Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. By David Platt. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010. 230 pages. Softback, $14.99.
“Do we really believe [Jesus] is worth abandoning everything for? . . . Do you and I believe him enough to obey him and to follow him wherever he leads, even when the crowds in our culture—and maybe in our churches—turn the other way?” (19). These questions express the heart of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills (SBC) in Birmingham, AL. Radical is a commentary on contemporary Christian culture in America and the disastrous consequences of conflating biblical discipleship with the American Dream. The work is a transparent testimonial of the author’s own struggle to reconcile the gospel and “an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings” (2). The core of the problem in Platt’s analysis is that “we as Christ followers in our American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the Gospel we claim to believe” (3). As a response to this problem Platt challenges readers to hear and obey Christ, no matter what the cost might be.
The book’s content is structured in nine chapters. Chapters 1–3 contrast the self-centered, self-reliant attitude pervasive in the American Christian culture with the Christ-centered, self-denying message of the gospel. For Platt, discipleship is a “radical abandonment to Christ”—an abandonment that means “giving up everything we have to follow Jesus” (12). The God-centeredness of the gospel demands dependence upon God by all who would seek to accomplish His purposes in the world (chap. 3).
Chapters 4 and 5 describe God’s purposes for His people and the means whereby they are accomplished. First, Platt argues that “enjoying [God’s] grace” and “extending his glory” constitute the two overarching global purposes of God (65). “God blesses people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth” (69). Second, the means of accomplishing these purposes is a multiplying community of believers (i.e., the church) in which each Christ follower leads others to follow Christ (chap. 5).
Chapters 6 and 7 examine the twin barriers of materialism and universalism that are undermining gospel-centered living among those who claim the name of Christ. Platt sees materialism as a “blind spot” within the contemporary church and likens its acceptance to the way slavery and Jim Crow prejudices were uncritically accepted by the church during that time. The final two chapters address unbelief (chap. 8) and call readers to specific, sacrificial responses in the areas of prayer, Bible reading, giving, mission, and Christian community (chap. 9).
Platt’s work deserves commendation in many areas. The book exemplifies a deep commitment to biblical exposition and a concern to lead readers to application. Although each chapter engages key texts on the issues in view, the book is not a running commentary on Scripture. Platt crafts his message with rhetorical competency, moving freely between biblical exposition, first-hand accounts of the underground church around the world, testimonials from members of his congregation, and probing application questions. While the material in the book is diverse, the author’s ability to organize it into a unified whole gives the book an accessible quality that almost all readers will appreciate. The accessibility and usefulness of the book within the local church context is further extended by the resources available at www.radicalthebook.com, the book’s companion website. (Here visitors can purchase a multi-week small group study and access free resources, including a free downloadable version of the first chapter and audio sermon files by the author that parallel the book’s content.)
Finally, Platt takes the simple and profound truth of the gospel and applies it with devastating precision to the American church context. While “the cost of discipleship is great,” writes Platt, “I wonder if the cost of nondiscipleship is even greater” (14). The book is not over-laden with statistics, but two Platt presents are quite memorable: (1) 26,000 children died today of hunger and preventable diseases, and (2) no less than 4.5 billion people on our planet are without Christ and, therefore, without hope in this world. In light of these sobering realities, Platt calls believers to recognize the gospel mandate to proclaim and demonstrate Christ’s love to the world.
Two items about what this work is not may be in order. First, readers will not find extended arguments or sociological studies to support Platt’s presuppositions about the status of the American church. He is content to illustrate his foundational claims with a few examples and move forward. Second, the work does not, nor intends to, set forth an exhaustive biblical theology on stewardship. Platt does acknowledges the limitations of the book’s scope and points readers to other resources. These issues, however, in no way undermine the substantive contribution of this work.
Do we treasure Christ above all? Are we willing to give up everything for Him and the sake of His gospel? These questions must be asked and answered if believers are to submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ. In final analysis, Platt has written a timely and beneficial work that is already being used by God to help believers and local congregations in the American churches rightly answer these questions.
See also www.radicalthebook.com.
Jonathan D. Watson
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary