A lot of people say this book is a must read for every Christian. I vehemently disagree. The only book that should be required reading for every Christian is the Bible. If you're a fan of Radical, please do not assume I've misunderstood this book, or that Im not a Christian. Too many sincere believers in Christ have suffered in silence because of Radical and David Platt's other books, and that needs to stop.
My family joined Brook Hills in 2003. At the time, I was 23 and relatively new to my faith. 3 years later, David became our pastor. At first, we were on board with his "radical" message. He seemed to present Christianity in a new light, as if Radical is what Christianity really means. Because we were Americans at The Church at Brook Hills, David maintained that we were too materialistic, indulging our appetites while the rest of the world starved. Because of our apparent lack of zeal for the poor, we weren't really saved. It was very persuasive (and frightening). I'm sorry to say I was not mature enough in my faith to see the red flags.
In response to Radical, members of The Church at Brook Hills set to work on an epic scale, looking for ways to assuage our consciences, and convince ourselves that we were, in fact, saved. In my family, those efforts included overseas missions trips, volunteering with the poor, and selling and/or giving away possessions. Many others did more: in addition, many entered the international adoption process and/or trained to become foster parents. At some point, it became trendy not to be Christian, but to be David's version of "Radical," as if the two were synonymous.
My husband chronicled our efforts in a letter to David, which David included in the first edition of "Radical" the book, on pp. 131-32. But 4 years later, we'd had enough and left. Within 6 months, we had joined a neighboring church where we've been ever since - recovering from Radical, and finally growing again in Christ. What made us leave Brook Hill? We could only take so much of hearing David preach Radical week after week, and we finally reached a breaking point. For me personally, my walk with Christ - my daily mainstay - had become riddled with legalistic sacrifice, exhaustive good works, and the constant, nagging feeling that it was never enough to please God. I was further from Christ than I'd ever been since I first became a Christian in college. And I didn't feel I could go to God with these concerns, because I assumed God was the one who expected me to be "Radical." That's what David said, and I assumed the pastor at Brook Hills knew what he was talking about.
In my journey away from Radical, I continue to come to terms with my experience, and reach new conclusions about the Radical Experiment. To hear David tell it, giving and going are the whole of the Christian life. But that is not correct. The Bible is filled with exhortations to love God first - in fact, I believe that one command is the foundation for the entire Bible. We love because he first loved us - and therefore, our chief aim in life should be to know God, love him above all else. Out of that springs obedience to God. God is more interested in your heart than your works ("I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings," Hosea 6:6). David completely overlooks all this in Radical. The emphasis for him is never on the heart, but on the external life.
I do agree with David that outward acts are evidence of what is in the heart, as a tree is known by its fruit. But you can't focus on fruit without growing the tree first. David either doesn't understand this, or takes for granted that his readers do understand it. That is dangerous, and a recipe for works-based Christianity (which isnt Christianity at all).
So, despite David's sweeping, persuasive rhetoric, this book is not for all Christians. I'm not even sure it's for most Christians. Despite the hype surrounding this book, I believe Radical is not the biblical mandate its made out to be, but a personal manifesto from David Platt. Thus, we should not assume Radical is the correct" Christian life. If that were true, we would not need the Helper Christ promised in John 14:16-17. Radical may be a necessary wakeup call for you, or it may not be. If it is for you, don't judge those who struggle with this book. Just don't.
Below are some conclusions I've reached about this book. Any one of these is enough to cast serious doubt about whether anyone should read it. But taken together, I wonder how this book even got published.
1. As previously stated, David harps way too much on what he calls "evidence" of salvation. That is, in effect, the entire purpose of Radical - if you call yourself a Christian, you need to be doing more (especially if youre American).
But what exactly does that look like? Davids answer: Going overseas to the poorest and most dangerous places in the world; downsizing homes/vehicles; giving away all "extra" possessions; adopting/fostering children; serving in homeless shelters, etc.
David says this is not salvation by works, but evidence of salvation. On its face, that sounds like a valid distinction, but in practice, what's the difference? According to Radical, if we're not doing what David says, we should question whether we are saved (see pg. 111).
That's not the message of the Bible. The apostles wrote numerous letters to churches struggling with sin. None of them mentions any of the above as evidence of salvation. Galatians 5:22-3 explains evidence of salvation: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." See also 2 Peter 1: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.... For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Why isn't "going on overseas missions" mentioned? Or adopting children? Downsizing your home? Paul, meanwhile, warns against the kind of works-driven theology espoused in Radical : "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor 13:3).
2. David confuses his personal calling as a command to all believers. He uses Matthew 28:19 to argue that each Christian individually must go "anywhere outside the US." He derides the church for "reducing this command to a calling," as if we are deliberately sidestepping our duty: "The question, therefore, is not 'Can we find Gods will?' The question is 'Will we obey Gods will?' Will we refuse to sit back and wait for some tingly feeling to go down our spines before we rise up and do what we have already been commanded to do?
Again, that's not what the Bible says. For one thing, making disciples doesn't look the same in each person's life. The Holy Spirit leads believers in many ways - see Acts 13: "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon . . . Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen . . . and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." Thus, within a generation of the cross, it is already a calling from the Holy Spirit. Nowhere is it stated, or even implied, that the men who remained in Antioch were disobedient because they stayed behind. Consider 1 Cor 12:27-31: "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" Matthew Henry explicates this passage: "All members and officers had not the same rank in the church, nor the same endowments: Are all apostles? . . . This were to make the church a monster: all one as if the body were all ear or all eye. Some are fit for one office and employment, and some for another; and the Spirit distributes to every one as he will." So David is wrong in claiming the only way to obey the Great Commission is to "go to another context." As Christians, our whole lives are ministry. But you wouldn't know that from reading Radical.
3. David also misapplies the story of the Rich Young Ruler. This story is, in essence, the backbone of David's thesis in Radical. He claims the rich man represents American Christians - fat, lazy, and comfortable in our materialism (though he has never even met most of us).
Jesus, however, knew the rich man better than the man knew himself. He knew the man's true god was his personal wealth. So when the man claimed he had kept all the Commandments his entire life, Jesus reveals the falsehood: he tells him to sell all he has and give to the poor (divesting himself of his idol), and follow Jesus. As the man's response indicates, he could not even keep the first Commandment.
But what about Lazarus? Zaccheus? Joseph of Arimathea? Nicodemus? The Gospels contain no account of Jesus telling any of these men to give away their wealth. If we expand our view to the rest of the Bible, the examples increase exponentially: Job recounts God's hand in the life of a vastly wealthy man. Consider Job 42:10, "the Lord restored the fortunes of Job . . . [and] gave Job twice as much as he had before." I think it is no accident that Job details the wealth God gave him in the book's final paragraph: "And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys." (42:12). If anyone is tempted to argue, "That's Old Testament, that doesn't apply to us today," consider James 5:11: "Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job. . . ." David overlooks all this in Radical. Yet he accuses American Christians of manipulating the Gospel to our own ends.
4. David is off base in his criticism of the American church. He paints with too broad a brush, jumping to conclusions about people he knows only superficially, if at all. Some megachurches do water down the Gospel for its "consumer base." But David considers that the "typical" American church. He is not correct. Most churches in the US are not wealthy. When I was in college, my church met in a movie theater: Bible studies met in people's homes; the members met early each Sunday, set up equipment for worship, and stayed after to break it all down and load it into the pastor's Ford Ranger pickup truck, which he kept parked at his (modest) home. I was baptized in an apartment swimming pool because there was no baptismal. David would have you think this happens only in Venezuela or India. But this was in Gainesville, FL. Now, within a 30-mile radius of our home, probably 50 Christian churches have been planted over the years. Though we are in the Bible Belt, not one of those churches is 25% the size of Brook Hills.
5. I disagree with David's criticism of the American Dream. In Radical, one would think the American Dream is a spiritual cancer sucking the life out of Americans' faith. Unfortunately, David is among many who grew up with the benefits of the American Dream, and he seems to take it utterly for granted. He does not seem to understand what the American Dream is. He assumes it is about materialism and self-promotion. That is not correct. The American Dream is about freedom of choice and opportunity. Throughout history, people's lot in life has been dictated for them by the politics of birthplace and blood ties. If you were born poor, you stayed poor and likely died poor. At least in theory, that is not so in America. Consider Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Andrew Carnegie, or Andrew Jackson. A person can choose to pursue wealth and materialism, or not. The point is choice, not excess; freedom, not self-indulgence. That people have chosen to use the American Dream to pursue sinful wants does not render the American Dream suspect rather, this is evidence of a far more ancient problem our sin not a problem with the American Dream.
6. David speaks in too many extremes in Radical. You're either on an airplane to the Third World, or you are selfishly indulging your materialistic appetites. There is no room for real American Christian life in this. In truth, most sincere Americans in church today are not shopping for the latest trend in church entertainment. They are genuinely "working out their own salvation," usually out of the spotlight (consider Matthew 6:1-4 & 16-18). But consider those in the news in recent years, berated by the media for standing up for their beliefs, right here in the U.S.: county court clerks have resigned their highly-paid jobs (or gone to jail) for refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses, and bakers are pressured or fined for refusing to sell wedding cakes to same sex couples, etc. One doesn't have to look far to find a Christian standing up for Christ amid increasing scrutiny and personal cost, not in the Middle East, but right here in the U.S.
7. David himself doesn't seem to live up to the standard he advocates in Radical. He claims numbers don't matter in church, that merely filling seats should not be a pastor's priority, and I agree. But when asked about the people who left Brook Hills because of Radical, he responded, "More people are here now than when I came." Meanwhile, despite his calls to a humble lifestyle, David was the epitome of celebrity pastor during his time at Brook Hills. While he claimed to wear this mantle reluctantly, he didn't bother to leave Brook Hills until a higher-profile position at the IMB was offered him. At Brook Hills, meanwhile, I often heard complaints that he was out of reach to his congregation. He was often away, speaking at conferences or with journalists. It took weeks for him to respond to telephone calls or emails (if he responded at all). Most members never met him personally, never shook hands with him or spoke to him. He didn't know their names, but he claimed their homes were "too big," spending habits "too lavish," etc.
He also contradicts himself in Radical. He says Radical is only an "experiment," and admits it may be unsustainable if attempted for longer than one year. But the book is grounded on his thesis that this is the "correct" Christian life. So why should we live it out for only a year? He claims the year will change our perspective. It did, for me and countless others, but not in the way he said it would.
8. My final concern about Radical is David's audience. At Brook Hills, David lamented over what he believed was the state of the American church today. He lambasted "cheap grace" and "easy believism." In response, it became trendy at Brook Hills for people to put their homes up for sale, trade in cars for cheaper ones, go on at least one overseas mission trip each year, begin the international adoption process, train to foster children, serve in homeless shelters, and the list goes on. But when was it ever enough? In the years that followed the Radical Experiment at Brook Hills, I've lost count of the number of people who, like myself, exhausted themselves and had to de-program elsewhere.
Apparently this was not totally lost on David. In Radical Together, published less than a year after Radical, he revisits his earlier manifesto, apparently in some attempt to "clarify" his earlier missteps. He describes a hypothetical woman named "Ashley." Ashley "works hard at putting Christianity into action. Yet she never feels as if she has done enough, and she is never sure of her salvation.... Trying to live out the gospel is wearing Ashley out. . . . I get frightened when I think about Radical in Ashley's hands. . . . I know [she] is prone to think, 'I need to do more for God. I need to sell this possession and make this pledge in order to be right before God.'"
Yes, David, you are correct, that is exactly what many people at Brook Hills were thinking in response to Radical. He continues: "If you are Ashley and you read Radical, I must tell you something: you will never be radical enough. No matter what you do - even if you sell all your possessions and move to the most dangerous country in the world for the sake of ministry - you cannot do enough to be accepted before God. . . . [Christ] alone has been radical enough."
When I first read this, I felt a tremendous relief. But as I read on in Radical Together, it became clear that this "sequel" is not a recantation of Radical, but a jumbled restatement of the same problems. Literally in the paragraphs after "Ashley," David throws in still more legalistic urgency:
"The Gospel that saves us from work also saves us to work." Like Radical, the words sound great. But what does this look like in real life? I'm not sure if this was an editorial mistake or what, but David describes the foster training program he started at Brook Hills: "God decided this was important for his people . . . [a]nd he is the one who is compelling us to participate."
I do think David meant well with this book. But I also think he has very strong personal opinions, not all of which are based on complete information, and thus they are not completely fair or accurate. My suspicion is that David sensed God working in his own life, and he jumped to the conclusion that what God directed him to do is mandatory for all believers. He found enough Bible passages that he could take out of context to support this theory. His editors, furthermore, were sloppy and in my opinion, irresponsible, to market as book like this as a "must read" for all Christians. Because David personally believes Radical is the truth, his writing and preaching are very persuasive. But that doesn't mean he is correct.
So, prospective readers, if you read this book at all, be very careful with it. It's possible to read this book, then put it back on your shelf, take its message as "something to think about," pray over, without it consuming your spiritual life the way it did mine. The difference for me was, David was my pastor during the Radical Experiment, and to experience that at ground zero is vastly different from reading a book. But, if you read this book and find yourself struggling, doubting your salvation, thinking you must "do more" in order to be saved, be careful. Ask God to help you see, and live, the truth based on what the Bible says, not Radical. If necessary, talk to your pastor or a Christian mentor about your concerns. By all means, do not get swept up in the hype surrounding this book.
Although I agree with David's premise that the Church needs to wake up and stop thinking about themselves, he is practicing typical Baptist bashing with shame tactics in this book. Yes if you are a true Christian, you'll have a heart for service and ministry. Sitting idle is not an option. But to imply that everyone must have an active role in missions, is both non-scriptural and twisting of the scriptures.
Do we ignore what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. 1 Cor 12, Rom 12 and Eph 4:11-16 apply. It is not Biblical to say that everyone must be evangelist. The great commission was a directive to the Church to make disciples. The entire body of the church has that mission. But the body is made up of many parts, some internal and some external. When a person teaches Sunday School, they are helping the church fulfill the mission of evangelism. When a person serves as a greeter or in the kitchen or in the choir, they are helping the church fulfull the great commission. Some people have the role of being the church's liver and cleaning up the toxins of poor doctrine. Such a person needs to come along side of David Platt.
What I find even more scary is that I can take some high pressure marketing advertisements for financial newsletters, the ones claiming that they will make you a millionaire, and lay it side by side with some of these chapters and you see that although the subject matter is different, the tactic of manipulation of the reader is identical. Where is the Holy Spirit in his teaching? The bible is clear that the desires of service place in our hearts comes from Him. Pragmatism is not the way of the Lord. The Bible says that God's ways are foolishness to us and vice versa.
I'm sure all bashing ministers, who heave boulders of burdens on their congregation each Sunday, love this book and sell it in their church book stores. Christ said his yoke is easy. This book places a burdensome weight of, "You are not doing enough." on to the reader. Don't fall for it.
This book really drives home how far "modern Christianity" has taken us from Biblical teaching. Paul wrote half the New Testament chained up in a dungeon where he was beaten, starved, and sick almost to the point of death just because he followed Christ. He never once complained about how his 'religious freedoms' were being infringed upon. In fact, he made it clear that he was honored to suffer for Christ's name. Wow! Have things changed!
While it contains some good information, Platt seems to be saying that Christians MUST do overseas missions to be a "real" Christian. Are some called to go overseas? Yes. Are some called for other work? Yes. I don't think it was his intention, but based on what Platt says in his book, he seems to believe only the overseas work matters. If that is correct, he is wrong. Consider Paul's journeys in Acts. While traveling, he stayed with believers in various cities. Under Platt's model, there would be no one in those cities to exercise the spiritual gift of hospitality. There would be no one in church A to donate to those in need in another city.
What about the single parent? What about someone with severe disabilities? What about the believer who is homeless? Must they all go overseas? I don't think so. All can (and should) pray for those spreading the Gospel. Any other work they do should be based on the spiritual gifts bestowed upon them. While they can exercise radical faith, such faith may be in their local church, with a small group, in their family, their community, etc.
In my review, I indicate I would recommend this to a friend. That is with a caveat that reflects my review. Platt has many good things to say, but his fundamental premise as it seems to be presented in the book is flawed.