Sunday, December 11, 2011

Radical Together Review

I'm not sure there's a book I've anticipated more than this one in the last year... and it was well worth the wait! David Platt's first book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, brought into focus the incompatibility of the Christian life with the American dream, and has had a huge impact on Christians -- particularly those in my generation. Many readers of that first book have begun to live lives of radical obedience to Christ, devoting themselves to prayer, reading God's Word, and spending their time and resources serving others at home and abroad. Many of these readers' stories are shared in this second book. 

But one person being radical will not ultimately accomplish much. To see real change come in this world requires like-minded Christians to band together in local churches, with each person contributing their talents, resources, and energy to the cause of Christ as part of a unified body. What Radical did for individual Christians, Radical Together aims to do for churches. I believe it will succeed! 

In the first chapter, called "The Tyranny of the Good", Platt urges churches to re-examine the use of their resources, facilities, and time. Most churches, he says, are not investing themselves in worthless, unfruitful, or unbiblical pursuits. Rather, they are held captive by the "tyranny of the good", spending themselves on labors that are good... but not necessarily best for advancing God's Kingdom purposes. Therefore, churches should "put everything on the table", reconsidering before God our ministry strategies, our worship services, our programs, our finances, and our policies, priorities, and procedures. "The gospel compels the church to go to God with everything we have and everything we do and then ask, `What needs to go? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?`" (p. 9) 

The goal is to determine how best each church can serve the Lord, but this may require letting go of some very good things. These good things tend to grip churches the same way that the "American Dream" grips individuals, keeping us from serving God with all we have. 

If there was a problem with Radical, it was that many who read it might be tempted to feel guilty that they were not living radically enough, and that they were not adequate to be used for God's purposes. Thankfully, Platt addresses this concern in the second chapter, called "The Gospel Misunderstood". Since everything we do as Christians starts with the gospel, it is imperative that we understand it properly. Platt talks about two types of people who misunderstand the gospel; he calls them Andy and Ashley. 

Andy has professed faith in Christ, believing (correctly) that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, because he believes himself already and eternally saved, he sees no need to "do" anything with his faith. His life bears no fruit of faith, and he has no concern for the lost, or for the poor. He is defensive when people start talking about "radical" faith. 

Ashley, on the other hand, never feels as if she has done enough for Christ, and is never sure of her salvation. Reading Radical only made her feel guilty, and trying to live out the gospel is wearing her out. Andy and Ashley are both wrong about the gospel, and they are likely represented in every church in the world. But for both, a right understanding of the gospel will fuel both faith and works, and the worship that is the right response of every Christian to what God has done for us. 

For the Ashleys of the world, Platt assures that "you will never be radical enough... and the beauty of the gospel is that you don't have to" (p.27). The gospel frees us from work, and from the effort to overcome our guilt before God. But "the gospel that saves us from work also saves us to work" (p.28). Through a helpful examination of the different usages in Scripture of terms such as "works", "deeds", and "acts of love", Platt provides a holistic understanding of how faith and works relate, with the simple summation: "Real faith always creates fruit." (p. 29) 

From this point, he continues to show how guilt is an insufficient motivator for long-term Kingdom work, and that the gospel alone is sufficient to sustain and strengthen God's people for accomplishing God's purposes. In order to access this gospel, though, we need to depend entirely on God's revelation of himself. This is the focus of chapter 3, "God Is Saying Something". 

Here he brings the attention of churches and church leaders back to where it always should have been: the Word of God. Contemporary Western Christianity so often believes we "need" programs, flashy music, and dynamic speakers in order to have a "successful" church. Platt challenges these assumptions and encourages us to focus on the things which God has clearly commanded in Scripture, and trust that God will be faithful to bless work that aligns with His plans. 

The two strongest chapters in the book are the fourth and fifth, "The Genius of Wrong" and "Our Unmistakable Task". In the first of these two chapters we read about the great value God places on people. Not only is the gospel itself intended to bring people into relationship with God, but the people of God are to be the means by which the gospel goes forth. Whereas many churches use what Platt calls "manufactured elements" (performances, places, programs, and professionals) to attract nonbelievers, the Bible simply calls for Christians to love God, love one another, and serve those around them. Though it may seem like God is using the "wrong" sort of people (sinners) to accomplish his purposes, it is the "genius" of his plan to save those who believe through the folly of the preaching and ministry of Christians who have not yet been perfected. 

Since this is where the Bible places the emphasis on ministry, why do churches emphasize other things so much? Platt exhorts us to devote ourselves individually and corporately toward loving people and developing disciple-making disciples. "We will never have enough resources, staff, buildings, events, or activities to reach all the people in our community, much less all the peoples in the world. But we will always have enough people. Even if they seem like the wrong people." (p. 75) 

He follows this up with a call for a global evangelistic effort that completely consumes our churches. He says that "our unmistakable task" is to reach every people group in the world with the message of salvation, and that our motivation must be the return of Christ. Scripture says that before the Lord returns, the gospel must reach every people group in the world; therefore the church ought to be motivated for missions because we long for Jesus' second coming! Though some may disagree with this view of Christ's return (and Platt is careful to state that his "definition of unreached people groups may not be exact" and therefore it is possible that Christ could come back at any moment), hopefully everyone can agree -- regardless of one's particular system of eschatology -- with the statement, "But we do know this: Jesus hasn't come back yet, which means there is still work to be done." (p. 85) 

If there is one thing in this book that readers may take the wrong way, it is Platt's very nuanced stance on local and global missions. While he is emphatic that missions must be both global and local (as opposed to either/or), there will undoubtedly be some who will believe he does not value local missions, thanks to sentences like this one: "I am convinced that Satan, in a sense, is just fine with missional churches in the West spending the overwhelming majority of our time, energy, and money on trying to reach people right around us." (p. 87) 

However, he does do a good job of clarifying statements like that, making a compelling case that global missions actually drive local missions. Platt urges his congregation and his readers to devote 2% of their time -- roughly one week per year -- to sharing the gospel outside our local context, though one must be aware that many short-term mission projects are little more than glorified vacations that may do more harm than good (see Corbett & Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself). Done properly, though, these trips can make all the difference in the life of individuals and of churches, both here and overseas. 

"Successful short-term missions must be a part of fueling a long-term disciple-making process in another context... At the same time, successful short-term missions must also be a part of fueling long-term disciple making in the sending church. As we go together into other contexts, we grow together in Christ. Our eyes are opened and our hearts transformed as we serve in situations that make us uncomfortable." (p. 94) 

The final chapter ("The God Who Exalts God") and the book's conclusion give us our marching orders. Amid a series of vignettes sharing examples of people and churches who have made radical changes are several challenges rooted in the exaltation of God, who does all things for his own glory. Platt casts a vision that he hopes will spread throughout the churches, and I sincerely hope that it will! He gives us plenty of encouragement from Scriptures that promise success in our evangelistic efforts when we are motivated by the pursuit of God's glory among the nations. "For when our faith communities actually believe that God deserves the praise of all peoples, then our humble worship in the church will lead to an urgent witness in the world." (p. 109) 

I highly recommend this book, though I suggest reading (or re-reading!) Radical first. This book is not a sequel per se, but it does build upon things covered in the first book, and in some ways assumes that the reader is familiar with some of the previous material.


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