Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: "Radical" -- The American Dream vs the Biblical Gospel

Author: David Platt, 2010. (Waterbrook Press)

This is a small (at just over 200 pages) but deeply thought-provoking book. David Platt, pastor of a mega-church in Birmingham, Alabama, challenges us to consider the radical demands of the gospel, and calls us to a number of radical "d"s: dependence, devotion, duty, discipling, danger and death.

Written in an easy flowing style, with excellent stories drawn from his own life and from those in his church, "Radical" could be a quick read. But I found myself underlining many key points and stopping to ponder their relevance and application for my own life.

The major part of the book focuses on the problems within American culture, a "culture that exalts self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and self-confidence." The gospel calls us to something different: "the challenge for us is to live in such a way that we are radically dependent on and desperate for the power that only God can provide." Sadly, many of us in the church have absorbed the message of Madison Avenue and cocooned ourselves in our suburban homes, feeding on the drivel of entertainment flooding our senses in this electronic age.

In chapter 3 Platt brings up the American dream, a concept he will use to contrast with the biblical gospel: "while the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God." He identifies clearly how we can honor God: "we were created by God to enjoy his grace . . . but also to extend his glory to the ends of the earth."  We have a command in the gospel directly from the mouth of Jesus to go to the ends of the earth carrying the message of his gospel. "Anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity." In this sense, especially as he deals with culture and its impact on Christianity, "Radical" reminds me of "Christless Christianity" by Michael Horton, another scathing review of American Christianity.

120 x 600Platt spends some time on the radical duty of the Christian in evangelism. "Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell." In perhaps the most shocking picture in the book, he accuses most gospel-believing Christians of being practical universalists, "living each day as though it's not absolutely urgent to tell others about Christ." The statistics are sad and hard to get our heads around: "more than 4.5 billion people in the world today are without Christ . . . we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream." The solution here is doing our radical duty in evangelism and making disciples, investing in relationships and winning the world one person at a time. Sharing the gospel, imparting life, making disciples, bringing glory to God fulfills this duty.

The American dream is centered on materialism, and Platt suggests this is a blind spot in American Christianity. He is not opposed to prosperity, but is concerned with how we embrace and use it. "God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more.”

Another aspect of the American dream is security. We desire wealth as much for the safety it brings. But Platt offers an alternate view. He asks the question, “What if we begin to look at the design of God as the most dangerous option before us? What if the center of God’s will is in reality the most unsafe place for us to be?” This is a new way to look at God’s will. Many of us have been taught that the center of God’s will is like the eye of the hurricane, a place of peace and safety. Not so, says Platt. “The danger in our lives will always increase in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.” He goes on, “as long as Christianity looks like the American dream, we will have few problems in the world.” The biblical gospel, in contrast with the American dream, offers danger rather than safety.

In the penultimate chapter Platt finally provides “the key to taking back your faith from the American dream.” It is a radical solution: “your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward.” We are brought up to see life as our goal and reward, not death. But when death is our crown we are willing to embrace anything, including suffering and danger. With this in mind, he summarizes the superiority of the gospel, “This, we remember, is the great reward of the gospel: God himself. When we risk our lives to run after Christ, we discover the safety that is found only in his sovereignty, the security that is found only in his love, and the satisfaction that is found only in his presence.”

The final chapter presents a radical experiment, a challenge to embrace this new lifestyle for a year. This would be a journey of authentic discipleship. He dares us 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
This puts shoe leather on our faith in a way that will grow us and grow others. By becoming praying people of the Word, giving liberally, going urgently, and living dangerously we will be part of the transformation of lives and culture that God is ushering in.

As I completed the book, I can’t say I have committed to all five of the components, but Platt’s book has brought me face to face with my cultural distortions of the gospel, and God is in the process of working this message into my heart. “Radical” is one of the best books I have read in the last year. If you are a follower of Jesus, are you willing to read this and be radically changed? It’s radically worth it!

Note: I received a free copy from Waterbrook Publishing as a review copy but was not influenced to provide a positive review.

No comments:

Post a Comment