David Platt's book Radical bears the provocative subtitle "Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream." If you want to create controversy, implying that the Christian faith stands in opposition to the American way of life is a pretty safe bet. It takes until page 19 to figure out what Platt means when he talks about the American Dream: "self-advancement, self-esteem, self-sufficiency...individualism, materialism, universalism."
The problem, says Platt, is that America Christianity has too much and cares too little. The real Jesus is much too radical for our Western tastes with His commands to sell all we have and give to the poor; to give up our lives; and to take up our cross and follow Him. To Platt, the American suburbs is a place all to often isolated from the world and insulated from hearing its cries for help.
Through each chapter, David shares his own experiences traveling around the world visiting mission fields. He speaks in glowing terms of native peoples who are as hungry for the Bible and as they are in need of daily bread. In fact, if one were only to take his accounts, they would believe that the entire world is full of nothing but gracious and grateful people who (be they ever so poor) are yet willing to drop everything to learn more about Christ.
As the book progresses, a litany of familiar names and stories begin to appear. George Muller, C.T. Studd, William Carey, Jim Elliot, and John G. Patton all put in a showing causing anyone who went to Baptist Sunday School (as I did) to have flashbacks of multiple five day missionary stories and sermon illustrations. Yet Platt unabashedly reaches for these classic tales to support his pleas for a more real and committed witness even to the point of sacrificing our own lives to spread the gospel.
He ends the book with a call to a five step plan that will help any Christian become "radical." The steps are (in so many words) praying more, reading the Bible more, giving more, going more, and committing to the ministry a local church. Wait a second...I thought this was something radical? As the book concludes the reader is suddenly left aware that they are listening to what sounds suspiciously like the plea from every Baptist pastor for the last hundred years. And as if one needed any further confirmation, there's even a decision card for the reader to sign. It's been a long time since that was considered radical.
I appreciate David Platt's zeal. It's evident that his writing comes from an honest heart and that he's wants to see billions of unreached souls enter the kingdom. Yet, I felt a slight unease as I read the book -- and not for the reasons one might think. I am personally no stranger to scenes poverty or hardship, having myself grown up in the third world on one of many mission fields. That experience has taught me that the solutions to the problems of the needy are never as simple as a dollar dropped in an offering plate.
Platt admits in the book that he is not an economist. If we were an economist he would be aware that the problem of poverty in the world is a tangled knot of social, economic, and political maladies. Even if every American Christian gave up their fineries for a life of self-imposed penury, it would not make those in most of the developing world any richer.
Guilt imposed upon ourselves for our success is not the answer. The economic question is never "why do we have so much?" but rather "why doesn't everyone?" That's not to say that we should not give but rather that we should not wallow in guilt at the financial blessings that our country affords.
Platt also seems posses glamorous view of the foreign mission field that actual foreign missionaries are quickly disabused of. The soul of the suburban housewife is not lesser in value than that of a tribal witchdoctor -- although the later admittedly makes for a much better sermon illustration than the former. If we are to honestly look at the whole world then someone must teach Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Boise as well as labor in the fields of Bangladesh.
Jesus' call to us was to follow him and become fishers of men. I admire David Platt and the work that he and his church are striving to do in spending their time and money reaching out to the world. But in the end, as timely as some of its challenges may be, Radical seems to fall short of its title and instead delivers a decent repackaging of a fairly familiar message.
I received this book for free from WaterBrookMultnomah Publishing Group for this review. All opinions, however, are from the spectacular machinations of my own hyperactive mind.