Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review of "Radical"

A pastor emailed me and asked if I had read “Radical” by David Platt and, if so, what were my thoughts. At the time I was in Africa but ordered it to read on my return. Here are my thoughts on “Radical.”

From the perspective of an average North American Christian, Platt’s book is indeed radical. I would also say that his challenges to the Church are very much needed. The lure of the American dream and consumerism is powerful and prevalent. Platt does a good job helping the reader see that being a follower of Christ is not about being blessed by what we have, but being blessed to bless others with Good News of the Gospel.

Platt also does a good job in reminding the average reader the great need of the Great Commission. More than 4.5 billion in this world are not followers of our Lord and, in a recent study I came across, among 3.6 billion people 89% have never even met a Christian. My hat is off to anyone who continues to beat the drum for the need to reach the unreached.

The issue of poverty in this world, addressed in this book, is not unlike many that come across my desk each year. Ron Sider’s book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity,” is still the standard on this theme, but grateful for Platt’s reminder of our need to remember those in this world who have so little compared to our abundance.

I also am grateful for the many of the examples Platt gives in his book, both personally and those within his congregation who are doing their best to meet the needs of people in their community and the world.

Missiologically Speaking

From a missiological perspective Platt’s book is not radical and, for some readers, could be misleading.

My first concern is that of the examples of people who went on short-term mission trips, either medical clinics or those who served for a period of time serving the poor. Yes, short-term trips are helpful for American’s to out of their own context and be exposed to the context of those in other places of the world. Yes, I understand that many of those who experience those trips abroad have the potential to do even more globally (though I suspect the percentage of that group is small compared to the total of short-termers each year). And, while I am not totally against such experiences, Platt leaves the impression that type of radicalism is how the world will reached for Christ. That impression is missiologically unsustainable. Why?

Platt states, “Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about relationships.” In the next sentence he states, “As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples. Sharing the life of Christ” (96). While I agree with the first sentence I cannot agree with the second; building relationships and sharing is not same.

As I read through this book the thought that kept popping in my mind was, “The radicals that he is talking about are called ‘missionaries!’”

Missionaries are those who, for the most part, gave up the American dream to live overseas.

Missionaries are the ones who, for the most part, are not bound by materialism.

Missionaries are the ones who are building relationships, not merely sharing their faith.

As I write this my daughter and her family have just returned to the states from three years in Senegal. Six months from now they will return to continue to work in a desolate part of Africa where the majority of people are Muslim and poor. They, like many missionaries who must raise their support (unlike the IMB) and, though they have long since given up the American dream, their goal is to have enough finances to live another term on the field.

Relationships, in Senegal, India or Indonesia, are often built over a lifetime. Breaking through the cultural prison of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam still takes concerted effort in understanding worldview and contextually presenting the Gospel in their context. Radicals (missionaries) understand that, which was not even addressed in Platt’s book.

Biased? I plead guilty as I still believe that the radicals that will indeed impact this world are those who serve continually cross-culturally, be they Americans or from the emerging nations of the world.

For passion, good intentions and a good wake-up for the average nominal Christian sitting in the American pew, I give Radical a solid B (I love the passion, I am afraid of the mispercetions). Missiologically I give this book a D, realizing that the real radicals are those, who have, like the rich young ruler, already sold all he/she has, who has already left father and mother to go and raise support to follow the One who set the example of a radical. Next time you see a missionary who day-in-day-out slogs through the difficulties of living overseas, don’t see them as just another couple who needs a monthly hand-out…appreciate them as true radicals for Christ.