Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream is a very thought-provoking look at the differences between what the Bible teaches about following Jesus and the American spin on living out a “Christian” life. The book was written by Dr. David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.
Shortly before beginning his pastorate at the Birmingham church, Dr. Platt had the experience of visiting “underground” house churches in Asia, which meet under threat of government persecution. He saw firsthand the hunger for God’s Word in the people who met together (for many hours at a time, not just one or two on Sunday morning!), their deep faith and trust in God, and their desire to spread the gospel to others even under threat of losing their livelihood, family, friends, and possibly their lives.
As he began his ministry at Brook Hills, Dr. Platt was struck by the contrast between the simple, heartfelt, authentic worship he had experienced in Asia with the underground church, and the American spin on what church and worship are all about. He became convinced that the church in America has “embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”
In his book, Dr. Platt looks at many different facets of what authentic Christian faith should embrace. In the first chapter he discusses “What Radical Abandonment to Jesus Really Means.” He points out that Jesus focused more on a select group of followers than “marketing Himself to the masses,” and that He expected those who made the decision to follow after Him to surrender totally to Him, being willing to leave their livelihoods, their homes and families, their own desires and pursuits, and their comforts.
In “Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Gospel,” Platt discusses the difference between the gospel as so many have had it explained to them—-saying the “sinner’s prayer,” as if saying a formula of words really saves someone—and what the Bible teaches: being convicted of our sinfulness and turning away from it (repentance), and putting our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for our sin. Surrender to His Lordship over our lives is also a part of the gospel, but in today’s church this is woefully dismissed or ignored.
“The Importance of Relying on God’s Power” discusses the facet of the American dream that says we can do anything we set our minds to accomplish; our faith is in ourselves and our own abilities. However, the gospel says that we can do nothing of eternal value without God. In John Chapter 5, Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches, and apart from Him we can do nothing. This is in direct opposition to the attitude that anything we accomplish, we have done on our own; we think too much of ourselves instead of giving God the glory. He is the One Who enables us in the first place to achieve whatever we achieve, after all. Dr. Platt also brings up the fact that churches depend on methods and strategies, often at the advice of professionals, to bring about church growth, instead of relying on the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of people. He shares the story of the beginning of the church in the book of Acts and holds that up as the model the modern-day church should follow.
Other chapters in the book are regarding “God’s Global Purpose” for the church (spreading the gospel to all nations and making disciples of all peoples), “The Multiplying Community” (how believers join together to fulfill God’s purpose in this world), “Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional” (the call to take the gospel into the world is for all believers, not a select few), and “The Risk and Reward of the Radical Life.”
There is one chapter in particular that really got my attention, as I had never really looked at the issue of God’s promises for material blessings on His people in such a way—in fact, I had never heard this subject discussed from this particular angle before. In “How Much is Enough,” which touches on the subject of “American Wealth in a World of Poverty,” Dr. Platt talks about how, in the Old Testament, God promised His people material blessings if they remained faithful to His Word and walked in obedience to Him. According to Dr. Platt, this was because “God was forming a nation for Himself that would be a demonstration of His greatness to all other nations….material blessing aimed toward the establishment of the people of God in a physical place with a physical temple is a fundamental part” of Israel’s history.
In the New Testament, however, there appears to have been a shift in God’s plan for His people in regards to material blessing and obedience to Him. Neither Jesus nor any of the New Testament teachers ever promised material wealth as a reward for obedience. New Testament believers were also never commanded to build a temple; instead, they are to be God’s temple (indwelt with the Holy Spirit), and their possessions are to be spent on taking God’s glory to the world. This thinking runs contrary to the mindset of the majority of American Christians; we tend to think that if we follow Jesus and live to please God that He will fill our lives with material wealth to do with as we please. That thinking is counter to what Jesus demanded of His followers— that they give up all and be totally sold out to His will. Being a disciple of Christ is costly indeed.
Dr. Platt also makes the point that the Bible does not teach that being rich, in and of itself, is evil or wrong, and that the Bible does teach that we should be good stewards of our resources. Rather, it is the love of money and the desire to accumulate wealth and possessions for selfish gain that is wrong. Being greedy and hoarding our resources is not what God wants us to do; rather, He blesses us in order that we will in turn share those blessings with others who are in greater need.
The final chapter of the book is “The Radical Experiment” and outlines a plan for a year-long journey of faith for those who desire to take the step of living radically for God. This includes five areas of growth: praying for the entire world (specific areas throughout the year), reading through the entire Bible, sacrificing your money for a specific purpose (not merely giving, but giving until it hurts), spending your time outside of your comfort zone (another city, another country, another culture), and committing your life to a multiplying community (active involvement in a church).
I found Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream to be very challenging and eye-opening, and recommend it to anyone who is serious about living an authentic life as a follower of Jesus Christ. The book is published by Multnomah Press. It is 217 pages long and easy to read. More resources are available at www.radicalthebook.com .
All quoted passages are from the book Radical by Dr. David Platt.