Monday, October 15, 2012

The Radical Question and A Radical Idea, by David Platt


Two books in one. Or rather, two pamphlets in one, since each 'book' is only about 50 pages long, and with dimensions of approximately 4" by 6", we're not talking big pages.

In the first 'book', The Radical Question, Platt asks his readers 'What is Jesus worth to you?' He looks at some of the hard teachings of Christ--Luke 9:57-62; John 6:53; Luke 14:26-27, 33; Luke 18:22--and uses them to illustrate how the modern Christian's devotion to Christ is, essentially, weak sauce. In contrast, he describes his experiences with the persecuted church in other countries, and the risks those Christians take for the sake of the gospel. He then looks to Christ and, using the parable of the great pearl, asks his readers if Christ isn't worth sacrificing everything for. I suspect this is, in effect, a summary version of Platt's first book, Radical.

The second 'book' is directed less at individual Christians and more at churches. Platt admonishes churches not to get wrapped up in things like fancy buildings and church-run programs and ministries, but to focus on equipping church members to do ministry in their communities. Again, Platt relies heavily on his many international experiences, but this time they are illustrations of what a church really is. A church, he argues, is not a building, but a people. And it is the Word of God, not programs or highly polished worship services, that can draw people to Christ. To Platt's way of thinking, we need to stop asking 'professionals' to do everything and instead turn things over to the laity. This will, in turn, allow the church to have a greater impact in the world (for the simple reason that having hundreds of lay 'ministers' making disciples will necessarily produce greater results than a few professional ministers doing the same). This appears to be a summary of Platt's earlier book, Radical Together.

I'm not really sure that either of these books needed to be published, let alone a separate edition combining them. At 240 pages, the original book, Radical, isn't exactly a tome, and Radical Together is even shorter (176 pages). With four 'books' in the Radical stable, it starts to feel a bit like an unnecessary attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the initial book. Granted, I think these book-lets are designed to be more of a free-give-away book, to be handed out en masse at churches (Amazon sells A Radical Idea by the bundle--10 copies for $13), but I'm still not convinced we need four different books about this idea. Or rather, I don't really understand how each book makes a unique contribution to readers. Also, this edition includes a super-annoying feature: on every other page or so, a sentence is reprinted in large bold letters, the way magazine articles sometimes draw attention to certain quotes to break up a sea of text (is there a word for this?). But with pages 4" by 6" and normal sized font, there's not exactly a 'sea of text' to break up. So instead I found myself drawn to these enlarged-font sentences only to then read the exact same sentence approximately 10 seconds later (or having just read it 10 seconds earlier). It is a terrible and distracting editing choice, and I had to grit my teeth and force myself not to read the annoying sentences. It didn't make for the most enjoyable reading experience.

Allow me to say that I like Platt. A lot. Although I haven't read Radical, I've listened to many of his sermons and more than a few 'Secret Church' sessions (which are inspired by his experiences with the persecuted church). He even preached at my church once. He's a great speaker, and I think he does a fantastic job of reminding us that the 'American dream' is not a biblical goal, and that the proclamation of the gospel is far more important than our comfort and financial well-being. He always speaks with conviction and passion and genuine empathy for the lost and suffering, which is not a common strength among Reformed preachers. Truth be told, I'm always a bit nervous when I'm reading or listening to him--I'm afraid he'll convince me that I need to do something uncomfortable like move to Africa or sell all my belongings or something.

Notwithstanding my high opinion of him and his preaching, I confess that I find his 'Radical' schtick a bit suspect at points. I wholeheartedly applaud his efforts to motivate American Christians for missions--we are far too apathetic about the Great Commission. But he occasionally conflates missions with service. Granted, service often lays a foundation for missions--by serving we can pave the way for discussions about the gospel and our demonstrated love for others lends credibility to the gospel we proclaim. But as much as we are called to love our neighbor, it is not clear that our duty to meet physical needs rises to the level of our duty to preach the gospel. Social justice is great, but the greatest need people have is to be forgiven their sins and reconciled to God. Not that we ignore physical needs, but ... well, it's called the Great Commission for a reason. It's our top priority.

That being said, I think Platt's admonishments and exhortations are super helpful and very convicting. I think we need to be careful we're not being radical just for the sake of being radical--that we're making wise choices calculated to glorify God and further the spread of the gospel--and we certainly need to keep an eye on our motivations (so that we're not being radical just to show others how awesome we are). But let's face it, the average American is in no danger of being 'too radical' in his or her sacrifices for Christ. We might talk too radical, but we're unlikely to walk too radical.

This reminder is particularly helpful as we gear up for the election. Christians get really excited about a lot of issues, many of which are deeply important and morally significant. But it's always convicting to me to consider how my devotion to the preaching of the gospel to all nations and the making of disciples in my own community compares to my passion regarding, say, economic policy, capitalism, or states' rights.

All in all, this was a fine little book, even if it strikes me as a bit ... unnecessary.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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