Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream by David Platt – A Book Review

Ghandi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

And what could be more different than the example of a homeless, penniless, persecuted, despised, and finally crucified person – and his followers waking up in multimillion dollar homes, watching the morning news on flat screen TVs, checking for Facebook updates on their iPhones, driving to church in their luxury sedans, stopping at Starbucks for a four-dollar cup of coffee, being chauffeured into the multimillion dollar church building on golf carts, singing along to a professionally produced rock concert, listening to an entertaining message from a celebrity pastor, and finishing up the experience with an enormous lunch at one of the nicest restaurants in town? Or as Platt would contrast it:

Now, remember what was on the left: “First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.” On the right the article said, “Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan” (16).

This is the tension, or contradiction, that David Platt so adeptly explores in Radical. It is a book endorsed by the presidents of Compassion International, the Southern Baptist Convention, and LifeWay Research.

Platt has a challenging thesis:

I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe (3).

Now, who wants to hear that kind of negativity?

Well, because of Platt’s disarming vulnerability, keen sense of humor, powerful personal stories, and consistent focus on Scripture, I think this book may find a wide audience among even relatively complacent of church-goers.

Even more importantly, Platt stays away from guilt-trips and legalistic proscriptions. Rather, he continually returns to the good news: that God loves you, seriously, and his son Jesus died on the cross to forgive you of your sins! We are asked, not to wallow in how bad we feel about how bad we are, but rather, to enthusiastically respond to the staggering love of God.

I think that Radical will appeal to the many Christians who are fed-up with the status quo in their local churches. They yearn to imitate Jesus, but are hungry for a little encouragement, direction, and confidence that a life of sacrificial love is really worth it.

In addition, many who are seeking after God are disenchanted with Americanized Christianity and are looking for an exposition of the real deal, including the hard truths and in-your-face challenges that they (rightly) suspect are at the core of what Jesus taught and lived.

Finally, because this book challenges its’ readers to boldly live for Jesus, with integrity, compassion, and service, there is every reason to believe they will multiply and influence many others. In the process, the book should spread well through word-of-mouth references alone.

The stories in Radical are convicting. We hear of church leaders in an unidentified Asian country tearfully thanking God for His love in the midst of intense persecution, pastors studying the Bible for 8-12 hours a day, for ten days straight, evangelism in Indonesia, a martyr in India, a confrontation with a witch doctor, a man whose faith inspired him to care for over 10,000 orphans, and more.

These are not the testimonies of your average American church. These reports broaden our horizons. They show us the kind of dedication that Jesus deserves.

In many ways, Platt’s book is a biblical theology of sacrifice. Why sacrifice? Sacrifice for what cause? How does Jesus motivate us to sacrifice? What do we ‘sacrifice’ if we reject the call to follow Jesus?

Radical clearly challenges the reader to abandon everything for Christ: career, family, security, safety, wealth, health, and even life itself. And not just in terms of ‘good intentions’ and nodding our heads in agreement, but in actual daily life, with uncomfortably practical consequences.

The biblical pathway is set in sharp contrast to the specifics of the American dream. Platt critiques our rationalizations, idolatry, self-reliance, shallowness, selfishness, and simple disobedience. He doesn’t pull his punches.

He asks us to honestly consider, with a look at a wide variety of Biblical passages:

  • What do we know of God? (Or have we slimmed God down into a happiness dispenser?)
  • And what do we know of God’s Word? (Or have we neglected it for the sake of more entertaining options?)
  • Do our lives match our theology? (Or do we say one thing and do another?)

Radical is an existentially painful read. If you read it and apply it, you will find yourself engaging in world missions, serving the poor, making disciples, leading others to faith, praying for the needs of the world, giving away your possessions, taking new risks, experiencing persecution, and possibly losing your life for the gospel.

But you will also have a renewed (or new) relationship with God. You will lose your hypocrisy and self-centeredness. You will find true joy in Christ’s love for you. You will make new friends and partner with people of uncommon integrity. You will prepare yourself for an eternity in God’s holy and awesome presence.

If you are afraid to read Radical, you need to read it. If you are excited about Radical, you need to read it. For most people, the easiest thing to do will be to ignore this book – either by not reading it at all or by reading it and then ignoring it. So I encourage you to read this book with others. Read it by yourself if you must, but if you can find a community to keep you accountable to putting its message into practice, you will be far better off. If you have a family, this is the kind of book you need to process together.

My critiques of the book are relatively minor. There are two in particular:

  1. I wish that Platt had gone further in sharing his own story: so, what kind of house does he live in? What percentage of his income does he give away? How much does he spend on himself? His readers have the right to know if he practices what he preaches.
  2. The book could be strengthened with further explanation about what it means to be ‘radical’ in following Jesus in the midst of working as an engineer, schoolteacher, or graphic designer. How do we reconcile our ordinary jobs with living extraordinary lives?

Overall, I strongly recommend Radical by David Platt. It is a heart-wrenching, honest examination of what it means to follow Jesus. May we be so bold as to implement its teachings. The last chapter is crystal clear about where to start: pick something and begin to live differently.

You can buy a copy of Radical at Amazon.com.