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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review of David Platt's Radical

Simple to Understand, More Involved to Practice – A Review of David Platt’s Radical

I went into Radical sure that I would scoff at it because my impression of extremely conservative evangelical perspectives is that they are dogmatic in assuming their own views are absolutely right, and thus they present their views at “the Biblical view.” Based on people I have talked to who have visited Platt’s church, and based on Platt’s comments on Youtube in response to Rob Bell’s book, I think it’s safe to include him among conservative evangelicals.

That said, my negative disposition going into the book was gone by the end of the first chapter. There, Platt writes, “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” (p. 3). I knew after this sentence I would want to read this entire book because whatever else Platt might say or do, he was onto something I have thought for a long time. He connected the ‘American’ descriptor in “American Christianity” with problems that exist in American churches.

By conforming Christianity to middle class white suburban American subculture, Christians are making Jesus who they want him to be. As Platt says it, “We are molding Jesus into our image” (p.13). It’s supposed to be the other way around, but to present ourselves to Jesus that he might mold us demands that we be moldable, pliable in His hands. It absolutely requires us to change and we don’t want to do that. Platt fills the book with stories of churches that emphasize big budgets and big buildings, but de-emphasize sacrificial giving (of time and of money) for the sake of helping the poor and spreading the gospel. Some of his examples should bring Christians and especially pastors to shame.

For me, chapter three was particularly poignant. There Platt deals with the importance of relying on the Holy Spirit for success in our lives as disciples of Jesus. Platt considered the financial strength and the abundance of talent in his church and began imagining the great things they could accomplish for God. Wrong! And I, a pastor, have done the exact same fantasizing. Look who comes to our church! Just think of what God can do! I really appreciate Platt’s honesty in his own journey for moving from imagination based on human gifts to prayerfully seeking the Holy Spirit. In reading Radical I was prompted to reroute my own prayer and my own thoughts. I need to spend less time imagining how to spend my church members’ money and more time praying for the Spirit to fill me and fill our church.

My one main critique of radical comes in chapter seven, “There is no plan B.” In reviewing the basics of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to be one who believes in the Gospel, Platt says that if the church fails to evangelize the world, then the world is lost (p.156-159). He presents salvation as a plan – a plan that will fail if American churches don’t take the Gospel to the world.

Platt’s presentation here puts inordinate responsibility for the success of salvation on the shoulders of American Christians. I appreciate his intent. He’s completely right in pointing out that American Christians have increasingly shirked the call to disciple-making. He’s right and it should be pointed out and condemned. But, where I think he is wrong is in his glaring implication that the success of the plan depends on us. God cannot save people in other parts of the world if we don’t go. History has shown that is not true. Furthermore, Platt holds an extremely high view of God. But then he claims that salvation will fail if people, not God, fail.

A second problem with the scheme of salvation Platt lays out in chapter seven is the deafness to the extraordinary evangelistic efforts of people from other parts of the world. Far more conversions to Christ are happening in conjunction with the efforts of evangelical Christians from the Philippines, Australia, South Korea, and China, than the work of American Christians on mission trips. Yes, we should go. No, evangelizing the world doesn’t depend on our response.

In spite of these critical comments, I give credit to Platt for his unyielding efforts to motivate the American church. In the end, that’s his goal, and he achieves it with force, clarity, and effectiveness. He is not trying to assess world-wide evangelism. He is trying to show that American Christians are staying within their own safe zones and comfort zones, and when they do that, they miss the Gospel. Bravo to David Platt for this observation. And bravo to him for putting this message out in an easy-to-read, supported-by-scripture form. I am a pastor and I hope the members of my church will read David Platt’s Radical. What he presents is very involved for person, but it isn’t from him. It from God’s word, and all who claim to follow Christ should listen and obey.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review."

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