When I saw David Platt’s Radical on the shelf, I assume that it would be similar to the myriad other Christian Living books with an agenda to help us thrive spiritually, emotionally, maybe even sexually, so long as we follow their sage advice. I flipped through the pages, read the Table of Contents, and put it back. The last thing I needed was another pastor pushing his pet theories about how his theological bent is exactly what I need for living a right life with God. I mean, the title itself—Radical—is a dead giveaway. Couple that with the subtitle, “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream,” and you’ve got a recipe for the typical anti-materialism, pro-missions agenda not uncommon in Christian literature.
When I started hearing good things about the book from my friends, I became intrigued. When I became aware of Platt’s criticism of consumerism and American prosperity, my economic antennae went up and I decided to check it out.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Weaved throughout is Platt’s own internal struggle to grasping the purpose of God’s grace, and he encourages his faith community to do the same. Through his struggle he has come out realizing that his heart isn’t completely sold out to the gospel of Christ as much as it is partially leased to the American Dream, which Platt describes as a pursuit of material blessing for himself without consideration of others or the broader Kingdom purposes for which God has made him. God is in it for God’s glory, and we are given God’s grace so that we can multiply his image throughout the rest of the world. We are here to extend God’s glory, not simply enjoy the material rewards of grace and blessing. Platt makes a biblical but realistic case for our radical abandonment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His belief is that those radically sold out to Christ will experience greater reward and satisfaction in life than simply enjoying the material blessings of this world.
When most authors rail against the evils of materialism, their passion often overshadows a realistic vision for what God might want for followers of Jesus. While Platt is adequately passionate about radical abandonment to the call of Christ to reach the world with the gospel, he does so with personal transparency and an open spirit toward wealth itself. He doesn’t go out of his way to condone “getting rich,” but neither does he condemn it. Most interesting to me was in many of his examples of people who have been changed by the message of the gospel, he did not choose only those who sold everything they had and took a vow of poverty. He included wealthy businessmen who stayed wealthy and still lived comfortable lives, but still became radical in their vision for what they did with their wealth. Platt also shares his struggle with buying a larger house than he needed, or the expense in going to Sudan rather than sending the money to directly help those in Sudan. He stands out from his peers writing on these topics primarily because he maintains a radical commitment without blurring reality and making it seem impossible.
Platt is passionate, to be sure. He is urgently committed to his theme. But while the book takes us through his plea for abandonment to the gospel of Christ, he doesn’t throw out the good with the bad. In short, he’s truly radical without being extreme. He is realistic throughout.
As a pastor, Platt’s natural tendency is to lead others to action, so he concludes the book with what he calls the “Radical Experiment.” His appeal to wealthy Americans is to consider that we are blessed to be a blessing, not to simply own and enjoy the toys we have on this earth. The experiment, which can be viewed online here, is simple and attainable for most, though the length of the commitment is a bit hefty for most—one entire year. In it he exhorts the reader to pray for the entire world, read through the entire Word, sacrifice money for a specific purpose, spend time in another context (preferably helping those in need), and committing our lives to multiplying community.
Sounds radical, but each of them is realistic on its own. Bundling them together means a higher commitment, but it’s doable.
Radical provides a new insight for those wrapped up in the American Dream. It challenges without being judgmental or demanding. It encourages without being flowery or verbose. Above all, the experiment is realistic.
If being radical is realistic, then I’m in.