13)

And the danger is now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves. (13)

The price of our nondiscipleship is high for those without Christ. It is high also for the poor of this world. (15)

In this book I want to show you that with the best of intentions, we have actually turned away from Jesus. … Yet I want to show you our desperate need to revisit the words of Jesus, to listen to them, to believe them, and to obey them. (19)

First, from the outset you need to commit to believe whatever Jesus says. …Then second, you need to commit to bey what you have heard. (20)

In the pages to come, we will together explore the biblical gospel alongside our cultural assumptions with an aim toward embracing Jesus for who he really is, not for who we have created him to be. (21)

2. Too Hungry for Words

Our understanding of who God is and who we are drastically affects our understanding of who Christ is and why we need him. For example, if God is only a loving Father who wants to help his people, then we will see Christ as a mere example of that love. We will view the Cross as just a demonstration of God’s love in which he allowed Roman soldiers to crucify his Son so that sinful man would know how much he loves us. | But this picture of Christ and the Cross is woefully inadequate, missing the entire point of the gospel. (34)

Why is he in such agony and pain? The answer is not because he is afraid of crucifixion. …Instead he was a Savior about to endure divine wrath. (35)

The revelation of God in the gospel is good. I invite you to receive it. Maybe to trust in the Christ of the gospel for the first time and for the first time to receive a new heart, a heart that is not only cleansed of sin but that now longs for him. Or maybe simply to recover a passion for God’s Word — his radical revelation of himself — and discover once again the reward that is found in simply knowing and experiencing him. (41)

3. Beginning at the End of Ourselves

To this point, we have seen how the American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the gospel. This differentiation is heightened when we contrast trust in the power of God with reliance on our own abilities. (45)

James Truslow Adams, who is credited with coining the phrase “American dream” in 1931, spoke of it as

a dream…in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, an be recognized by others for what they are.

The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability. (46)

But here the gospel and the American dream are clearly and ultimately antithetical to each other. While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God. (47)

In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability. (47)

I am concerned that all of us — pastors and church members in our culture — have blindly embraced an American dream mentality that emphasizes our abilities and exalts our names in the ways we do church. (49)

We can so easily deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a crowd for the existence of spiritual life in a community. (50)

What if God in all his might is simply waiting to show his power in a people who turn their backs on a philosophy of life that exalts their supposed ability to do anything they want and who instead confess their desperate need for him? What if God in all his grace is radically committed to showing himself strong on behalf of a people who express their need for him so their lives might make much of him? (54)

If we are not careful, we will completely bypass this promise and miss out on the power of God’s presence. (59)

4. The Great Why of God

How many of us are embracing the comforts of suburban America while we turn a deaf ear to inner cities in need of the gospel? How many of us are so settled in the United States that we have never once given serious thought to the possibility that God may call us to live in another country? How often are we willing to give a check to someone else as long as we don’t have to go to the tough places in the world ourselves? How many of us parents are praying that God will raise up our children to leave our homes and go overseas, even if that means they may never come back? And how many of us are devoting our lives to taking the gospel to people in hostile regions around the world where Christians are not welcomed? (64)

In the beginning of earthly history, God’s purpose was to bless his people so that all peoples would glorify him for his salvation. (69)

We live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God (69)

It centers on his greatness, his goodness, and his glory being made known globally among all peoples. And to disconnect God’s blessing from God’s global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God’s grace. (71)

We have taken this command, though, and reduced it to a calling — something that only a few people receive. (73)

In the process we have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all. (73)

What if the very reason we have breath is because we have been saved for a global mission? (75)

But this is precisely the problem. We have created the idea that if you have a heart for the world and you are passionate about global mission, then you move overseas. (77)

I invite you simply to let your heart be gripped, maybe for the first time, by the biblical prospect that God has designed a radically global purpose for your life. I invite you to throw aside gospel-less reasoning that might prevent you from accomplishing that purpose. …to spend all of our lives for the sake of all of God’s glory in all of the world. (82-83)

5. The Multiplying Community

The megastrategy of Jesus: make disciples. (90)

Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about a relationship. As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples. Sharing the life of Christ. | This is why making disciples is not just about going, but it also includes baptizing. (96)

RECEIVERS OR REPRODUCERS? …the world was a perpetual classroom for Jesus and his disciples, providing opportunities for instruction at every moment. (99)

What if we changed the question whenever we gathered to learn God’s Word? What if we began to think, How can I listen to his Word so that I am equipped to teach this Word to others? (102)

DISCIPLING OR DISINFECTING? Disinfecting Christians from the world involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good. (104) …discipling Christians involves propelling Christians into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others. (105)

6. How Much Is Enough?

Part of our sinful nature instinctively chooses to see what we want to see and to ignore what we want to ignore. (108)

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. (109)

Is materialism a blind spot in American Christianity today? More specifically, is materialism a blind spot in your Christianity today? (111)

We certainly wouldn’t ignore kids while we sang songs and entertained ourselves, but we are content with ignoring other parents’ kids. …Regardless of what we say or sing or study on Sunday morning, rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God. (115)

SELL EVERYTHING YOU HAVE? I think there are two common errors people make when they read this [Mark 10]  passage. First, some try to universalize Jesus’ words, saying that he always commands his followers to sell everything they have and give it to the poor. …the other error in interpreting Mark 10,…is to assume that Jesus never calls his followers to abandon all their possessions to follow him. (120)

That Jesus did not ommand all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command. – Robert Gundry in Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution

The realtiy is, most of us in our culture and in the American church simply don’t believe Jesus or Paul on this one. (125)

As I mentioned, little of what we have would be considered necessities, and as long as we are living in our culture, we will be surrounded by luxuries. So why not simply begin a process of limiting and eliminating some of them? Why not begin selling and giving away luxuries for the sake of the poor outside our gates? Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more? | Now we’re getting radical. (127) Or maybe we’re getting biblical. (128)

“WHAT CAN WE SPARE?” OR “WHAT WILL IT TAKE?”What would happen, I thought, if we stopped asking how much we could spare and started asking how much it was going to take? …What would happen if we stopped giving our scraps to the poor and started giving surplus? (130)

We are discovering the joy of a radical gospel inside of us that produces radical fruit outside of us. And as we meet needs on earth, we are proclaiming a gospel that transforms lives for eternity. The point is not simply to meet a temporary need or change a startling statistic; the point is to exalt the glory of Christ as we express the gospel of Christ through the radical generosity of our lives. (135)

7. There Is No Plan B

“all men are created equal.” …Subtly, however, this equality of persons shifts into an equality of ideas. Just as every person is equally valued, so every idea is equally valid. …In this system of thinking, faith is a matter of taste, not of truth. (141)

8. Living When Dying is Gain

…do we believe the reward found in Jesus is worth the risk of following him? (162)

To everyone wanting a safe, untroubled, comfortable life free from danger, stay away from Jesus. The danger in our lives will always increase in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ. (167)

9. The Radical Experiment

Throughout this book we have explored a variety of bold claims about our purpose in life that are contained in the gospel yet contradicted by the American dream. Claims such as these: Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism; joy is found in generosity, not materialism; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism. Ultimately, Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy. (183)

The challenge is for one year, and it involves five components. I dare you over the next year to…

  1. pray for the entire world;
  2. read through the entire Word;
  3. sacrifice your money for a specific purpose;
  4. spend your time in another context;
  5. commit your life to a multiplying community.

I also fear that in addressing unbiblical foundations inherent within the American dream, I have created the impression that every facet of the American dream is negative. This is certainly not the case. (214)

— VIA —

I have a mixed feelings about this book. There were several moments and quotes, many of them listed above, that were right on the money. I have great appreciation of Platt’s desire to bifurcate the American dream from Christianity. And, his focus on Jesus, discipleship, poverty, etc., are to be commended.

However, there are too many disappointing theological statements, false dichotomies, illogicalities, and inconsistencies that make reading a book like this, honestly, painful. Platt apparently (from what I can glean) comes from the Reformed camp of theology, which is his strength and weakness. The strength is that he is capable of truly critiquing Christianity “from the inside,” and his prophetic voice is one that is needed. The weakness is that he cannot shed himself of the Reformed, Fundamental, Conservative Christianity which, if he could, would be a better approach at really trying to get around to not only what Jesus said, but what he was saying, and thus, what he meant.

Exhibit A:

The modern-day gospel says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.” Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, “You are en enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.” | The former sells books and draws crowds. The latter saves souls. Which is more important? (32)

True. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is not “the gospel.” But neither is “You are an enemy of God.” That, I submit, is Reformed Protestant Theology purported as “the gospel,” and a reductionistic gospel at that. There’s much more to be said about “the gospel,” (e.g. The King Jesus Gospel) than I can give space to here, but Platt’s treatment and definitions of “the gospel” violate the very term and thrust of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the word ευαγγελιον that is used in the opening of those books. You can’t replace “the American dream” with “Protestant Reformation Theology” and call it “gospel.” That’s simply trading in one idol for another.

He continues on with the theme of divine wrath… (35)

This is the gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever. (36)

Again, there is a greater story that must be told around which God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25) certainly sits. The oversimplification of “this is the gospel” is simply disappointing.

Regarding “church growth,” Platt writes,

Talk about church growth. Acts 1 started with about a hundred and twenty believers, and now in Acts 2 there are more than three thousand. If you do the math, that’s almost 2500 percent growth…in a day.

First, the very proof-texting of this Acts passage is problematic. Second, to interpret it in terms of numerical growth seems to contradict the very “anti-American-dream” message of the book. Just a few pages earlier, Platt was decrying the use of these kinds of metrics for success.

On page 70, Platt characterizes the phrase, “God loves me” as “me-centered” Christianity, and suggesting it is “not biblical Christianity.”

The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him — his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness — known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is. (70-71)

I’m a bit softer on this point, as I can get on board with the general gist of what he is saying, but I simply don’t see the need to draw such a distinctively false dichotomy between these two. I’m sure Platt himself has had several conversations with people who simply needed to hear “God loves you.” The saving simplicity of that message alone is found deeply throughout the Scriptures. Yes, connected to a wider and broader story, no doubt. But to chastise it as “me-centered” Christianity seems to be overly condemning.

Regarding having a localized heart, Platt writes,

So when we say we have a heart for the United States, we are admitting that we have a meager 5 percent of God’s heart, and we’re proud of it. (76)

Again, I’m a bit softer on this point as I can get on board with the gist. However, I feel as if this sentiment, and the chapter surrounding it could easily be misconstrued. Having a “localized heart,” calling, or ministry, does not necessarily equate to not having a heart for the rest of the world. Caution is advised here when acting as a prophet.

What is shocking is that when Jesus summarizes his work on earth, he doesn’t start reliving all the great sermons he preached and all the people who came to listen to him. He doesn’t talk about the amazing miracles he performed — giving sight to the blind, enabling the lame to walk, and feeding thousands of people with minimal food. He doesn’t even mention bringing the dead back to life. Instead he talks repeatedly about the small group of men God had given him out of the world. They were the work God had given to him. They were, quite literally, his life. (88-89)

There are several problems with this above quote. First, stating what Jesus doesn’t summarize is problematic, ’cause the entirety of the rest of the Gospels do summarize it. In fact, all of those things were his life’s work in addition to the small group that were his disciples. In other words, that is the whole of the “Gospel.” It does not represent the Gospel text well to say that John 17 is a “summary of his works.” The entire book of John is a summary of His works. Chapter 17 is a prayer passage in the midst of all the other “works” of Jesus. Second, the group of disciples included women, so depending upon what group is being referenced, the pronoun needs to be gender-inclusive. Now, this is not to dismiss the fact that Jesusdid focus on the twelve, and then the three. But again, with books like these, the bent towards prophetic exhortation (with a tad bit of polemic) often swings too heavily in summative statements that miss the accuracy of what is actually going on in the Bible. Caution and careful reading is advised.

One of the most glaring inconsistencies I saw was in the following. On page 109 he quotes Matthew 25, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” but then states right after it,

Now, I immediately want to guard against a potentially serious misunderstanding in this chapter. The Bible nowhere teaches that caring for the poor is a means by which we earn salvation. (109)

The problem is, if he is to maintain consistency in his reading of the Scripture, as he reads Romans and draws from it the principles of salvation, by what standards or hermeneutic does he dismiss the “clarity” of this statement in Matthew 25? This also ties back in to my inquiry regarding the definition and meaning of “gospel” in the Bible and in the biography of Jesus, that it is different than mere “faith in Jesus.” I think these inconsistencies need further explanation, and more thoughtful engagement. And here’s why…

If people will go to heaven simply based on their native religious preferences, then there is no urgency for any of us to go to them. But if they will not go to heaven because they have never heard of Christ, then there is indescribable urgency for all of us to go to them. (143)

A, this is a bit of a false dichotomy which again misses the fuller “Gospel” laid out in the Scriptures.” B, this is an extension of the “Romans Road” gospel, which I simply cannot palate any more. It continues…

All too often we view heaven as the default eternal state for humankind. We assume that our race simply deserves heaven, that God owes heaven to us unless we do something really bad to warrant otherwise. But as we have seen in Romans, this theology is just not true. All people are guilty before God, and as such the default is not heaven but hell. (147)

But what justification (absolutely no pun intended there) is there for the inverse of the proposition that our “default” is “hell” rather than heaven? As Romans is used as the proof-text for this theology, could not Genesis 1 and Eden be used as the proof-text for heaven being our default? And, is heaven and hell (postmortem) really what the “Gospel” is about anyway? (I know, this is redundant). This ultimately is really bad Bible teaching. This kind of thinking is no longer exegesis and hermeneutics, but theological gymnastics, trying to figure out the practical ways and means by which this theology can actually “work” in the real world. He ends by saying,

Romans (and all of Scripture) is abundantly clear on this point. Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. (154)

How can this “abundantly clear” be in light of 1 Timothy where salvation comes by continuing in faith, love, and propriety. Zaccheus did nothing of the sort, yet “salvation” came to his house. God “saved” Israel out of his divine sovereignty prior to them ever having faith of any kind (Exodus 6:6). Psalms talks extensively about being “saved” by God with very few references to even a Messiah. Matthew 10:22 says that, “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Does that mean it is teaching persistence and endurance as a “means” to salvation? Acts 15:11 talks about the “grace” of Christ, not “faith” in Christ. In other words, a fuller treatment of the issue is needed, which I cannot give here. I simply point out that it is inaccurate and audacious of Platt to suggest that “all of Scripture is abundantly clear on this point.”

I commend this book for its efforts, its prophetic role, it’s hope and aspiration in truly transforming the Church and awakening her from the slumber of being seduced by the American dream. Further work and thoughtfulness, however, is necessary regarding its theology, soteriology, and ultimately, bibliology. While I have yet to read it, The Bible Made Impossible seems like a good step in the right direction.

Posted in: Religion, Reviews