Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. By David Platt. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010. 230 pp. Paper, $14.99.
“A New York Times Bestseller” proclaims a banner at the top of the book. Here is a book that is hard to categorize. Imagine a cross between The Gospel According to Jesus and The Hiding Place or between Crazy Love and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.
Platt is a Southern Baptist who is the Pastor of a mega church in Birmingham, Alabama. While he clearly holds to Lordship Salvation, he does not harp on it. Indeed, I would imagine that a Free Grace person who read this book without paying careful attention to the details might come away thinking that the author has a Free Grace understanding of the message of life.
Unlike MacArthur or Chang, Platt rarely mentions Scripture in his book. I found a total of only 40 references to Scripture in the text, which is less than one Bible reference every 5 pages. And of those 40, most (28) were only references to book and chapter (e.g., “In Acts 9…,” p. 52). Only a dozen times in the text of the entire book does he mention book, chapter, and verse. That is about once every twenty pages. In this regard the book is clearly trying to reach people who would not be attracted to a book that mentions lots of Bible.
It should be noted that Platt does give quotes in the text without mentioning where the quotes come from. Only by going to endnotes at the end of the book can one discover where these texts are from in Scripture. He also has statements he makes in the text which are followed by an endnote number which is linked to texts which he believes supports his point. There are about a hundred Scripture citations in the endnotes, but only about one in a hundred readers will take the time to look at the endnotes to find out where these quotes came from. Of course, even if you add in all those references, the number still falls to less than one reference to Scripture per page of text, which is a far cry from someone like MacArthur who has scores of Scripture references per page in The Gospel According to Jesus (and in most of his books).
I would imagine that MacArthur and Chang, while being sympathetic to the message of this book, would not approve of the sparse references to the Scripture and the total lack of exegesis of Scripture. Not once in the entire book is a text of Scripture actually explained.
Like Schuler, this book hangs together on a string of anecdotes that illustrate the point Platt is trying to make. The anecdotes are compelling and well written, but if one examines them in greater detail, he begins to wonder if they actually prove the author’s point.
For example, Platt tells of his experience on a short term mission trip to teach the Bible to 20 underground house church leaders in Asia (pp. 4-5, 23-26). He was evidently prepared to present a message to them each day for ten days. However, after he finished his message on day one, they pressed him to continue explaining the OT. He spent eight hours with them the first day (p. 23). For the next eight days he taught them the OT off the cuff for eight to twelve hours a day. On the tenth day they asked him to teach them the NT. So he took eleven hours and taught them the NT.
Why tell this story? Clearly a major reason was to show that these people were hungry for the Bible. They didn’t have music or a nice meeting place. They didn’t even have a prepared speaker. But they ate up the teaching. This is, of course, truly heartening, especially if they received good Bible teaching.
A secondary purpose seems to be to show that the author practices what he preaches. He is out there giving of himself, pouring his life into others. He laid down his life for close to two weeks to help these people.
But how profitable is off the cuff surveying of the OT and NT? Wouldn’t better preparation and advanced planning have led to a much more profitable learning experience? And if the teaching was coming from a Lordship Salvation perspective as it clearly was, then it could be argued that this teaching was actually harmful to the listeners, rather than helpful. Thus the Free Grace listener is actually saddened by the story and motivated to make sure that the true message of life is getting out to people who are hungry for what God has to say.
Platt’s Lordship Salvation views are evident, especially at the beginning of the book. He speaks of the need of total devotion and unconditional surrender (pp. 8, 37-39) and of the need to follow Jesus (p. 10). He speaks glowingly of Bonhoeffer, calling his book The Cost of Discipleship (itself a primer on Lordship Salvation) “one of the great Christian books of the twentieth century” (p. 14). He suggests that the parable about the field with hidden treasure means that we must buy “the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him” (p. 18). Clearly for Platt eternal life is not a free gift. It is something we buy for ourselves, evidently by the work we do for Christ (pp. 17-18).
It should be noted that the author gives an illustration from his college days in which he gave an evangelistic message in class and a girl in the class raised her hand and asked, “Are you telling me that if I don’t believe in the Jesus you’re talking about, I will go to hell when I die?” (p. 151). He answered yes and evidently gave no caveats about the need for surrender, total devotion, and following Christ (cf. pp. 150-52). I wonder if at that time, before his theological education, he simply called upon people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation that can never be lost. It appears that his subsequent theological education led him to adopt Reformed Lordship Salvation.
The author commendably shows a concern for people who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ and he clearly maintains that if they die without hearing the good news, they will be eternally condemned (pp. 76, 152-54).
The final chapter, entitled “The Radical Experiment,” challenges the reader to a one year experiment. He challenges the reader over the next year to “pray for the entire world; read through the entire Bible; sacrifice your money for a specific purpose; spend your time in another context; [and] commit your life to a multiplying community” (p. 185). He spends about 25 pages giving details about what he wants the reader to do over the next year (pp. 187-212). This is certainly helpful application.
This book is a pleasant read. The author’s concern for those who haven’t heard and his call to serve Christ is commendable. However, his Lordship Salvation theology, combined with the shallowness of the Biblical discussion, makes this a book I can only recommend to those who wish to have a full library of Lordship Salvation books.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society