What comes to mind when you think of the American Dream? Nice cars, two perfect children, a loving spouse and a 401 (k) that would make your boss jealous? This mental image of stainless peace and alleged happiness stems from a blindness that America and its people have fallen under; a false state of comfort, a false sense of security, and, even more destructive, a false sense of faith.
In "Radical", David Platt's ground-breaking book, we come to see just how far Americans will go to achieve their need for security and acceptance, and while nothing is wrong with enjoying life and drinking its sweet benefits, we have become immune to what truly matters. The easy-street mentality described in the book, of plastic smiling people sitting in their cushioned pews listening to the same old love-yourself sermon as last week and the week before, is a self-centered mindset fed off years of struggling to be the best of nations, trying to breed the best of people, turning our democracy into a "me-ocracy". The focus has been taken off the colonial plaudits accrediting God for the blessings we have, and onto ourselves. How did we fall so far? David Platt seems to think this departure from God and selflessness started in the church.
"That afternoon, crowds filled the parking lot of our sprawling multimillion-dollar church campus. Moms, dads, and their kids jumped on inflatable games. Plans were being discussed for using the adjacent open land to build state-of-the-art recreation fields and facilities to support more events like this...We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves." Instead of surrendering everything to a rich, life-sustaining strength that goes beyond our mortal understanding, we have become people who walk down the aisle, sign the card, and get saved, as though salvation were a mere byproduct, part and parcel to a happy life. Books grossing thousands describe Christianity as the secret to a successful life, as though we are owed something once we become Christians. We are owed nothing, Platt believes; it is we who owe our Savior something. We snatch at influential people, convert them, and voila. They write a best-selling book and start making the dough. It's no longer about God's comfort to us, His sufficient strength in times of trials, but our comfort in times of peace. Do we really need the sickening excess of worldly success and finances? "Consider the cost for the starving multitudes who sit outside the gate of contemporary Christian affluence."
Platt gives a stark example of the comfy Christian influence when he remembers reading a newspaper reporting how 350,000 refugees in western Sudan were suffering from malnutrition and how a large Baptist church was raising money for aid. But on the other half of the page was an article describing how that same church was celebrating building a $23 million building, and had donated $5,000 to the sufferers in Sudan. Five thousand dollars is not enough to get a plane into the Sudan, much less provide the nutrition those poor people needed. There's something wrong with our mentality when we care more about having an illustrious sanctuary than providing help to those who can't twist a tap and take a long, cool drink.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’" 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
Another stark example is when Platt describes a friend visiting some unsaved people in a remote area. Asked if they had heard about Jesus, the people were confused and replied that they had not. During the friend's sermon, one of the unsaved went into a store and bought a bottle of Coke. We have succeeded in marketing a soda drink to people who have never even heard the name of Jesus.
There are many wonderful passages in "Radical", ones worth underlining and even committing to memory. Platt is a powerful writer, full of passion and zest, and his anecdotes about ministering to people in his worldwide travels add an interesting angle to the book. But I came away with a sinking, guilty feeling because while Platt addresses the need for Christians in America to wake up and smell the coffee, he does not give realistic advice for bolstering ourselves into radical servitude. In the last chapter, Platt presents a five-step plan towards breaking through our cozy American worldview.
1. Pray for the entire world.
2. Read through the entire Word.
3. Sacrifice money for a specific purpose.
4. Spend time in another context.
5. Commit your life to a multiplying community.
Platt does give a small debriefing, explaining that these are rational steps that could be taken in your own neighborhood, but then rails that our major goal should be to branch out and minister to the world, making disciples of the nations. Not everyone is able to hop on a plane and fly to India or Uganda, and not everyone has the money to spare for giving. God puts each individual where he/she is supposed to be, and from there we must press on towards doing all that we can. We are not all privileged with the circumstances in Platt's own life and the stretch of his international ministry-inspired fame. There are also several very critical comparisons, such as Christians sitting in their nice SUVs while people on the other side of the world are starving. This comparison in no way envelopes the whole of Christians in America. In a way, "Radical" is the perfect book to shock us out of complacency, but it was anticlimactic in that we are not given more substantial steps we can take after realizing what a state the American church is in. We come away feeling guilty for the blessings God has showered on us, which is unbiblical. We are presented with a problem...now how do we fix it?
We can only assume that this book must speak for the individual. We must make of this what we will, pray hard for the suffering and what we are to do about it, and go boldly in rational ways to convert America from her fluffy dream of cozy Christianity.
"In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability. He intentionally puts his people in situations where they come face to face with their need for him. In the process he powerfully demonstrates his ability to provide everything his need people in ways they could never have mustered up or imagined. And in the end, he makes much of his own name."
If you would like to buy "Radical"...
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