This is a reading report on David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. In this 2010 book, Platt presents his point of view of how modern Christians have altered the Gospel message to conform to current culture. He is the writer of two other books, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God and Follow Me: A Call to Die, A Call to Live. Platt is currently the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. (Radical Blog, accessed 12/7/2013) In addition to being a Pastor he has also worked as a Staff Evangelist at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans and as Dean of Chapel and Assistant Professor at New Orleans Theological Seminary. Platt has two undergraduate and three advanced degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia, a Master of Divinity, Master of Theology and Doctor of Philosophy from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
This report will first be a summary of the book including notes on each of the nine chapters. A critique of the book will be presented. Personal application of Platt’s ideas will be suggested and detailed. The last portion of this work will be a conclusion.
Someone Worth Losing Everything For is the opening chapter of Platt’s work. In this introductory chapter he begins to define what “radical abandonment to Jesus really means.” (Platt 2012, 1) He briefly describes his beginnings as the Pastor of a large Atlanta church. He compares and contrasts the church he was hired to lead and the church and ministry of Jesus.
Unlike the large church of today, Jesus operated in a “minichurch” environment. (Platt 2010, 2) He really “wasn’t interested in marketing himself to the masses.” (Platt 2010, 2) Jesus moved away from large crowds, not into them. In his life and ministry it seemed that he actually “spurned the things that my church culture said were the most important.” (Platt 2010, 2) Platt questions how we can align the church and Christian ministries of today with the example of Jesus. Jesus taught the concept of “radical abandonment”, to leave behind our careers, possessions, families, friends and ourselves to serve him only. (Platt 2010, 10-12) In our churches today, we seem to want more of a “nice, middle-class, American Jesus.” (Platt 2010, 13) We seem to want Jesus to mold more to us than we mold to him.
Platt very effectively sets the stage in his first chapter to begin the discussion of how we can “aim toward embracing Jesus for who he really is,” not who we want him to be. (Platt 2010, 21) To embrace Jesus on his terms is to find the true “security and safety” we all seek. (Platt 2010, 21) When obtained, the success of the American dream, the middle-class lifestyle, can only give a shadow of the safety and security we can find in him.
Understanding God though the Gospel is the theme of Too Hungry for Words, the next chapter. “The gospel reveals the Glory of God.” (Platt 2010, 28) In American we meet in posh, comfortable churches. In many parts of the world, believers meet secretly, at the risk of their lives and property. Both groups of people have the same goal, in theory, to better understand the gospel. In America if the comfort and security of the church became like much of the rest of the world, Platt questions if Americans would attend in the same numbers. More importantly, Platt questions why those in parts of the world where studying the Bible can be punished by death, thousands meet secretly to do just that. “What is it about God’s Word that creates a hunger to hear more?” (Platt 2010, 28) The Gospel teaches us who we are, what we need and who we need to be in a way not available from any other source.
The Bible teaches that the true believer “cannot settle for anything less than a God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-denying gospel” and life. (Platt 2010, 38)
This is the beginning of the radical concept. Success, safety, security and satisfaction can only be found in God and in his Gospel. Pursuit of worldly goods and accomplishments will always be just that, a pursuit. There will never be an end or a satisfaction to a life based on that pursuit. God’s radical concept is simply to receive him and his word to achieve fulfilment and satisfaction. Platt next moves on to the beginning of this process.
Beginning at the End of Ourselves explores how to individually understand the “importance of relying on God’s power” to find spiritual fulfillment. (Platt 2010, 45) Believers must learn to trust in the power of God, not the perceived power within them. This is the point where the American dream and the “call of Jesus and the essence of the Gospel” start to differ. (Platt 2010, 45) Americans are taught that if we work hard and apply ourselves, through than individual effort we can find success and fulfillment. This dream is dangerous. If we achieve it, we also may achieve separation from God. “While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.” (Platt 2010, 47) We must depend on him, not ourselves. This applies to both the individual and the church. Platt defines this issues and asks “why would we even want to settle for Christianity according to our ability or settle for church according to our resources” when the resources of the almighty God are at disposal. (Platt 2010, 60)
The Great Why of God explores “God’s global purpose.” (Platt 2010, 61) God’s purpose is global, not American. We are not called to stay in our comfortable homes and suburbs and send money to missionaries in other places. “Jesus commands us to go.” (Platt 2010, 64) According to Platt, from the creation of the world we were called to do two things to fulfill God’s plan. First “we were created by God to enjoy his grace.” (Platt 2010, 65) Secondly, we were created to “extend his glory to the ends of the earth.” (Platt 2010, 65) Jesus didn’t die just for Americans. He died for the world. We were created to “enjoy his grace and extend his glory.” (Platt 2010, 65)
Platt goes on to illustrate that we were all called, not just a few. There is no biblical basis that the “obligations of Christianity” are assigned to just a select group while the “privileges of Christianity” are for all believers. (Platt 2010, 73) We are not called to go, we are commanded. God has a “radically global purpose” for every believer. (Platt 2010, 83) This is the “extends his glory” part of our purpose. (Platt 2010, 65)
God does not intend that we do it all alone. In his fifth chapter, The Multiplying Community, Platt details “how all of us join together to fulfill God’s purpose.” (Platt 2010, 84) It is not up to each of us to change the world. Regardless of whom we are or our personal abilities, “Jesus has commanded each of us to make disciples.” (Platt 2010, 87) If each of us helps a few others know Christ, the world would be converted. “Jesus’s great gamble” is that is his entire ministry depends on the disciples he trained and loved while on Earth. (Platt 2010, 88) The entire success of his mission was ultimately up to them. They each had to convert just a few to get it all going. After our personal conversion, it is up to each of us to decide whether we will “receivers or reproducers.” (Platt 2010, 99)
The church is defined by Platt as “a community of Christians each multiplying the gospel by going, baptizing and teaching in the contexts where they live every day.” (Platt 2010, 106) If we all do that just a little, the message spreads for us as it did from the original disciples.
At this point in the work, Platt begins to directly address the issues of “American wealth and a world of poverty” in How Much is Enough? (Platt 2010, 107) He begins to directly address one of the central themes of his work, how Americans have molded Christianity to fit their vision of the American dream. He questions if an American can ever be rich enough. Today, “more than a billion people in the world live and die in desperate poverty.” (Platt 2010, 108) Yet, most American Christians have a blind spot to this reality, seeing instead only their personal pursuit of success. They act and live as if those in poverty around the world do not exist. “But they do exist.” (Platt 2010, 109)
God clearly cares about the poor. Platt gives multiple biblical references to this point. Yet most Americans and most Christian Americans are more focused on building their personal wealth and success that helping others in need. This is despite the fact that Jesus told many to sell everything they had to serve others and told parables about the difficulty of a rich man getting into Heaven. Most Americans have the attitude of “what can we spare”, not “what will it take” to serve and help others. (Platt 2010, 129) “We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth.” (Platt 2010, 140)
There Is No Plan B is the seventh chapter where Platt illustrates that only the believers of Jesus can spread the Gospel. That is the only plan. The “seven truths” of Romans are outlined to illustrate the necessity of Christians spreading the word. In this chapter Platt states directly his thesis. “I implore you to consider the urgent need before us to forsake the American dream now in favor of radical abandonment to the person and purpose of Christ.” (Platt 2010, 143) The plan is clear and the need is urgent.
If there are truly today “more than a billion people” headed toward an eternity without Christ, it is time for the American believer to reprioritize his life and commit to the mission. (Platt 2010, 143) Only when a Christian is fully committed to this purpose can fulfilment occur.
Living Is When Dying Is Gain is the chapter in which Platt brings it all together, speaking to “the risk and reward of the radical life.” (Platt 2010, 161) If we choose to walk toward, now away from those in need, to move toward the danger of complete surrender, we walk toward the greater reward. “This is where Christ dramatically deviates from the American dream.” (Platt 2010, 171) We should embrace the possibility of death rather than embrace an empty life. Our ultimate reward is death and life forever with God. “Your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward.” (Platt 2010, 179)
In the final chapter, The Radical Experiment, Platt challenges each reader to consider committing “one year to a life turned upside down.” (Platt 2010, 184) Each believer is challenged to commit to five activities for a year. These are to pray for the entire world, read though the entire Word, sacrifice your money for a specific purpose, spend your time in another context and to commit your life to multiplying the community of Christ. (Platt 2010, 185) Platt states that he is certain that if “you stick to these challenges for a whole year, you will find yourself coming alive like never before.” (Platt 2010, 186) Each of the challenges is explored with real examples of believers who followed each one and had their lives transformed.
These five steps are the climax of the book and make up “the Radical Experiment.” (Platt 2010, 212) During the year of meeting each of these challenges daily, Platt suggests that the believer will be “intimately exposed to the heart of God for every nation in the world.” (Platt 2010, 213) The book concludes with a brief worksheet that could be used to begin the year-long journey. After this summary of the chapters, a critique of the work will now be presented.
Platt’s work is well written, drawing the reader in quickly with personal stories and biblical references in every chapter. It starts with Platt at a crossroad in his life and shows how he dealt with the change and challenges of becoming the leader of a large church at a young age. It is a compelling story. Also compelling is the writing style of chapter and subchapter headings that draw the reader in with interesting verbiage. The idea he presents starts at the beginning of a personal journey and concludes with a new direction suggested by the writer based on that journey. It is logical and easy to follow for both the serious biblical student and the casual reader.
A strength of the work is its clear picture of an almighty God and a powerful, yet humble Son. He speaks of a God who hates sin and the sinner. (Platt 2010, 29) That is an image of God’s attitude and wrath that if often overlooked by most Christian writers. Platt writes many times of Jesus and his humility, knowing that he is all powerful while on Earth but choosing to serve and teach instead of rule. The clear biblical images of God and the Son are powerful in the writing.
The most significant weakness of the book to this reader is that it over-promises and under-delivers. The five components of the radical experiment are solid, biblical and seem to follow the example of Christ illustrated so well by the book. They are really not that radical. They are the stuff of Bible School, Sunday School and summer church camps that any good Christian child has been exposed to many times. In his rush to condemn mainstream Christianity and the established church, he has firmly positioned his final conclusion in the middle of it. This is not to say the five components and the challenge of a radical year would not generate the results Platt promises. They may like do just that. But his concepts are not really radical at all. This reader was very disappointed by the end of the work.
Also disappointing was that while Platt is quick to condemn the American dream style of Christianity, he seems to be living it. He is still a very well paid, publically acclaimed church leader, living out the American dream of success-in-ministry that many aspire to achieve. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But once again, in his process of condemning others and their practices, his is firmly in the middle of the church-society he criticizes. His work can certainly generate change and improvement in that society. If Platt truly believes in his writing, it would have been logical to read that he has moved to another part of the world to work with an unreached people group. He may have done that temporarily at times, but that is not the life he has chosen to live every day.
Platt’s intentions and ministry are certainly right in the middle of the will of God and the challenge of Jesus to spread the gospel. At the same time, he seems to be an everyday proponent of the very things he so passionately criticizes. This writer may be too literal in the reading of this work and the comparison of its ending challenge and the life of the man who wrote it. Both his profession as the leader of a mega church and the writer of nationally bestselling how-to guides on the Christian life seem at odds with the thesis of his work.
In the application of this work to my personal life, my criticisms of Platt disappear. I have the five components of the radical experiment printed and on the wall of my office. They seem too simple. They seem to me to be a summary of the life of Jesus in five easy to understand steps. The only thing I find confusing about them is Platt’s challenge to do them for a year. They seem to me to be an easy every-day-of-your-life mission statement.
I affirm every day to pray for the entire world, read the Word, sacrifice my time and money for specific purposes in different contexts and to commit my life to multiplying the kingdom of God. (Platt 2010, 185) This summary sentence of the radical challenge of Platt reminds me of another familiar challenge. “All power has been given to Me in Heaven and on Earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NASB)
The reading list of this amateur student is long but now longer. To it have been added the other two Platt works. They are positioned behind many others but will be read. The style and biblically supported content of Platt is valuable and productive. It should be recommended to anyone who believes that being a Christian and living a God centered life is about creating a “new normal” of human behavior and is ready to “live for this dream.” (Platt 2010, 216-217)
Platt, David, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010.
Radical Life Website (http://www.radical.net/about/david_platt.html>), accessed 12/07/2013.