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.