Is ‘Radical’ really radical? (why David Platt is the new Francis Chan)- my book review here

Posted on March 7, 2011

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After being bombarded by several friends about this book, I finally broke down and read David Platt’s book ‘Radical’. As you may know, Platt is the Sr. Pastor of a ‘Mega-Church’ called ‘The Church at Brook Hills’ in Birmingham, Alabama. Platt is one of the youngest ‘Mega-Church’ pastors in the country who seeks to, in his own words, “take back our faith from the American Dream”. His book has been causing quite a stir in evangelical circles!

Many people told me to read this book because, in their opinion, he was saying many of the same things that I had been saying about the American Church system. When a friend finally handed me a copy of the book, I figured I should take the time to read it. Wow, let me just say that I am stirred as a result of what I read in the book! This book review will take about 5-10 minutes to read. You should read this review even if you haven’t read Platt’s book. If you simply skim this review however, you will misunderstand me. Let me encourage you to read this whole article carefully.

Before I get too far into this book review, allow me to let the cat out of the bag…

I dislike this book very much!

No, I’m not saying that I dislike this book because it challenged me, or because I didn’t like Platt’s tone. I think he is a good writer and comes across very gracious. I dislike this book because it said many true things about the American church system, yet was built on several completely false understandings.

Now before all you David Platt fans crucify me, let me assure you that I am not making any judgment calls about his heart in a negative way. Actually, I am pretty convinced that David Platt loves the Lord and really desires to serve and bring Jesus Christ glory. His heart and compassion for the poor and marginalized in society is beautiful! I have no issue with him personally.

I resonate with Platt’s heart because I was him. While I was not a pastor of a mega-church in the bible-belt, I was an institutional church pastor for a few years nonetheless. Like Platt, I became disallusioned with the American church system pretty quickly. I desperately wanted to see and experience Christ through the church community that I read about in the New Testament. Like Platt, I went overseas and experienced parts of the church that were glorious and desired that here in America as well.

I came to the same conclusions about the American Church system that Platt did, and like Platt, I even wrote a book about it! I kid you not when I say that except for the stories he used, the book I wrote was almost word for word what Platt wrote in ‘Radical’. It was weird to read such similar thoughts. No, I am not suggesting Platt plagiarized my work because it was never published.

Why was it not published you ask? Well, one reason is because I was not a mega-institution pastor. When you are a pastor of a small or averaged sized institution, you cannot question the system. When you are the pastor of a mega-institution, you can get a pass and say just about anything. As I read ‘Radical’, I thanked the Lord that my work was never published. I would have had to disavow the book!

Before I get into the disagreements that I have with this book however, let me start with some things that I agree with.

I agree with Platt’s assessment of the institution.

Here are some quotes from Platt in chaptert 1 that are brutally honest:

…I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important.

Wow, what a statement! This next quote was Platt’s reaction to a Baptist newspaper that had two unrelated articles printed side by side. One article was celebrating the opening of a $23 million church facility, and the next article was celebrating how much money was sent overseas to Sudan. Here is Platt’s reaction:

Twenty-three million dollars for an elaborate sanctuary and five thousand dollars for hundreds of thousands of starving men, women, and children, most of whom were dying apart from faith in Christ. Where have we gone wrong? How did we get to the place where this is tolerable?

I applaud Platt’s questioning of this reality. Such is the reality of the institutional church world. I am convinced that, like Platt, more people need to question this system. Here is where I found Platt’s book severely lacking however. Platt does not seem to know the answer to the question he is asking regarding how we, as a church culture, got to this pathetic place. He seems to think that a lack of discipleship and obedience by people who claim to be followers of Christ is the real reason why the American church system is in the mess it is in. Basically speaking, he is blaming people.

Let me cut Platt some slack. He is on a journey and he even says in the book that there is much that he still has to learn. I respect that, and I resonate with him. With that said, let me illustrate here the three major untruths that this book is built upon.

Misunderstanding #1- Platt Still Sees The Institutional Church System As Legitimate

While Platt questions the response of the church system regarding elaborate buildings and a lack of compassion for the poor, he never questions the existence of the institutional church system itself. He does not seem to understand that the institutional system he is openly questioning is actually built upon two unbiblical things:

1. An Old testament temple mentality

2. An unbiblical clergy / laity divide.

I actually wrote about this in response to Francis Chan’s recent message about the American church at a collegiate conference called Passion 2011. I will not rehash that argument here, but I would strongly suggest that you read that article by clicking here.

I agree with Platt’s assessment in the first section of the book when he says that you can’t share the life of Christ with the masses.  My question for him is this: Why is he attempting to do that each and every Sunday in what he is calling church? Why is he beating the church for not looking like Jesus who lived outside the religious institutional box?

Does he not realize that, as a mega-institution Sr. Pastor, he is sitting in a position that keeps the box in existence?  I am in favor of destroying the box and setting the people free. As Francis Chan is currently finding out, it seems that you can call out the current religious system as being unbiblical and still be accepted and loved as long as you don’t leave the ‘system’. As soon as you do, you are seen as unstable, and as someone who has ‘walked off the deep end’. In my opinion, Platt would have more credibility if he followed in Chan’s example. Hopefully He will.

Misunderstanding #2- Platt Does Not Have A Grasp Of What True Repentance Actually Is

Repentance is one of those words that has been hijacked by man’s religious system. According to man’s religious understanding of repentance, the burden is placed on our actions. In order to repent, we are urged to confess our sins and then seek to change our behavior and actions. It is all about ‘obedience’ to what God requires. This understanding of repentance is unbiblical and false. It does not produce freedom, rather more bondage and performance.

I have concluded that David Platt and Francis Chan’s messages resonate with us because, in a sort of a religiously sadistic way, the fleshly religious side of us likes a good ‘beat me, I’ve been bad’ message. Basically speaking, we feel good when we feel ‘bad’.  Our religious flesh has an addiction to ‘conviction’.  We just keep hearing how bad we are, keep attempting to be more obedient, and we never seem to see that part of the problem is the system that is keeping us in bondage to the ‘box’.

Platt does not seem to understand that repentance (which literally means to ‘change your mind’) is a one step process, NOT a two step process! Once your mind truly changes about something, action naturally follows. Those who think you must (1.) have a change of mindset (repentance), and (2.) try to implement a new set of behaviors to go with the new mindset, usually revert back to religion and rules.  

Platt does not seem to understand that the real reason people arn’t living like Christ in the American church system is simply because their minds aren’t changing about who Christ really is.  Christ has not been made manifest to them. Many Americans in the church system know truths and information about Christ, but few know Him and are infatuated with Him.

When we meet the girl or guy of our dreams and fall in love, we don’t have to be convinced to give up our lives, and other lesser loves, for this person of our dreams. Do we have to give up our other lovers? Yes, of course, but it is a joy to leave everything else behind for the one we are in love with! People need a revelation of Jesus Christ in order to fall in love with Him, and Christ is fully manifested and revealed through the church as He designed her according to Ephesians 1:23. This is why our understanding of the church is vitally important.  

By church, the scriptures mean much more than what we see in the institution that is typically called ‘church’ today. One guy standing behind a pulpit beating us to be more obedient will not give us a full revelation of Christ. A group of people giving up things and going out as individuals to do good things (as Platt suggests in his book) will also not give us a revelation of Jesus Christ either.

Please understand what I am saying. True repentance will always produce a change in action and behavior, but true repentance is not a change in behavior. Correct actions and behavior are simply by-products of repentance. If we get this wrong, we simply will revert back to man made attempts at righteousness. Good works may result because of our human attempts to be more ‘obedient’, but it will not be the revelation of Jesus Christ that the creation is actually longing for.

Misunderstanding #3- Platt Does Not Have A Grasp Of What True Biblical Discipleship & Missions Is

Unfortunately, Platt’s misunderstanding of what it means to make disciples is nothing new. It is a common mistake. In his book, Platt repeatedly tells us that we need to simply be obedient to Christ’s commission to make disciples of all the nations. Like Platt, for years I read Matthew 28:18-20 as a command to me individually. I need to make disciples…I need to go to the nations…I need to baptize…I need to teach…I…I…I, etc… I no longer believe this!

Let me explain. If we just read Matthew 28 with an institutional and individualistic frame of mind, and separate it from the rest of the New Testament, then Platt’s understanding of discipleship is correct. If we rid ourselves of our western individualistic mindset and look at this command in the context of the rest of the New Testament, however, we’ll see that Platt’s understanding of making disciples falls way short of what Jesus was actually talking about.

Jesus said that when a disciple is fully trained, he would be like his master. When we talk about making disciples of Christ in all the nations, we are talking about seeing His essence and person manifested in every tribe and tongue. I have a few questions for you:

If someone cloned your big toe, would it be a representation (disciple) of you, or just a part of you?

Do you think that you ‘individually’ are one of the many members of Christ’s body, or do you think that you ‘individually’ are the fullness of Christ’s body?

Does Jesus simply want body parts manifested in every tribe & tongue of the earth, or does He want His full body represented in every tribe and tongue?

Platt’s description and examples of making disciples clearly show his individualistic and institutional mindset. The fundamental mistake that Platt is making is that he is viewing the person of Jesus Christ from a pre-pentecost mindset, not a post-pentecost mindset. When the church was birthed, Christ’s body fundamentally changed. Christ went from being a single individual, to a multi-membered body that could no longer be expressed by any one individual. According to Ephesians 1, the fullness of Christ now resides in His body which is the church made up of many functioning members! Isn’t that amazing?

God is actively advancing one purpose in the world today. He is advancing the image and essence of His Son to all the nations. Here is a statement that I would like for you to dwell on:

A true disciple of Christ is a community, not an individual.

Only a community of fully functioning (not passive) members who are living by Christ’s divine life can adequately contain and promote the fullness of the person of Jesus Christ to the nations. The scriptures describe us, individually, as being ‘living stones’. We have been made alive in Christ. God is not interested in only turning dead stones into living stones however, rather He is building a house out of those living stones according to 1 Pet. 2:5. This house of God (people in Christ, in local areas, operating together as a family unit) is what God is building and assembling.

Like Platt, most institutional Christians and most missionaries are completely ignorant of what this means. Platt sees his current American church culture as unbiblical, so the last thing he wants to do is replicate his current church culture elsewhere. I totally agree.

The answer, however, is not to compel individual Christians to ‘work harder’ or be ‘more obedient’, rather the challenge should be to revisit what a fully functioning local church actually is, and what it means for a local community of believers to abide in the vine and live by the divine life of Christ. Anything short of that is simply more religion. Unfortunately, Platt’s book completely skipped over these essential realities.

Christians who have only experienced life inside the institution are going to have a hard time reproducing the community life of Christ they have never experienced.

Conclusion

While I agree and applaud Platt’s assessment of the broken American evangelical church system, it is my desire that we would not respond by doing more ‘good works’ and trying to be more ‘obedient’. What is greatly needed is a fresh vision of Jesus Christ. T. Austin Sparks said this:

‎You and I, dear friends, individually, and if we belong to a company of the Lord’s people, that company, will only make progress toward that full, ultimate end of God in Christ if we have a spiritual vision of Jesus Christ. Vision is essential to progress.

This vision must include a correct understanding of Christ as Head, and Christ as a body. This vision is not understood, nor practiced, by the institutional church world. In the institution, man is the functional head of the church. There is also no understanding of the body of Christ as a participatory community as well. In the institutional church system, we are treated and function simply as a collection of individuals. A lack of this ‘whole vision of Christ’ is why the institution looks completely different from the church of the New Testament.

While David Platt’s book recognizes that the American Church system is not biblical, this book is completely void of a profound vision of Jesus Christ (Jesus as the Head, & body). We need a fresh vision of Him, and we must not settle for anything less. May the Lord give us all a renewed vision of Christ.

For His bride,

Jamal Jivanjee

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