Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Book Review (#72 of 2014) Radical by David Platt

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
I give this relatively short book three stars. It is well-written and says great things, but I get frustrated with how books like this pretend to be saying something new when others have wrestled with the same ideas for centuries, and there are a host of classic books out there addressing the same topic. For whatever reason, David Brooks singled the book out for a column, increasing its readership. This book is now very popular among Southern Baptist churches, having spun off book studies, "Secret Church" movements, etc. even though there is nothing new here-- other than it having been written by a Southern Baptist and not someone from another denomination. There are plenty of contemperaneous works that Platt appears to draw from or have identical ideas. For example, Ron Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (my review) in 1978. This book is probably considered subversive by many Southern Baptists but it's roughly half of Platt's book. Dallas Willard, A.W. Tozer, and others also wrote several works that make calls (and better arguments) for authentic worship and discipleship than Pratt does. Pratt does not mention these, so a young reader is left with the impression that he's discovered all these ideas on his own from the Bible. I get frustrated with how much praxaeology Southern Baptists rediscover in the 21st century, from Mark Dever's 9 Marks movement on church policy to Platt's Radical.

Platt's exhortation is for Christians to live simpler lives, be more "radical" in their giving and going (to the unreached), and to reclaim the true meaning of discipleship from the modern emphasis on buildings and programs. To his credit, he does cite the work of Elisabeth Elliott and works by or about missionaries of centuries past.

A couple positive takeaways from the book:

Platt affirms people in their vocations, giving the example of a man operating his accounting firm for God's glory and being very influential both in discipling his co-workers and contributing to overseas work.

He also makes the point that since we are all called to make disciples, discipleship necessitates teaching and modeling. Thus, we are all teachers, teaching is not necessarily a vocational calling to only a few. He encourages all of us to study and learn things as though we are going to teach them later, which is a good lesson to apply to all of life.

A few weaknesses of the book:
Namely the aforementioned lack of original thought. Another weakness is that while the book encourages being in a reproducing community it lacks ideas of the greater power of Christian community (that you can find in other books). Platt doesn't tie the idea of Church community very well in deciding how we spend our money and the types of things we buy, and how we handle ethical issues at work. Platt essentially leaves it up to the individual family to figure out if their house is too big or their giving not radical enough rather than among a community of believers in accountability with one another as we saw in Acts.

I'm struck by the number of churches who are actively promoting or studying this book, but the changes in their attitude toward buildings and programs seem only changed at the margin-- if at all. Platt would set a high standard to whether a church should focus its resources on its weekly services or increasing its numbers or instead focus on discipleship and giving to the poor.

In all, 3 stars out of 5. There are a host of other, more complete, books I'd recommend before this one.

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