Book Review: Radical

“Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream” by David Platt

Warning: This book will make you uncomfortable. If you’re anything like me, though, that’s a good thing. Comfort isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and I’ve got too much of it anyway.

David Platt is one of the biggest “rising stars” in American evangelicalism. At only 31, his resumé reads like a seasoned veteran in ministry: After earning five degrees (including a PhD) and serving as a Dean at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he became one of the youngest “megachurch” (though in his book he says he would “dispute that term”) pastors in America when he was called to be the lead pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He has served extensively in foreign missions, and is in the process of adopting a third child. In short, Platt is a true Christian “radical”.

The premise of this book is that the message preached by Jesus Christ is a radical one, and is “clearly and ultimately antithetical” to the “American Dream” of comfort, wealth, and abundance that has been assimilated into the American church culture. “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.” This book presents that choice — the choice between a comfortable, Americanized Christianity or the type of radical, costly faith to which we are called — in lovingly confrontational terms that leave no room for compromise. Think “Francis Chan meets Paul Washer”, and you’ve got David Platt.

While replete with constructive (and truthful) criticisms of American Christians, this is no pessimistic, church-bashing book… we already have plenty of those in our bookstores! Instead, it is a refreshingly optimistic portrayal of what God intends to accomplish in and through the lives of each and every believer, and how the work of the Church is the method through which He has chosen to spread the work and message of redemption to the world.

Platt moves systematically through eight chapters, showing the need for immediate action, God’s plan for salvation and for the Church, what we’re missing by living the American Dream, and how to practically radicalize our lives. Here is a brief summary of each of these chapters:

Chapter 1 — Someone Worth Losing Everything For: What Radical Abandonment to Jesus Really Means

Contrasting the hunger for God’s Word exhibited by those in countries closed to the Gospel who meet secretly at the risk of their lives and livelihood with the extravagance and abundance enjoyed by Christians in multi-million dollar church campuses across America, Platt shows us that our need to completely abandon ourselves to Christ is no less than theirs. Jesus is a treasure worthy of our sacrifice of everything we have. Jesus says difficult things like “become homeless”, “give up everything you own”, and “pick up an instrument of torture and follow me”. Instead of believing he actually means it, we rationalize these passages to make them more palatable for the life of comfort we are used to. The danger in this is, frighteningly, “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.

Chapter 2 — Too Hungry for Words: Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Gospel

Is Jesus really enough for us? Here we see how the Christianized version of the American Dream waters down the Gospel to a system of morality that, while appearing “easy”, actually places us under the weight of an impossible burden. We are totally unable to save ourselves, no matter what we do (or refrain from doing). Instead, we discover our need to return to the simplicity of the true Gospel. We are “radically dependent on God to do something [we] could never do“… and He has done it!

Chapter 3 — Beginning at the End of Ourselves: The Importance of Relying on God’s Power

This chapter provides the greatest contrast between biblical Christianity and the “American Dream”. When this phrase was coined in 1931, James Adams defined this dream 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 (compare this with Ephesians 4:13), and be recognized by others for what they are.” Platt shows us that when we apply this kind of thinking to our faith, we make the dangerous assumption “that our greatest asset is our own ability.” Ultimately, this leads to a fatal goal: “As long as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory.” Instead, the Bible teaches that we are to exalt in our inability, relying totally on God and giving Him ALL the glory for everything we have and all that we accomplish. By relying on God’s power, we are able to achieve things that are truly extraordinary, far greater than anything we could do on our own… so why settle for less than His best?

Chapter 4 — The Great Why of God: God’s Global Purpose from the Beginning Till Today

If God is all-powerful, why does He need us? Well, the truth is, He doesn’t need us, but because He loves us, He chooses to use Christians (as part of His body, the Church) as the agents of His transformative power of redemption for the world. Here Platt makes the shocking (but biblical) claim that ALL Christians are called to missions. The Great Commission applies to each of us, and this has radical implications on how we live our lives and allocate our resources. Our lack of faithfulness to serve condemns literally billions of people to Hell with no knowledge of the Savior. Because of this, “anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity.” After all, God “created human beings, not only to enjoy his grace in a relationship with him, but also to extend his glory to the ends of the earth.

Chapter 5 — The Multiplying Community: How All of Us Join Together to Fulfill God’s Purpose

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, his primary means of spreading his message was not through teaching large groups, though he did do that. His main focus was on investing personally in the lives of twelve men, with whom he entrusted the responsibility to take the message to the world. Similarly, discipleship of and investment in those with whom we spend our time should be our primary focus. It is through this process that ministry is multiplied. While we each have individual responsibility to share our faith, it is through the Church that the Gospel is spread to the ends of the earth.

Chapter 6 — How Much Is Enough? American Wealth and a World of Poverty

The longest chapter in the book, this is where Platt really brings the heat. He describes the affluence that characterizes American churches and Christians as a “blind spot”, even going so far as to compare our acceptance of consumerism with the acceptance of slavery that characterized many Christians 150 years ago. Though that may seem like an exaggeration, his case is convincing and convicting. How can we spend so much money on trivial things like houses, vehicles, and church buildings when 26,000 children die each day of starvation and preventable disease? Over three billion people live on less than $2 per day, yet we pretend they don’t exist. Even more importantly, there are 4.5 billion people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate meeting spiritual needs from meeting physical needs. We are commanded to do both. It is not enough to send money… we must send ourselves, taking Jesus to the lost as we feed and clothe them out of the abundance with which God has blessed us! Most people will discount or rationalize the claims made in this chapter. Some will respond by choosing to live radically for Christ. No one will be able to ignore the choice which Platt makes plain as day: “We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth. Only time will tell what you and I choose to do.”

Chapter 7 — There Is No Plan B: Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional

Here we see how most of us have accepted a practical universalism which prevents us from living radically. “[We] claim Christ is necessary for salvation, yet [we] live our lives in silence, as if people around [us] in the world will indeed be okay in the end without Christ.” Platt then lists and expounds upon seven truths that disprove this, and lead to the unmistakable conclusion that there is an urgent need for people to hear about Jesus Christ, that God has ordained that this responsibility lies with believers, and that we will be held accountable for our faithfulness to carry out this mission. These 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; 7) Christ commands the Church to make the Gospel known to all peoples.

Chapter 8 — Living When Dying Is Gain: The Risk and Reward of the Radical Life

From Christ’s own words, we see both the great cost and the great reward of radical abandonment to living for his glory. Following Him means sacrificing “the safety, security, and satisfaction we have found in this world.” We will be betrayed, hated, and persecuted. We may even be called upon to die for the sake of Christ. The reward, however, will be so far beyond anything we can even imagine, if we will but “postpone immediate gratification and endure hard sacrifices” for the sake of our eternal destiny. As Platt says, “The key is realizing — and believing — that this world is not your home.”

The book ends with a short chapter entitled, “The Radical Experiment: One Year to a Life Turned Upside Down”. Here Platt provides a plan and a challenge for changing our lives into those of radically effective Christians. Taking him up on this challenge will be difficult, but I agree with him that it is essential, and I am committing myself to his experiment. It involves five steps (you can read more about this at www.RadicalExperiment.org) that, while simple in explanation, are terribly difficult in practice. Platt is proof that it is possible, though, as he has already modeled this radical faith, and the fruit of a life so lived is obvious in his example.

“Life changing” is a term I reserve for very few books, but it most definitely applies to this one. This book ought to be required reading for every Christian. May the Lord use it to change many hearts!

I should note that the copy I have read is an advance reading copy provided free by the publisher. I was not obligated to write a positive review, and was not paid to write it. Buy it here.

10 comments on “Book Review: Radical

  1. Emily Williams says:

    John,
    I appreciate your dedication to reading and reviewing books and for choosing this one to draw our attention to as it was profoundly impactful to you. Of course, I have not read this book yet as it is not available, but I had some questions,comments and concerns about what you wrote that perhaps the book answers or explains, but I wanted to bring up here first.

    What does Platt define as The American Dream? While many people today view The American Dream as “a right to wealth and prosperity” I don’t think this is what it was originally. Our founding fathers built “The American Dream” on godly principles based on our human rights to “life, liberty and the persuit of happiness”. While Christ’s right to life, liberty and happiness were taken away, and we may be called to do the same, I don’t see it as bad to hold ideals as long as we are willing to forgo the ideals if Christ asks us to. I think God blessed the ideals this country was founded on. Are you (or rather Platt) suggesting that the ideals are in and of themselves anit-christian? If so, could you please explain? I know you mention Adams’ quote referring to The American Dream. Why should we take this as applying to our spiritual life when it seems that it was meant to be a way of running a country?

    You said, “Jesus says difficult things like “become homeless”, “give up everything you own”, and “pick up an instrument of torture and follow me”.” While these are not the exact words of Christ, let’s assume that the paraphrases are accurate. Are you saying we ought to interpret these statements as literally applying to every believer? While that may be the case for some if this were the case for every believer, we would all be homeless (not to mention owning nothing and in physical anguish daily) in order to be in the will of God.

    Under, Chapter 4 you say, “Our lack of faithfulness to serve condemns literally billions of people to Hell with no knowledge of the Savior.” I don’t think that this statement is fully accurate. While your statement that follows is true, this leading sentence does not prove its validity. People are not comdemned to hell because of our lack of faithfullness. God will save all those who are his, regardless of what we do. He will also condemn individuals based on their personal rejection of Him. We are held accountable for our actions and lack of obedience, but we are not held accountable for someone going to hell. If every believer on earth refused to do what God asked, God’s chosen would still be saved.

    I think that the American church does need a wake-up call, and I’m sure Platt has many good cunstructive criticisms of how Americans “do” Christianity. On the whole, we are probably very far from being “too radical” in our approach to our faith. I hope you don’t mind me countering some of your statements and Platt’s assessemnts in order to better understand his arguments and your interpretations.

    • John Gardner says:

      Okay… conference is over and I have some more time to respond. I’ll take your questions one at a time.

      What does Platt define as the American Dream?

      What he is talking about as the “American Dream” is primarily consumerism. That phrase originated in the 1930’s and was a big part of “New Deal” thinking, so he’s not really talking about the country’s founding ideals. He is primarily contrasting biblical Christianity with the prevalent idea that our purpose in life is to accumulate things for ourselves, our families, and our churches. Platt does, at one point, talk about the redeeming (or at least, redeemable) qualities of some of America’s ideals… for instance, our tendency to be hard workers willing to sacrifice for something we believe will bring a greater reward for ourselves and others.

      All that being said, I do think a case could be made for whether “the pursuit of happiness” is a biblically compatible pursuit. I suppose it depends on what one means by “happiness”. I think so often today, we equate happiness with wealth and comfort, which is what Platt is addressing, but I don’t think that is what the writers of the Declaration of Independence meant by happiness. anyway, that’s probably a discussion for another day since it doesn’t really relate to anything Platt said in the book.

      While these are not the exact words of Christ, let’s assume that the paraphrases are accurate.

      These paraphrases (which are Platt’s, not mine, though I think they are fitting) are of Luke 9:57-58, Luke 14:33, and Luke 14:27.

      Are you saying we ought to interpret these statements as literally applying to every believer?

      Yes and no. I believe absolutely that every believer is commanded to be willing to make radical and even ultimate sacrifices for the sake of living a life completely abandoned to Christ, but obviously not every believer will be called upon to make those sacrifices. This is Platt’s view as well. I love the quote (by Robert Gundry) Platt uses to sum up this point: “That Jesus did not command all of his followers to sell all of their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.”

      People are not comdemned to hell because of our lack of faithfullness. God will save all those who are his, regardless of what we do. He will also condemn individuals based on their personal rejection of Him.

      Again, this will depend upon how one uses the word “condemned”. Obviously, in the legal sense, sinners are condemned for their own sins, and ultimately for their rejection of God, as you say. However, in a practical sense, our inaction and unwillingness to share the Gospel does lead to the condemnation of the lost. As Romans 10:14-15 says: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

      If every believer on earth refused to do what God asked, God’s chosen would still be saved.

      This is a pretty dangerous line of reasoning, as it leads to determinism and fatalism. The doctrines of grace are meant to provoke the response of evangelism. When we begin to use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to not share the Gospel (which I realize is not what you’ve said, but that is the logical conclusion to that kind of thinking), it is an abuse of Reformed theology.

      Yes, God is sovereign, and He will bring about the salvation of His elect, but His chosen means of doing this is through the evangelistic efforts of Christians. There is an undeniable obligation for Christians to preach the Word and make disciples, and we are accountable for our choices. God’s sovereignty does not absolve us of our responsibility. For the record, though, Platt deals extensively (and much better than I have) with this in Chapter 7.

      The good news is that the scenario you suggest cannot happen, precisely because God is sovereign. He has ordained that the Gospel will be spread through His body, the Church, so the idea of every believer refusing to obey God is merely a hypothetical one for academic discussion.

      I hope you don’t mind me countering some of your statements and Platt’s assessemnts in order to better understand his arguments and your interpretations.

      I don’t mind at all. In fact, I encourage these sort of comments on my blog, and I am grateful for yours! I honestly think that if you read the book you’ll find that you are probably pretty close to being on the same page with Platt on most everything. He is definitely the superior writer and articulates his points much better than I have!

      • Emily Williams says:

        Thanks for taking the time to clearly and succinctly (sp?) answer my questions. It does sound as though I would agree with much of what Platt said and I appreciate the clarification!

        I do still hold to the academic reasoning that even if every believer chose to disobey God that His chosen would still be saved. I don’t feel that it is any kind of argument that would keep us from our obligation to share the gospel. However, I also agree that this academic point is an impossibility. I know you said Platt didn’t go into this in his book and I don’t intend to go further into things, but I appreciate your comments and willingness to address the issue.

        On a personal note, Ben and I will be moving to MS in August and I believe it’s only about 5-6 hours from Nashville…that’s where you guys are, right? I was hoping that maybe sometime in the future we might all be able to get together and I could meet your beautiful wife and son!

  2. John Gardner says:

    Hey, Emily. Thanks for the comments. The short version is: Yes, Platt answers all of those questions… some of them very specifically using some of the wording you’ve mentioned. I’ll address your questions more at length when I get the chance, but it might be a few days as I’m at a conference right now. Just wanted to let you know I’m not ignoring the comment!

  3. Jeff says:

    Good review. I wrote a brief review as well. It was tough to write, because I continue to find that I’m being challenged and that I’m being told that it’s time to step out of my comfort zone. yes, I’m uncomfortable…I guess that’s a good thing.

  4. […] Most people who know me know that I love David Platt’s recent book, “Radical:Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” I gave it a rather glowing review, and have distributed copies of the book to several […]

  5. […] and it was well worth the wait! David Platt’s first book, Radical (here’s my review), brought into focus the incompatibility of the Christian life with the American dream, and has had […]

  6. […] at Stevens Street Baptist Church that I hope many of you will attend! David Platt, author of Radical and Radical Together, will be simulcasting the latest in the increasingly popular Secret Church […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s