Radical, by David Platt

I was surprised at how much I disliked this book. What intrigued me was the subtitle, “Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” I do think that the American view of the good life is at odds with the Christian view. But what Platt means by “American Dream” is materialism (Christians are too materialistic? How new an idea is that?), whereas he fully embraces what I consider a much more dangerous aspect of the Dream, namely cultural imperialism.

Platt’s book begins with a look at the Gospels, establishing a truth that has been transformative to me, namely the need to die to self. He even cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer in support:

In [The Cost of Discipleship] he wrote that the first call every Christian experiences is “the call to abandon the attachments of this world.” The theme of the book is summarized in one potent sentence: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Platt characterizes what he considers the conventional “attachments” from which American Christians suffer: materialism, addiction to physical comfort, a need to be entertained, lack of devotion to the Word, lack of concern for the world. He exhorts his readers to loose themselves from these chains—and offers them a new set, a burning desire to “do something great for God.”

Platt tells of believers around the world he considers sufficiently sold out to God, but none of them seem to be afflicted with this desire. They are certainly devoted to living faithful lives, and I expect they are confident God will use their faithfulness to accomplish His purposes. But Platt offers no examples of, say, South Koreans who have set aside their own relatively affluent lifestyles in order to do something great for God in another country.

Which gets to my point about cultural imperialism. There is a peculiarly American faith in the self-evident superiority of our thinking. Whether it be our approach to economics or entertainment or government or spirituality, we figure that those who resist our thinking simply don’t understand—yet. And so we blithely export our ideas in these areas, ignoring how well or badly those ideas have worked for us. We know what’s best, even if we aren’t able to live it.

Platt urges his readers to jettison materialism and center their lives around spreading a truth that—in his own opinion—they understand poorly and are unable to exemplify in their own lives. I’m afraid this only trades one worldly attachment for another; the lust for comfort is replaced by the lust for power.

I wish that people like David Platt who push a vision for the church would at least wait long enough to show us how it has worked out for their own local congregation. But I wish even more they would take to heart something else that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, in Life Together:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first and accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

(I agreed to review this book for Waterbrook Multnomah books, in exchange for which they sent me a free copy.)

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6 thoughts on “Radical, by David Platt

  1. Rick, thank you for this review. I’ve been reading comments from people praising this book, and being convicted by it, and the people I know who are being convicted probably do have some things to offer of substance to hurting people in other places. But I too am worried that the grass is always greener, and it’s easier to show love to people in far-flung places, but not so easy to do with the person sitting with you in the pew, so why try? I want to see radical Christianity lived first in local churches, then I will believe that we can make a difference in the rest of the world. Like I remind my children when they bicker, “How can you love God whom you can’t see, when you can’t even love your brother whom you do see?”

  2. This book challenges me to take a look into my self, my choices, and my priorities. Isn’t it true that I live with luxuries that I don’t really need? Do I really need to buy another shirt, eat out in restaurants, and drive a $40,000 car? Aren’t I really materialistic? Are we not all? To me, Platt isn’t asking me to abandon everything but to question the choices I make on how to use the resources (my money and my time). Of course, God may use these extravagant resources to draw people to Him such as a super nice church that really stands out to a person driving by and who decides to stop by and see what it is all about. And perhaps, over time, can he not come to know Jesus Christ as His savior? Or me, today, as I was walking out of church, a stranger approached me who according to him thought I was really attractive (this was really his own words but I credit it to my clothes, my gym membership, and trips to the dermatologist) and we went to get coffee and we ended up talking for three hours, sharing our lives and most importantly, what God has done in our lives.
    What Platt did for me is to question each and every time I use a dollar, or turn on the tv or log on facebook, am I really making good use of my resources? Indeed, God can bless others through that money I spend buying a shirt from a private-owned shop (I’m in Korea right now, and there are a lot of private-owned businesses who probably can use my business), or a post on facebook. Then how much more He can bless them if I did these things with the glory of God in mind!
    And I believe Platt also realizes and confesses his own shortcomings but I don’t believe he’s condemning others while raising himself or those people he’s using as examples. Instead he has shown me that this is what I can do, plus more that is unimaginable, with the power of Spirit.
    The other day, I saw this nail polish that I really wanted and was only 2,000 South Korean won (which is equivalent to around 2 dollars) and as I walked up to pay for it, I was struck with a thought, “do I really need this?” and was compelled to put it back. Sure it’s only 2 dollars, but can’t God do wonders with just those 2$ if I spent it for the sake of His glory? Can’t this change in prioritizing how I use my resources start with a small step such as using that 2$ for something else?
    And while I was born and raised in America, my parents are South Korean natives and I have visited Korea many times. And I genuinely want to know what exactly you mean by Platt not offering examples of how they have reached out to people of other countries.
    I don’t know about other countries; I can’t speak for other countries. But from what I’ve experienced and shared with my family in Korea and with other people, they too have a sense of materialism and cultural imperialism. And do we not all as sinful human beings, no matter where we are from, have this same problem? How much is enough? How much do I truly know God and thus trust in Him to provide for me?

  3. My parents are South Korean natives and I have visited Korea many times. And I genuinely want to know what exactly you mean by Platt not offering examples of how they have reached out to people of other countries.

    Eunee,

    I raise the question because the central point of Platt’s book (and much of American evangelical thinking) is that we Americans are feeble in our Christianity because we squander our resources on trivial things, rather than on building the Kingdom—by which they mean taking the Gospel message to other countries.

    On the other hand, Platt holds up South Korea as a shining example of a vibrant Christian culture (something I agree with, as far as I understand it) while giving no examples at all of how South Koreans devote their own resources to building the Kingdom in the way Platt insists on, namely taking the Gospel to other countries. And I think he gives no examples because there are no examples. In fact, I think it’s true that in the modern day cultures where Christianity is most vibrant (Asia, Africa) there is almost no emphasis on overseas missionary work.

    So my only question is this: why is the lack of emphasis on overseas missionary work a problem for Americans but not for Christians elsewhere in the world?

    I need to point out here that I am not disparaging missionary work in any way. If you are called to it, you are called to a good thing. But it is often prescribed as a panacea for what ails the American church, and as far as I can tell the rest of the world demonstrates that it is at best irrelevant to the health of the church.

  4. I have no opinions on Platt’s book, but I do have a comment about South Korean Christianity.

    I have heard for 30 years about the vibrancy of South Korean Christianity. But I have also heard about their foreign mission work. They have made major missionary efforts elsewhere in East Asia, in the USA, in Africa, and I have heard particularly about their work in the Middle East. It seems that Muslims expect Westerners to be Christian, but are quite mystified that Koreans would be. This adds a new (and effective) twist to the equation.

    South Korea is sending out new missionaries each year at the rate of the entire western world. While they still have a long way to go before they catch up with the US in terms of total missionaries on the field, they are already second in the world in terms of total number of missionaries sent out from their country. And again, first in the world in terms of new foreign missionaries sent annually. See Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, pp. 8, 157

    http://books.google.com.bz/books?id=fNFeyA-RjQAC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=%22missionaries+from+Korea%22&source=bl&ots=Am2FBJ2LGR&sig=fQxWQhiTBjaq-VMyS6KRqCYOE7k&hl=en&ei=kqHxTZqZC8rz0gGW68SfBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=%221,100%22&f=false

  5. Jay,

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention, and I apologize for relying my own very limited knowledge of missions work by Christians around the world. There’s no excuse for it—thirty seconds with Google turned up this article from Christianity Today which makes the same point about the fast-growing South Korean missionary movement.

  6. Thank you for the link to the CT article. It is an excellent look at where Korean missions stood 4 years ago. It is honest about the mistakes and failures, and optimistic because of the tremendous good that is being done despite some pitfalls. The mistakes and failures seem to be very familiar, strongly resembling the list of mistakes and failures of Western missionaries. The good news is: God uses faltering and stumbling vessels as he brings his good news to the world. God, himself, is molding the missionaries, and he also overcomes what he hasn’t yet remolded in order to facilitate the spread of the gospel to unreached peoples.

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