Monday, January 10, 2011

Review - Radical

"Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream" by David Platt is a powerful and exceedingly challenging book that provokes Christians to examine what it really means to abandon all for the sake of the Gospel, and invites us to choose radical obedience to Christ and His mission. The book is not aimed (just) at pastors, but at all Christians. Platt himself is the Pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, a thriving church of 4000 whose members are making an impact on their community and across the globe.

The book is not easy to read. While the style is clear and the message not hard to understand, throughout the book Platt goes over the top slamming his perception of those in American churches today: "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." From the very start he examines the type of radical commitment and obedience Christ expected from His disciples. The lifestyle of American Christians and the vitality and depth of obedience of Christians in other countries are put in stark contrast. The next two chapters talk more about the gospel, and the need to rely on God's power.

In Chapter Four Platt presses strongly that every single Christian needs to be involved in overseas missions, and that almost all of us use the excuse that we 'are not called' to turn our backs on this need. The style here is typical of the rest of the book. He makes some very strong points, shares some appropriate biblical principles, but then makes the case so aggressively and unbalanced, it's hard to stomach and usually more guilt inducing than inspiring. I don't think he intends this - Platt is genuinely passionate about the Gospel and those in need. So much so that Chapter Seven again hammers away at the idea that 'going is urgent, not optional.' I find it amazing that yet another author makes a huge deal of the word 'Go' in the Great Commission: 'Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey...' when in fact the verb and command is to 'make disciples', with the other phrases as helpers. "Go" is not the command, it's literally "While going" or "As you go".

Chapter Five, 'The Multiplying Community', is a powerful discussion highlighting the tremendous need for making disciples and how all of us join together to fulfill God's purpose. "Jesus reminds me that disciples are not mass-produced. Disciples of Jesus - genuine, committed, self-sacrificing followers of Christ - are not made overnight." In too many churches there is no intentional process for developing disciples. People are effectively trained to be receivers of knowledge and blessing, instead of being reproducers. The goal is too often to disinfect the people in the congregation rather than truly disciple them.

Chapter Six addresses an extremely important and practical question, especially for American Christians who live in great wealth compared to the rest of the world. "How much is enough?" Just how do we reconcile the commands of Christ with the lifestyle choices we face in such a country? He challenges the readers to consider what it might look like to abandon all for the sake of Christ, and to better meet the needs of those who have far less. A key idea here is to consider a lifestyle 'cap' - to decide how much is enough, and to give away any income beyond this amount.

Chapter Eight was another tough chapter. The author continually stresses to go to the need, to seek out the dangerous and dive in. He praises a faithful follower of Christ for taking their family overseas to Bangladesh "where they could better glorify God". Excuse me?? Our ability to glorify God depends on where we choose to go? That's unbiblical and unfounded. Stephen would not have glorified God more had he left for more exotic lands. Faithful Sunday School teachers who invest their lives in children and share and model Christ's love in such a way that they bring many to Christ and make disciples who make disciples are in no way bringing less glory to God than if they moved overseas. Another story shared in this chapter was even more disturbing. He talked about the travesty and tremendous waste of the SS United States, which he said was designed to be the best troop carrier the world had ever seen, yet sadly was never used for its purpose. It instead ended up being used somehow as a luxury liner to ferry around rich VIP's. He then made an analogy to the church and losing its purpose. Amazing story - until I looked up the ship. From what I read, it was initially designed to be just that - a luxury liner! In order to subsidize the cost and as a backup plan, the navy paid a fair bit for it to be possible that the ship be able to be converted into a troop carrier in times of war, should the need arise. (Thankfully it did not.) That's quite a different story, and demonstrates the lack of balance that is possible when one strives too hard to make a point. (Which is awkward, because the author's key points are so true, that God is sovereign and that following Jesus Christ is worth far more than whatever we risk.)

Chapter Nine, "The Radical Experiment," was completely unexpected. At this point in the book I was ready for the big challenge to sell all that I had and catch the next plane to the most dangerous country imaginable. Instead what Platt recommended was equal part radical and rationale, including some seemingly easy steps that could profoundly impact our lives. Rather than recommend spiritual bungee jumping, the author dares us to undertake a one year experiment with five components: i) pray for the entire world; ii) read through the entire Word, iii) sacrifice your money for a specific purpose; iv) spend your time in another context, v) commit your life to a multiplying community. Rather than a call to abandon organized religion and institutions that contributed to the problem, Platt makes a passionate case for the importance of being committed and actively involved in a local church. That was quite welcome news. In hindsight, this chapter makes perfect sense. The typical reader is probably someone who is disillusioned with the church, may not be involved in community, doesn't read the Bible as much as they think they should, nor have any involvement in global missions. Several of the things we are challenged to do here have the potential for radical life change. My wife and I spent a year abroad which was completely life-changing. Reading through the entire Bible was the most powerful growth experience in my faith, and praying for the nations does much to keep your eyes and mind Kingdom focused. I will definitely be taking up this challenge in several areas, and prayerfully considering the others.

So... is Radical worth reading? The book reminded me of "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan in many ways. Both hammer home a message of radical obedience to Christ and are challenging in the extreme. If you've read Crazy Love, chances are good you will have a similar reaction to Radical. As you can tell above I had extremely mixed reactions to Radical. It will take much longer to process than to read this book, as I'll need to reconsider the message prayerfully. One beef I have is that God gives all of us different gifts, different passions, and has placed us strategically in a unique setting - there is no "one true pathway" that all must follow to be a 'real' disciple. There really is much of value in the book - my hope is that those who choose to read it will not feel bombarded or guilted out by the author's style, and that they will persevere to the end and accept the challenge of the radical experiment. I especially hope that readers will strive to become reproducing disciple-makers who model obedience to the Gospel in community within their local church. I would caution those who are newer to the faith, or those prone to guilt, to pass on Radical.The best way to read Radical is probably to discuss it within a small group.

Radical was actually a New York Times bestseller, and is available at Amazon and many other retailers. (It's actually quite inexpensive, currently just over $5. A shorter 50-pg companion book, The Radical Question, is also available.) You can also read the first chapter online or check out a few videos on the book. A great resource for praying for the world is Operation World with daily featured countries and prayer requests. See also the book's companion websites - and

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging For Books Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

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