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259 of 272 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Too Radical, December 2, 2010
This review is from: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Paperback)
I finished reading David Platt's book Radical, while waiting for a flight from New Delhi to Hyderabad, India. The book had been recommended to me by several friends, so I decided to throw it in my bag for my recent tour (training pastors in the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa). The book calls us to a much deeper commitment to following Christ, and reaching others - two themes that get my blood going. So thanks to David Platt for stoking the fire. For the most part the book accomplished its mission well.

On the other hand, there were places where Platt got my blood boiling in a not-so-helpful way - a little too radical. In an effort to make his points, I felt that Platt pressed too hard, and stretched the supporting evidence. I would chalk it up to "too much of a good thing." Here are my (hopefully) gentle critiques:

1. I feel like a radical life for Christ needs to be motivated by radical love for Christ. We need to be givers, but cheerful ones, not from compulsion. I felt there was a little too much compulsion in Platt's book. I didn't find much sense of cheer. While I can tell that Platt is on the move from his legalistic upbringin, I get the feeling that he has a way to go. At several points in the book I got the distinct feeling that Platt was preaching at me, instead of to me (maybe before the book went to print he had already received that feedback....he seems to apologize on p. 214). In my opinion there wasn't nearly enough of "the love Christ compels me" and a little too much of "come on, you guys, you should be ashamed of yourselves!" Granted, we all need a kick in the pants now and then, but there's a line we can cross where we can "exasperate our children," particularly if you are a child who wants to do what is right. Count me among the exasperated.

2. Platt tends to overstate things a bit in order to make a point, particularly in his chapter How Much is Enough, critiquing the American dream:

a. "Caring for the poor is one natural overflow and a necessary evidence of the presence of Christ in our hearts. If there is no sign of caring for the poor in our lives, then there is reason to at least question whether Christ is in our hearts." (p.110)

b. "If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all." (p.111)

c. (on the story of Lazarus) "This story illustrates God's response to the needs of the poor." (p. 114)

d. "Isn't the hidden assumption among many Christians in our culture that if we follow God, things will go well for us materially? Such thinking is explicit in "health and wealth" teaching, and it is implicit in the lives of Christians whose use of possessions looks virtually the same as that of our non-Christian neighbors." (p.117)

For me, these overgeneralizations tended to lessen, not increase, the impact of his argument.

3. Platt has problems with the American church and I share his pain. But while He diagnoses the disease as largely spiritual, I think it is largely sociological. The church turning in on itself is quite natural - it is what organizations naturally do. By virtue of being organized together, over time, we get to know each other. As we get to know each other we become aware of each others' concerns. As we become aware of each others' concerns, we create programs to meet those concerns. In the end, our own concerns end up being plenty to keep us busy, and the mission is largely forgotten. It is purely natural. Of course, God does not call us to natural, but to supernatural. What I see happening in the American church is not unspiritual as related to spiritual, but natural as related to supernatural. I think the hearts of most Christians are well-meaning. I think they are just trapped in a self-reinforcing system where they can't see beyond our own needs. If nothing else, I can see Platt's book as a huge favor to get us to look up and see there is far much more beyond ourselves.

4. There is a lot of classic either/or (black/white) thinking in this book. For example, "We can stand with the starving or with the overfed. We can identify with poor Lazarus on his way to heaven or with the rich man on his way to hell. We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth." I'm not sure that those are the only choices. There may be some other combinations or shades of gray, but Platt doesn't allow for the possibility of being interested in the plight of the rich man, only Lazarus. In response I would cite Jesus' second great commandment, "love your neighbor as yourself" and his great commission, "go into all the world." He could has said, "love your poor neighbor as yourself" but Jesus is interested in everyone, rich and poor, Lazarus and rich man. He could have said, "go into all the poor world" but Jesus is broad, not narrow, in his instructions. Jesus told us to go into all the socially and economically diverse world.

5. It would be possible, not popular, to make the argument that the church has spent more of its efforts reaching the poor, than the rich. Perhaps not in America, where the cost of the mega-model draws our attention to the rich suburbs (nearly all of the top churches in America being precisely located). But in other parts of the world, where poverty reigns, the church has done little to target political and business leaders, instead going to the people with the least power, and least ability, to change the system.

6. In some cases possessing great status and wealth may be precisely what God wants for a person's calling (see Joseph); at other times such wealth and status should be forsaken (see Moses). One size does not fit all. Platt carefully "cherry picks" the passages that fit his argument.

7. Platt tries to make me feel guilty for the price I pay for food, relative to "half the world struggling today to find food, water, and shelter with the same amount of money I spend on french fries for lunch." This is a superficial argument, and contrasts like this abound in our world. Having just come from the Philippines I could say that they are enjoying much better pineapple than I am where I live, and a fraction of the cost. In India, their transportation costs (per person/per mile) are pennies on the dollar. So? The cost of something on one culture, relative to another, is sexy not substantive.

8. Culture is water to fish. If you live in it, it's hard to describe; if you live outside of it, it's hard to understand. I wonder if the two-thirds world misunderstands America about as much as America misunderstands the two-thirds world, in their actual experience. If so, Platt seems to reinforce these misunderstandings. Many in the two-thirds world live very simple lives, with a daily diet of inexpensive rice and chicken. They do not have electric bills, insurance, health care, automobile repairs, college bills, a mortgage or debt. (Remind me again, who am I supposed to be feeling sorry for?) I guess what I am saying is that Americans are not nearly as "wealthy" as people think. At times, I have to say, when I travel in the two-thirds world, I don't feel as guilty, as I do jealous. I think they may be rich in ways that matter.

9. I think it is important to make a distinction between struggling and suffering. Platt makes no such distinction, putting the cost of daily living on par with how many children die of malnutrition every year. It seems to me that a believer's primary concern should be those who are suffering, a smaller subset of those who are struggling, and certainly a much smaller number than "half the world." Ironically, it is a particularly western point of view to blur the two. As Americans, we don't like to struggle (I think we think it is suffering), but sometimes we are spiritually richer for it. After all, it is in the Lord's prayer where we read, "Give us this day our daily bread." For most people in the world, this prayer actually makes sense, and the people praying it are blessed for doing so.

10. I think Platt's interpretation of the rich young ruler negatively colors his perspective on wealth throughout the book. I like that story a lot, but I don't come at it from a money-centric angle. Simply put I don't think Jesus talked with the man because he was interested in the topic of money. I think he talked with the young man about the topic of money because he was interested in the young man. This was a personal challenge that came out of personal concern: "what do I still lack?" (what is in the way?). The answer? Whatever is in the way of him, and it could be (maybe often is) money. But Jesus made it clear in other contexts that is it could be relationships (mothers, brothers, sons or daughters) or something else valuable to us, like our time, our job, or our ideas. It would be a mistake to say that money is everyone's issue, or every American's.

11. One question that naturally arises for Platt and his church, which is of the "rubber meets the road" variety: What are they doing with the greatest accumulated asset of their ministry - their multi-million dollar church facility? He is obviously aware of the question, but there is not even so much as an oblique answer ("Every Sunday we gather in a multimillion-dollar building with millions of dollars in vehicles parked outside" (p.115). Platt comments negatively on how much money has been spent by others on such edifices (I pastor a multi-national church where we spend 13% on facilities in the US and less overseas, so I appreciate frugality here). Platt even suggests downsizing our homes (something else I am all for). But Platt doesn't take his reasoning to its natural, radical conclusion: Shouldn't the church sell its "home" and give the proceeds to the poor? I raise the question, not because I think they should sell their building, because I'm not sure they should. I raise the question to point out that there are times where it is more strategic for the overall mission to keep an asset than to give it away. The old fable, "Don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg" comes to mind. At a certain point I don't become more effective for Christ without a car (or phone, or laptop, or roof over my head), but less effective. For example, I work closely with an apostolic leader in India, and I think he needs to have more in the way of resources, not less, even though his standard of living already exceeds that of most Indians. This makes me think that the real challenge - largely missed in Platt's book - is stewardship more than sacrifice. Shouldn't our objective be to steward the resources of the world, particularly our own, in such a way that we "seek first His kingdom and his righteousness"?

12. I wish that Platt would have spent more time on Christian strategies to relieve suffering, beyond "give more." What is a Christian strategy for alleviating suffering altogether, beyond writing a check? For those who "have something" to "sacrifice it" only addresses matters short-term. Shouldn't we consider Jim Collins' advice to "strengthen the core" while we "expand the frontier"? Doesn't justice need to be paired with mercy? While it in no way alleviates my moral responsibility to respond generously, even sacrificially, I believe that thoughtful people want to understand how their gifts are really making a difference. The situation in Haiti comes to mind, for example. If there is a gigantic hole in the bottom of the bucket, no matter how many resources we pour in the top, we are going to end up with an empty bucket.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 3, 2010 4:21:24 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on May 10, 2011 11:52:58 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 8, 2010 4:56:42 AM PST
Mr. Get Real,

I debated between 3 stars and 4 stars. I chose 4 because, while the book has its flaws, I still feel that it delivers substantial value by jarring the status quo. So much of what I read is pre-processed-Christian "fluff." I appreciated the fact that Platt made me think, even though I come to different conclusions.

Thanks for the feedback.

Dave

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 8, 2010 4:48:18 PM PST
Mr. Browning:

Thank you for providing better insight into Mr. Platt's book. Your review of the book along with your experience has helped balance the intensity and ideals of this book. I must admit after reading a quarter of the book, I began to think I wasn't a Christian since I hadn't sold everything and given it away. (And I am by no means a wealthy person.) Nor had I experienced the extreme perils that so many of our brothers/sisters do in other countries. I've not been on any mission trips and only know what I read or see on tv. I am thankful for your review as you have helped clarify a lot of my concerns and confusion which was weighing very heavily on my mind and heart. I love Christ with all my heart and try to live obedient to His word and will. I think the book has a lot of potential and I also think, we do get too comfy in our lifestyle and forget about the people who are hurting. Thank you again. I really enjoyed your comments and the great insight you brought to the book reviews. May God bless you on your travels.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2010 7:08:46 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on May 10, 2011 11:53:18 AM PDT]

Posted on Dec 27, 2010 1:30:33 PM PST
davekeep says:
I appreciate your review as you add a valuable dimension to Platt's book. There are certainly points at which he puts his readers on a guilt trip, and in trying to send a good message, perhaps he overstates his case. However, my thought in reading your review, (and enjoying your analysis) is that no book accomplishes everything, nor should it. The object of Radical seems clear to most, and that object has been successfully reached if it challenges its readers to take inventory of their lives in relation to the following question: what are they doing with what they've been given? If any of us feel badly because of the content of David Platt's book, it's probably because we should. What will we do about it? I hope we'll rediscover biblical Christianity and seek to be Christ-followers in a Radical new way.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2010 3:54:05 PM PST
Dave, yes I would agree that his overall mission was accomplished.

Posted on Jan 6, 2011 12:54:01 PM PST
Dear David:

I am only providing this comment based on yours and several others reviews which directs me to issues you and they have with the Radical book. I have yet to read it and I will, but 2 books that I am reading that deal with the substantive theological issue that I think the Radical book may be trying to convey is idolatry. You may wish to consider reading G.K.Beale's book "We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry" and then his other book, "The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God". Both I believe are very edifying. Given your ministry, I would recommend reading the 2nd book first.

Posted on Feb 5, 2011 11:34:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2011 11:46:14 AM PST
Robby Butler says:
Dear Dave,

I am so glad that I stumbled on your excellent review. I wish this had been available last September for inclusion in the issue of Mission Frontiers which featured David Platt and analyzed "Radical" and the Radical Experiment from some other angles.

Regarding your last point, you may appreciate knowing that Platt at least requires all of his small group leaders to read When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself. I hope that Platt will promote this book in a future revision of "Radical." On this point of Christian strategies to relieve suffering, you might also be interested in the most recent discussion in the comments following my own review (currently listed as the most helpful review for "Radical"): <amazon.com/review/R15286VIYB8TG1>.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2012 1:31:47 PM PST
flgafl says:
I agree with Davekeep. If the book challenges its readers to take inventory of their lives, then it's a START. I often think of the young girl I sponsor and when I visited her it made me feel great. I shouldn't have gone for 'me' to feel great. It wasn't about 'me', It was about her.
I also agree with David Browning that we need to reach out to the RICH. Especially government. If they have a change of heart they/we can change the world for the better. It's a start.

Posted on Jun 24, 2014 5:17:56 AM PDT
Kryptonite says:
Thanks for the review and the points of salvation and wealth not being mutually exclusive. The love of money not the possession of such.
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