Weakly argued, but challenging

Paul Mastin

3 Stars

May 20, 2011

My friend Christina recently returned from a mission trip to Central America, where she and her husband joined a group building simple ovens for families who live as their ancestors have for centuries, cooking over an open pit in their hillside hovels. She mentioned this book to me as an inspiration for how they were seriously reconsidering and altering their lifestyle. Upon that recommendation, I was eager to see what this book is all about.

I must say I came away with mixed feelings. Early on in Radical, David Platt describes himself as the "youngest megachurch pastor in the United States," making me cringe in response to his humility, or lack of. Throughout the book, he describes his struggles, what a tough life he has, trying to downsize from his big house, dealing with his big church, leading his wealthy congregation. As he challenges his readers to downsize and rearrange priorities, he seems to suffer from a lack of perspective.

That said, his challenges are still valid and, well, challenging. Platt calls on American Christians (of course some of this would apply to all Christians, but his particular target is a complacent American church) to live more radically committed to Jesus.

My biggest problem with Platt's book is his guilt mongering. You're not giving enough, your house is too big, you're not spending enough time evangelizing, you're too self-centered, you're not serving Jesus in your job enough. All of which may be true. But Platt leaves the reader with a feeling of "I've got to do more! More! More!" without a good set of principles or guidelines for making judgments about how much more. To me this seems pedantic and irresponsible.

OK, that all sounds vitriolic and maybe a bit defensive. Fact is, I know I'm not giving enough, I know my house is plenty big, I'm not spending any time evangelizing, I am too self-centered, and I'm not serving Jesus in my job! So I will end this review on a positive note. Even though Platt made me a bit angry and I grew frustrated by his undisciplined exposition, he did challenge me to think about where my life is and what about it, if anything, is directed toward serving Jesus.

He ends the book with a challenge he calls The Radical Experiment. For one year, he challenges the reader:

  • To pray for the entire world
  • To read through the entire Word
  • To commit our lives to multiplying community
  • To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose
  • To give our time in another context

In fact, these are not radical things to do, but should be normal for Christians. That's where we are as a church: what should be normal is viewed as radical. Or, again, is that always how it is for Christians? The radical ones are the ones who are actually doing what they're supposed to do? (Remember when The Door magazine named Mother Theresa Loser of the Month, because she receives such accolades for doing what a nun is supposed to be doing? Of course you don't remember, because that magazine had a readership of about 500 which is why it's no longer published!)

So in spite of my problems with Radical, when I finished reading my mind (dare I say my spirit?) was racing with how its message might apply to my life. My life is far from radical. My heart is far from sold out to following Jesus. But Platt has planted some seeds and pushed me along, forcing me not only to reflect on where my Christian life stands now, but to think about what I'm going to do about it.