I finally finished David Platt’s book Radical yesterday. When I started it, back on Super Bowl Sunday, I couldn’t put it down. (Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to distract me from watching a football game.) Once I was offered the chance to take it home, and finish it at my leisure, I couldn’t seem to get interested in picking it up again.
That’s perhaps not too unusual a reaction. As one of the editorial reviews at amazon.com points out,
“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream.” (Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Most days I read for relaxation and intellectual stimulation. I like to sit in a comfy armchair, often with a snack or at least a beverage handy. Picking up a book that makes me feel guilty for time or money I spend on my own comfort doesn’t quite fit the picture.
When I did finally pick it up again yesterday, I had another surprise. Most of what I remembered about the book was the emphasis on American Christians needing to be willing to give up at least some of their material comforts and give to people elsewhere in the world who have so much less. Apparently I had pretty much finished that part of the book, because when I started reading again, it was all about needing to take the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to people who have never heard, so that they will not all go to Hell.
In my experience, the churches that emphasize the spiritual need of people who are lost and headed for Hell, and churches that emphasize the physical needs of people who do not have clean water or enough food or medical care, are usually not the same churches. Some will talk about giving physical help as an opportunity to get the chance to share the Gospel. Others talk about how God cares about the whole person and want to be careful to show unconditional love, not giving physical help only if it acts as a lead-in to preaching.
As Radical is too short to cover anything comprehensively, I don’t know what Platt’s views are in that regard. In retrospect, Radical doesn’t seem to be so much about meeting the needs of people in other countries as about American Christians needing to find ways to follow Someone who said, “those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)
I certainly have wondered sometimes what to make of such verses, along with others that promise persecution for those who follow Jesus. Part of my initial enthusiasm for the book was in hoping for some insight into how to live these commands out in the context of an ordinary life in an ordinary town in America.
I’m afraid I really didn’t find that. Platt gives examples of what some people in his church have chosen to do to try to follow Jesus in a radical way, but he gives these as examples of a willingness to sacrifice, not necessarily examples in terms of how they went about doing it. He gives a few examples also from Christian history, of men who literally gave up everything in following Christ.
What I found more helpful was this review of Radical by Kevin DeYoung, pastor of a Reformed (RCA) church in East Lansing, Michigan. He praises Platt’s book as “an all-out assault on cheap grace, easy-believism, consumer Christianity.” But he is concerned about “an implicit, underlying utilitarian ethic in many “radical” streams of Christianity that makes faithfulness to Christ impossibly daunting.”
It is easy to stir people to action by relating how little everyone else has and how much we have in America, but we are not meant to have constant low-level guilt because we could be doing more.
DeYoung also provides Platt’s response to his review. Platt makes it clear that his book was “not intended to promote guilt-driven obedience. Instead, my goal is simply to help open our eyes to realities in the world that we would rather ignore.”
In that, I think Platt succeeds.