I recently finished reading Radical by David Platt. I have to say—I was greatly stirred by this challenge to consider the responsibility we have to a waiting world in need of the gospel. I went on to read a great review by Kevin DeYoung on this book—as well as David Platt’s humble reply. After reading the book, and their reviews here is what I came away with regarding this book.
1. The hard sayings of Jesus. The value of any book is not in the author’s thoughts but in the Bible—the source of all faith (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, Platt is wise to root radical living in the hard sayings of Jesus. He points to Jesus’ warnings to “take up your cross (Luke 9:23), “let the dead bury the dead (9:60),” “sell everything you have (Matt 7:11),” and compares this message of discipleship with the American easy-believism of “pray this prayer, sign this card, bow your head, and repeat after me (11).”
2. Staring hell in the face. One especially powerful part in the book is Platt’s illustration of a deacon from a church who shockingly admits, “David, I think it’s great you are going to those places. But if you ask me, I would just as soon God annihilate all those people and send them to hell (62).” He goes on to illustrate how close we are to believing this in our hearts when we do nothing to take the gospel to those with no access to it. We are no different when we turn our eyes from the needs of the unreached to hear the gospel. In reading this I realized that I simply don’t consider eternal suffering like Jesus and the apostle Paul did.
3. Demystifying the mission call. Let’s face it. When we think of the personal cost involved in sacrificing for an unreached people or leveraging our lives to sending people out—we tend to look away to the extraordinarily burdened or the extraordinarily gifted. We don’t assume that God would have ordinary people like us in mind when he commands, “make disciples of all nation.” Without denying that God uniquely calls individuals to unique places—Platt emphasizes that the burden for the unreached should be the burden of every believer and every church.
4. Real life examples. I appreciate that Platt uses examples from his own life but also from the church he serves at. He points to a number of people who have taken the “Radical” challenge and invested their time, talents, and resources to reaching people in creative ways with the gospel.
5. An emphasis on Christ's power in the church. This may be a personal one--but I appreciated how Platt walks through the book of Acts highlighting the power of the risen Christ for the church through the Holy Spirit. Several times in the book he reminds the reader that Christ lives "in" his people to empower them for the mission. This is a crushing blow to the American mentality that creativity, planning, leadership, and "pop" can do what only God can (and must) do in and through us.
My concerns since reading the book and the reviews…
1. The illustrations for what it means to live ‘radical’ can seem at times too narrow. I don’t think Platt intends for this. He does use several examples of people who have abandoned their original financial goals to serve in the inner city, do short-term trips overseas, and engage in orphan care, but a few more examples of those who live faithfully to make disciples and have no disposable income would be helpful. What about the family that struggles to make ends meet—who would love to go—or give more money—but simply can’t? Would they read the book and conclude that they aren’t radical? I think I know Platt’s answer but the illustrations seem to be from those who have means—and not the single mom, the two-job dad, the handicapped, or the elderly.
2. He doesn’t give enough illustrations for good uses of material blessings for the local church in America. In an effort to distance himself from the church-growth baptized American Dream Christianity, he doesn’t show what gospel-advancing things church property and building can do. Although he points to families in his church that are freeing up space in their homes for orphan care—there doesn’t seem to be examples of churches that have leveraged their buildings for radical discipleship. Maybe because there are so few! But the dearth can leave you with a sense that all churches are equal in motivation when it comes to building, and should be suspect when it comes to owning property.
3. This may lack a pastoral word. Obviously with a subtitle “Taking Back your Faith from the American Dream” we should expect a charge—a challenge. It is that! However, just like any challenging call to risk you need a pastoral word to be given to those who after hearing this needed word could feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world and can’t seem to risk enough to reach them. DeYoung mentions that this may simply be an over-emphasis on imperatives (we ought to) without a balance of the indicative (…because Christ has done). It can leave you thinking I need to do more—and less on what Christ has done. This can be seen when Platt gives strong statements like, “…the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves (7).” Yes and no. If by “message” we mean the message we send to the world, and if by “abandoning” we mean exercising true faith in Jesus alone based on what Christ has done—absolutely. The context makes this clear. But without a nuanced qualifying statement like “to the watching world…” we can miss the central message is what Christ has done—not what we do. DeYoung points this out and Platt responds to this concern very well. Again--I think the goal of this book is one on imperative--so it makes sense that it would be weighted that direction.
In closing I would recommend this book to every believer. You will be provoked, stirred, and motivated to make the making of disciples your ambition. When I finished reading it, I leaned over to my wife and said, “the biggest problem I have with this book is the title ‘Radical.’ You should put a line through it and write ‘Biblical.’”
However, I wouldn't recommend this book with equal weight to every believer. To those who feel cold to the lost and dying because they have fallen in love with the world I would say, read this instead of the Osteen-like dribble that keeps you chasing after the world. Let it be the spark that it is.
To those who love heroic challenges but struggle with faithfulness in small things (i.e. the the proverbial college student who wants to change the world but not pick up his clothes out of the bathroom) I'd say read this book alongside the very biographies that Platt mentions in the book. Read about the ongoing--daily--weekly sacrifices of those who have gone before us. You will discover that living radical involves the obscure, repetitious, unglamorous, and unknown moments of endurance that Platt doubtless has experienced in his personal journeys around the world.