David Platt calls American Christians to be “radical” for Jesus Christ in his book titled by the same word. What does he mean by that, and is it biblical?
Radical, by definition, is to be concerned with or tending to concentrate on fundamental aspects of a matter. This is what Pastor David Platt (Brook Hills church) calls American Christians to be as far as following and obeying Whom he believes is the “real Jesus” in his book titled by the same word. What does being radical look like, according to Platt? Well, the book gave me the impression that it’s carrying a daily burning passion for missions and serving the “less fortunate” so they’ll believe the gospel. Unfortunately, despite its noble desire to jolt American Christians who don’t seem to mind their spiritual slumber and apathy, I think Radical comes off as shame therapy and wanting to guilt trip said Christians. And I also think that some of the Scripture you encounter does not teach what the book suggests it does. Radical, while hardly a bust, is one of few books I’ve walked away from disappointed.
I agree with Platt that it’s sinful for a Christian living in the United States to pursue the “American Dream“, to become wealthy and/or famous for the sake of it. The concept, while not inherently wrong, does promotes self-aggrandizement. The idea is to climb the income and corporate ladders, acquire a national or global reputation, collect expensive stuff, and beat everyone else to it all in order to enjoy luxury and unprecedented comfort as others gaze at you with envy. It is possible to become wealthy to the glory of God, but definitely not fame. Regardless, the core principles of the American Dream do not line up with the gospel’s demands on one’s life. Yet I also think it isn’t wise or encouraging to assume that Christians living in America are by default pursuing such worldliness, and I got that vibe a lot reading Radical.
Take wealth and possessions for example. Platt references the conversation between Jesus Christ and the rich, young ruler in Mark 10 as a biblical mandate for ridding oneself of possessions. Yet wealth and possessions, just like the American Dream, aren’t inherently wrong. A believer in this day and age can be wealthy and have things, and still be godly, especially if they obey the command to share it (I John 3:17). The promise of material gain was exclusive to the Old Covenant; there is no guarantee of it now, but that doesn’t mean God is opposed to wealthy Christians. Ultimately I didn’t understand what Platt was aiming for in pointing out Mark 10. Should Christians feel bad about having things?
How much is too much? Is there a biblical balance? Is it wrong to have a nice vehicle, a comfortable house, a stable nest egg? Should believers stick to thrift stores and making meals from scratch? Will people believe the gospel simply because we give up our things? These are questions that crossed my mind, and I’m not confident they were answered.
With respect to Mark 10, I believe Jesus is actually exposing a deadly idol in the self-righteous rich man’s heart. The ruler believed he was rightly-related to God due to his wealth. Yet Jesus was not demanding that he unload. The text implies that the fellow was greedy, but Christ wasn’t after that.
Instead, Zacchaeus is an exemplary example of what sharing looks like. Looked upon as a disgusting, extorting tax collector… Jesus changed the heart of the crooked businessman who then went above and beyond repaying those whom he cheated. The key is he did so of his own accord, because he was thankful for and loved Jesus, not because some local rabbi demanded it. The Macedonians whom Paul writes about in II Corinthians 8 are another great example of giving from the heart. Essentially, we must have the maturity to evaluate the things we have on an individual basis according to what Scripture truly teaches. Is every thing I possess a necessity? Of course not. Are they blessings from God? You bet. Do I use them for sinful purposes at times? I’m sure I do. Should that disqualify me from having them in the first place? Well, for that matter no one should own anything. This is what I think each believer needs to consider in light of their possessions.
I also think some of Platt’s views about the world at large are misinformed. Mercy missions may have value, but poverty and disease are altogether impossible to eliminate. Both exist as a result of the curse. Christ even made clear [to Judas Iscariot] that the poor would always be among us. It’s strange then to suggest that American Christians have an extraordinary obligation to shoulder the burden of fighting hunger and disease in “less-developed” countries. Don’t get me wrong; I would never criticize helping the truly needy, but that isn’t a command you find in the Great Commission. Ironically, the “American Dream” in a way actually helps Christians to help the needy! By doing business in the United States, we create opportunities (read: jobs) for people to be lifted out of poverty and help civilization battle disease. Nonetheless, God isn’t surprised by these hardships. He actually ordains them, and is in full control of them. He never intended for there to be enough wealth and possessions in the world to ensure that no one goes hungry, thirsty, or without basic shelter. Is it sad? It is to most people, but it’s not as though God is cruel by allowing it. Soon these problems won’t even exist, but for now God’s edict is for people to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, not to be comfortable and well-off their entire lives. Plus, He promises to provide what He knows every last person needs. God has placed us here for a different purpose.
That purpose is to live out the gospel, and share it. And I do agree with Platt that Christians ought to burn with much more desire to spread the truth of Christ. But notice how I didn’t emphasize “American” there. This is the job of all Christians, not just those that happen to reside in the United States. If God calls me one day to a foreign field, I hope I respond in faith and obedience, but I’m not going to go somewhere just because I’m an American Christian. To that end, I find David’s claim that there are at least 4.5 billion unsaved people in the world just odd. I don’t know how he knows that, or how all the people that he mentions are now genuine Christians due to the mission work done by the people of Brook Hills. I’m definitely thankful for their work, but let’s leave the judging of who’s saved and not saved to God.
I’m not surprised if you’re thinking by now that I’m suggesting Radical is a waste of time to read. I don’t think it is at all. I appreciate all the examples of Brook Hills mobilizing to care for those in the members’ local communities, those internationally, and how the gospel has been given through it all. I just respectfully disagree that it needs to be done according to the reasons discussed above and those I’ve not mentioned. Guilt is never a biblical motivation to live or give the gospel. I don’t think that because others might be considered have-nots, or simply don’t have as much, that Christians ought to empty their homes and/or financial accounts. Love and grace must be the driving forces behind any ministry. Any other reasons are unbiblical.
On the flip-side, if you’re often or always after the latest and greatest toy, if you grumble at the thought of giving your monies to kingdom work, then David and I both invite you to allow God’s Word to examine your heart. Instead, we ought to love serving Jesus Christ by serving His church, and of course demonstrate obedience to the Great Commission. We must care for others as He did.
Any decisions to give of things, money, time, etc., must be bathed in prayer by the believer. Usually choices along these lines are not so simple, and the consequences can be very unpleasant for choosing the wrong thing. I do think it would be exceedingly wonderful if more Christians were more radical for Jesus Christ, but as it stands, I don’t think they necessarily need to be in the way Radical seems to want.