By Chaplain Mike
I both loved and was troubled by David Platt’s bold, clear book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. It’s an impressive first effort, but I have my concerns.
For starters, the author must be deemed a prodigy. I mean, the guy was in his mid-20’s when he was called to pastor The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, AL, which now has over 4000 members! Platt has two undergraduate and three graduate degrees, has served as Dean of Chapel and Assistant Professor of Expository Preaching and Apologetics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and as Staff Evangelist at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. Now he pastors a wealthy suburban megachurch. He’s 31.
Michael Spencer expressed appreciation for Platt’s words to a national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention last year, calling him, “one of the young lions in the SBC who are changing the face of a denomination by dealing with the denominational idolatry that is our greatest problem.”
Then there is Platt’s church and the emphasis he is calling for among the people at Brook Hills, a congregation of over 4000 members and a multi-million dollar budget. Platt describes the church as, “a predominantly suburban congregation made up of middle-to-upper-class individuals and families trying to figure out how to forsake the American dream for the sake of Christâ€™s glory in all nations.” The Vision, Mission and Goal Statement of Brook Hills is a well-stated description of a church that desires to see itself more and more as a missionary organization, “a base of ministry, not a place of ministry.”
Platt seems ideally suited to lead such a congregation. He has traveled widely, ministering in some of the hard places around the world, including working with refugees in Sudan, the underground church in China, and serving in India and Indonesia. His book is filled with personal anecdotes from these global experiences, and it is obvious that he has been affected deeply by them. Platt and his wife have adopted orphaned children from overseas. He can speak credibly and with personal perspective to Americans about lifestyle issues, sacrifice, the persecuted church, and the world’s needs.
Platt is Bible-centered. He is passionate about preaching and teaching the Word of God. Listeners have been impressed with his grasp of the Scriptures and ability to communicate their message. In a 2009 CT interview, he stated his commitment: “God by his grace provided men in my life who poured the Word into me and taught me the supremacy of his Word, that any power in walking with Christ, even more so leading a church, is dependent on understanding God in his Word.” His chapter explaining the Gospel provides a clear (though simplistic) evangelical statement of the world’s need and Christ’s provision.
What’s not to like?
First of all, let me say wholeheartedly, there is a LOT to like. In my view, Platt should be commended for his commitment to the Bible, for his plain speaking about its implications for our (wealthy) American lifestyles, for his love for the world and enthusiastic call for the church to be a missionary people. He represents much that is right about evangelicalism.
I admire his courage in boldly challenging his comfortable suburban congregation to take clear, simple steps to help them break free from their attachment to the American Dream in order to make Christ known. “The Radical Experiment,” which originated in the Brook Hills church, and is outlined in the book, challenges us, over the course of a year, to:
- Pray for the entire world;
- Read through the entire Bible;
- Sacrifice your money for a particular purpose;
- Spend your time in another context;
- Commit your life to a multiplying community.
Stories throughout the book illustrate how individuals and families in the church have grasped the teaching and made significant changes, simplifying their lifestyles, practicing redemptive acts of service, going and sometimes moving overseas or into other needy areas to reach people with the gospel. Pastor Platt and his wife sold their house, downsized, adopted orphans, and by his own report are on a continuing journey to learn how to follow Jesus so that the world might be reached with his love and salvation.
Radical is a simple, clear, exhilarating, inspiring read with much to commend. However, I do have some thoughts on the concern side as well.
First, Platt’s book is characterized by the pure, kinetic zeal of radical youth. One almost hyperventilates reading it. He is so passionate, so earnest, so zealous and direct in making his points that Platt often comes close to Michael Spencer’s dreaded “Wretched Urgency,” an imbalanced enthusiasm lacking in perspective and nuance. It’s “saved to serve” for a new generation. But — how radical must I be to be truly radical? If the book is any indication, it’s pedal to the metal, 24/7. Not realistic, nor sustainable. I wish his vision was more specifically and deeply grounded in the Cross, grace, worship, contemplation, suffering, and spiritual formation, and his writing more tuned to the rhythm and pace of walking with Christ. Perhaps in time.
Second, Platt doesn’t say much about how this radical approach is affecting his church as an organization. In several places, he alludes to the disconnect readers may sense (and which he himself admits to having) between what he is saying and the fact that he pastors a rich suburban megachurch committed to impressive, comfortable facilities and a full program of activities. In the church’s vision statement, there is this goal: “We must become decreasingly dependent on ministries that require large budgets and large buildings,” but nowhere in Radical does he flesh that out. It is clear that Platt believes small groups are the “multiplying communities” out of which the radical mission is best lived, but beyond that, he says little about the actual community life of the congregation and how the church’s “lifestyle” may be changing because of this teaching. That would be especially helpful for other pastors reading this book.
Third, I can’t help but thinking that, to the American mind, Radical represents yet another form of spiritual technology designed to transform us as we apply it. It can come across as a program — One year + five practices = Result: transformation & impact. Platt is “methodistic” in his approach to faith and mission, Henry Ford-like in his pragmatism. The step-based motivational approach appeals to American practicality and love of the “how to” way of solving problems and “taking care of business.” He could do highly successful infomercials for missions. I felt a sense of dissonance at times reading about disengaging from the American Dream when the the alternative was being stated in such an “American Dream-like” style. Platt himself may be soaked in Scripture and have a broader world perspective, but one could see how followers might grab hold of the “program” and develop a gung-ho American type of zeal lacking depth or knowledge.
I recommend reading Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. It is invigorating and challenging.
If we accept this book as:
- the direct, passionate appeal of a gifted young Christ-follower
- who is on an ongoing journey of his own,
- who has God’s heart for the world,
- who has written these words specifically to American Christians,
- who need a strong introduction to the implications of the Gospel for their lifestyles,
- and who need to be challenged to deeper, more sacrificial involvement in God’s mission,
then it will serve a salutary purpose as one part of the move toward less churchianity and a more Jesus-shaped participation in the Missio Dei.