Tag Archives: david platt

The radicalness of ordinary

The best way to write a bestseller is to have a compelling, action-packed narrative. In the Christian market it seems the best route to take is to buck accepted wisdom, to tell everyone that what they thought was a good idea really isn’t and that what we should do is overhaul our lives.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, nor is it particularly wrong in itself to call to attention traditional practices of Christians that legitimately do need to be changed. Martin Luther was arguable one of the first christian bestsellers, and for a good reason. His books were lengthy and detailed. Luther wanted to convince his readers of the truthfulness of his position.

Today, however, I wonder if much of what passes for christian literature, is not meant (or otherwise merely has the effect of) producing an emotional reaction.

Take the grandfather of what I’ll call “get busy for Jesus” books. Charles Sheldon wrote In His Steps around the turn of the 19th century in order to encourage his readers to ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The intent of the question is sound, to encourage people to be courageous Christians, but the method is wholly existential. In order to answer the question one is asked to, at some level, pretend they are Jesus. The result is that the answer to what Jesus would do turns out to be whatever the one asking the question subjectively decides.

The alternate to this approach, in case you’re wondering, is to ask “what did Jesus do and say?” This is the difference between a deconstructive and an analytical approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

But that’s the problem. Luther wrote to impart knowledge. Sheldon wrote to impart an experience. And it is Sheldon’s intent that I find in many Christian bestsellers today.

Three modern variations come to mind. Henry Blackaby’s bible study, Experiencing God, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and David Platt’s Radical series. Each one has, at its core, a call to an experience. And each one, if closely analyzed, is inherently against the analytical approach to gaining knowledge.

Another common factor in these books is a call to “be radical”. To make sweeping wholesale changes, preferably without much analysis or forethought. Not only is this reckless, but it runs afoul of what Jesus taught about carefully calculating the cost of any decision we make.

Sometimes radical changes are necessary. But more often than not they are merely destructive and should be avoided in favor of slow and gradual change.

One of Luther’s radical conclusions was that the normal, average person was important. That even the most ordinary work could be glorifying to God. That one didn’t need to be a rock-star in order to have an impact on the world.

What is really radical are ordinary people doing ordinary things day after day. What is radical is a family that lasts. What is radical is a responsible financial plan that helps mitigate unforeseen circumstances while allowing for a slow and steady accumulation of wealth to be handed down to subsequent generations.

Here are a couple of other great reviews of David Platt’s Radical:

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Book review: Radical Together by David Platt

I have read a lot about David Platt’s first bestseller, Radical, so when I saw his latest book, Radical Together, on the list of books to review for booksneeze.com, I jumped at the chance.

Radical Together is meant to explain how to take what David wrote in his first book, Radical, and live them out. To do that David uses a lot of examples by way of illustration, mostly from his mega-church, Brook Hills.

David begins by telling how he and his family ended up at Brook Hills following the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina. David uses this incident to introduce us to the notion that God sometimes does radical things to get our attention. Like flooding an entire city, destroying lives and property and displacing millions.

For us the flood depicts the radical call of Christ to Christians and the [local] church. When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives and all our [local] churches, all our property and all our possessions, all our plans and all our strategies, all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives and [local] churches according to his will.

David then talks about how he reluctantly came to be the pastor of Brook Hills. He was asked to preach one Sunday and the people there liked him. But he didn’t want to go because he didn’t think he was qualified. David uses this story to express a concept from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God bible study, that God operates on a mystical plane and that we should expect to find God in whatever it is we don’t want and are (or think we are) wholly unqualified to do.

All of this is in the first chapter where David is describing a problem found in most churches where people are busy but their business is not necessarily geared towards productive ends.

I mostly agree with David’s assessment but he seems to equivocate a lot between church as the body of Christ and church as a particular 501c3 non-profit organization.

At the same time we were studying James, we were going through our church budgeting process. To be honest, I hate budget season. As a pastor, I believe this is when the church comes face to face with hoe prone we are to give our resources to good things while ignoring great need. Christians in North America give, on average, 2.5 percent of their income to their [local] church. Out of that 2.5 percent, churches in North America will give 2 percent of their budgeted monies to needs overseas. In other words, for every hundred dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give five cents through the church to a world with urgent spiritual and physical needs. This does not make sense.

From this David draws the conclusion, which appears to have formed a large part of his previous book, that American Christians are greedy and materialistic. Never mind the fact that Americans out-give all other nations on earth. Unfortunately David seems to think that Christians are required to tithe (exactly how does a charity “earn” anything?) and that local church businesses are the best, if not only, means of giving aid and comfort to the poor. Oh, and we are also told that the people we should be primarily concerned with are the poor in nations other than our own.

From here David begins building his case for what he considers a radical Christian life. Put simply, that life is spent asking the same question Charles Sheldon asked in his book In His Steps, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Throughout Radical Together what struck me the most was how ordinary the message was. While I respect David’s desire to call people to live lives that are more consistent with their stated Christian beliefs, what I kept thinking was how neurotic a person who actually takes David’s (or Sheldon’s for that matter) message seriously.

Through Radical Together it seems like the overall message is to go out and make big changes. That thinking about the problem and are fully planning and, as Jesus said, counting the cost are something we should avoid in favor of, basically, living in the moment.

The only bright part of David’s book was where he brought up and championed the home/small church model. It was refreshing, though somewhat perplexing considering the context, to read a mega-church pastor advocating the employment of all believers equally in the body of Christ and that meeting in a small intimate context is more conducive to the discipleship we are called to practice among the body of Christ.

In the end I wouldn’t recommend Radical Together to anyone to read. If you want to read a “get busy for Jesus” book you would do better to read Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps. Or better yet, throw off the existentialism inherent in the notion that in order to truly follow Christ one needs to be “radical”.