Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

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Radical has been a New York Times bestseller and is reminiscent of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in its call for radical lifestyle changes, especially in material ways, and in spreading a two-tiered gospel of reconciliation with God and caring for the poor.  I appreciated Radical more because it is less condemnatory, legalistic and guilt-driven.  In addition the true gospel is better explained and emphasized (pp. 30-36; 143-160).  In fact Platt clearly remarks, “People’s greatest need in the world is Christ.  To meet people’s temporary needs apart from serving their eternal spiritual need misses the point of holistic biblical giving” (p. 195).

I believe the author is on target to call God’s people to examine their materialism and take appropriate biblical steps to prioritize their finances to maximize the spreading of the gospel (pp. 127-128, 194-196).  Platt is also correct that Jesus’ “megastrategy” was to make disciples (pp. 90-106); a fancy building, cool music and great entertainment cannot accomplish that task, only the Word can.

The reader also will respect Platt’s vulnerability as he readily admits that he has more questions than answers and is searching for balance.  Nevertheless, he is a bundle of contradictions:

• He condemns the American dream throughout the book (pp. 2, 7, 26-26, 48-50, 115, 119) and then concludes with an admission that every facet of the American dream is not negative (p. 214).

• He elevates, and gives examples of, people giving away all their wealth to the poor (pp. 13-17), then calls for simply placing a cap on our lifestyle so we can give more (pp. 127-128, 194-196).

• He complains of rich American churches as he pastors one of the richest in the country (pp. 15-19).

• He touts the story of a couple randomly giving away their possessions (p. 131) and then calls for informed giving so that our efforts are not wasted by giving to those who will misuse it (pp. 195-196).

Of greater concern is Platt’s propagation of a two-tiered gospel composed of the true gospel of redemption and the social gospel.  Actually the social gospel of feeding the hungry and giving to the poor is the primary focus of the book and accounts for its popularity (pp. 13-17, 19-21, 76-82, 108-140).  He writes, “As we meet needs on earth, we are proclaiming a gospel that transforms lives for eternity” (p. 135).  The author does not advocate the social agenda as opposed to true evangelism, as mentioned above, but he does say that caring for the poor is evidence of salvation (pp.110).  As a matter of fact “rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God” (p. 115).

However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find that, while Christians are to be loving and generous to all people, they are never told to attempt to remedy the consequences of the sin of unbelieving humanity through social action.  Instead they are instructed to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ, something Platt admits in a footnote (p. 225).  In fact, the church is never commissioned to rectify injustices by dealing with the symptoms of sins but to “radically” uproot sin itself through the gospel.  Conservative Christianity has always given careful attention to social needs.  Wherever the gospel has gone hospitals have been built, orphanages established, the hungry fed, the uneducated taught, and the desperate helped.  However, today evangelism is losing its way in the maze of the social agenda as more and more time and resources are being poured into alleviating physical suffering rather than uprooting the cause through the gospel.

How does Platt support his social agenda biblically?  Largely through the misunderstanding of two passages in the Gospels.  He contorts of the story of Lazarus and the rich man into a condemnation of the rich man because he lacks generosity (p. 114).  Pushed to its logical conclusion this would mean he was judged and sent to hell because he was stingy, not because he was a sinner.  Then of course there is Platt’s interpretation of the story of the Rich Young Ruler, a favorite of those who support his position (pp.13, 116-124).  What Platt and others miss is that the Ruler was not a believer being challenged to radical discipleship.  Jesus is speaking in the context of salvation and what the Ruler lacks for eternal life.  The Ruler’s problem was not his wealth as such, but that he had chosen to worship his wealth rather than God.  Neither passage of Scripture supports Platt’s point.

In balance, Radical offers a needed assessment concerning materialism and discipleship and that has value.  However, as the title itself implies, this is not a book that handles balance well.  As the author admits, it raises more questions than answers.  And due to its over emphasis and confusion concerning the social gospel, I can recommend it only with caution. 

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