As a pastor and Christian teacher, I am trying to keep up with some of the trends, movements, and leaders in the evangelical Christian world. There is an overwhelming need for me to be continually digging deeper in the Reformed and Puritan classics. There is an ever increasing stack of weighty tomes by solid theologians and Christian thinkers. I am woefully deficient in needing to better understand every angle of theology. So, popular Christian books are a threat. But I still need to read them.
I also have take the approach of reading popular Christian books without going first to the reviews, blogs, and critiques. Furthermore, I try to begin the books with an openness to the message. I am an old time Calvinist. I have been nurtured by those guys who held the fortress of Reformed and Calvinistic theology in the eras when such thinking was way out of line. The term “popular Calvinist writers” was an unrealistic then as the term “conservative Democrat” is now. But I seek to read with an interest in learning and growing and with the sword of contention sheathed. I am as Calvinistic as ever, but willing to learn from others.
I picked up a used copy of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream for 50 cents or a dollar. (That is another tendency, driven by necessity: buying cheap, very cheap.) The top of the book cover proclaims “New York Times Bestseller.” Elsewhere I learned that over 250,000 copies have been sold. (As the author of a book that has sold over 250 copies, I am impressed.) I noted that the author is a young pastor and his church is a mega-church (two potential grumbling points to me, if I didn’t rein myself in). I assumed that the book would be something light and airy, but hopeful that it would be convincing since it is called Radical.
First, I was pleasantly surprised and moved to shout “Amen” as Pastor Platt discussed salvation. He contrasts the modern-day gospel which says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” with the biblical gospel which says, “You are an enemy of God, dead in your sins, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent upon God to do something in your life that you could never do” (page 32). Wow! Could it be that this guy has a bit of Calvinistic, or rather truly Pauline theology, I thought? I cheated and looked on line and discovered that Pastor Platt is indeed very Calvinistic in his soteriology. He has even criticized the easy-believism characterized by the sinner’s prayer. David Platt has a good theology of salvation.
Second, Platt’s call for missions, world-wide missions, is powerful. This is the heart of his book and, it seems, of his ministry. I preached a short series of 10 sermons once on the Great Commission. I think that passage is very critical to a true understanding of the mission of the church, of Christian individuals, and of the Faith as a whole. I have lots of appreciation for Platt’s call for missions.
Third, the “radical” aspect of this book is Platt’s call for Christians to take seriously the cases where Jesus called upon people to give what they had away, to sell all, and follow Him. The American Dream calls for something different. Today is Black Friday. People have been in a shopping frenzy since Thanksgiving afternoon. Most of what is purchases in this season is toys. Toys-R-Us and Wal-Mart sells toys, but so do Best Buy and Gander Mountain and Academy. By toys, I mean things that are not basic food, clothing, and shelter. The American Dream is centered around the accumulation of toys, and the Christmas season is for buying toys.
Don’t get me wrong: I like toys. I get up in the morning and push the button on a toy that fixes coffee. I began my Advent music season by listening to Nathan Clark George’s CD A Mid-Winter’s Eve (a favorite) on a toy that plays music. I am writing this and you are reading this on toys. And, I want more toys.
I have very mixed feelings about Platt’s challenge. If I thought that the House family could downsize, sell and give away most of what we own, and thereby truly help spread the Gospel and alleviate poverty for others, I hope I would do so. I picture such an action making me more dependent upon my own church and extended family. Also, since I entered “full-time Christian service” some 18 years ago, my family’s economic situation has always been tight–by American standards. Our kids share bedrooms; we drive used cars; we wear our clothes out; we don’t have cable TV; my kids (except for the college boy) don’t have cell phones, and neither do I; and we have lots of broken and breaking things in our 1970s (the era of ugly architecture) house. I am not sure that working in a small church and small school equates to pursuing the great American Dream.
I don’t want to put David Platt’s book in that stack of books read and liked and forgotten. I do want to have and cultivate a greater mindset for missions and evangelism. I do want a less culture-cluttered life. I do want to be radical in my Christian living. Maybe at this point, I can only be both uncomfortable and unconvinced.
Third, Platt does offer a really good set of Five Points that can be implemented. As preachers say, “This can preach.” While I might not be getting rid of everything and moving to some frighteningly non-Christian part of the world like the Sudan or Vermont, I can follow and teach these guidelines. Platt says to make these commitments for one year. With January 2014 just weeks away, this is a good time to think on these things:
1. Pray for the entire world. I certainly agree with this and recognize that we need to do that. It means more than just a generic “And God bless us everyone.” There are numerous resources, such as the book Operation World and web-sites, that can assist us in praying for the specific needs of specific countries. Our church supports missions in several countries and these can be high on the list. There are around 200 independent countries in the world, plus territories and language groups.
2. Read through the Entire Word. Another great suggestion. If every American Christian who is vexed, angered, frightened, concerned, troubled, and anxious about the American government, our culture, our leaders, and our moral failures would each read the entire Word, that would be far better than listening to endless talk radio or engaging in endless arguments. Internationally, if the ultimate goal is to see Muslim countries someday being comprised of church people with unopened, unused Bibles, that won’t do.
3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose. Like a lot of my Baptist friends, Platt doesn’t begin or mention tithing. Unlike a lot of my other friends, he does mention sacrifice. I certainly need to improve my mindset and personal practices in the areas of giving. Yes, even those of us in ministry need to look to areas where we can be better at handling finances personally and using finances for the Kingdom.
4. Spend your time in another context. Even if this is done in small measure, it changes our perspective. Our church and children have been involved in Operation Christmas Child for several years now. I will never forget my son Nate’s comment the first year we were working on filling a shoebox with small items. Nate said, “We need to use bigger boxes. No one wants just a shoe box full of stuff for Christmas.” We have learned through OCC that the least of American trinkets are treasures in other lands. We certainly need more experiences like this.
5. Commit Your Life to a Multiplying Community. Platt says, “If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it.” With that and many other words, he exhorts readers to stop church-hopping and get committed to changing the world by being a part of the local church. I think that this emphasis in the book is another good point. A whole book could be devoted to that. I also like to think of the church as a Multiplying Community.
Yes, for now, it is “on to another book,” but I hope at least some of the lessons of this book sink in.