Tag Archives: missions

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”.

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A call for economic mission trips

I’ve written on the problems with short term mission trips before. But what should or could we do instead to both use the resources we have access to more wisely and, at the same time, prevent the problem of dependency (HT Missional Edge).

Several years ago the church we were in at the time hosted a missionary couple who described a radical (to me anyway) way they were approaching missions. Their approach was to plant a for-profit business designed to raise the local workers’ standard of living. After hearing how they operated and how their missionary efforts actually ended up turning a profit for the International Mission Board1, I developed quite a fondness for this Business as Missions model of changing lives, and hopefully hearts. This struck me as a perfect opportunity to help the poor in other nations while at the same time honoring them by helping develop long term sustainable economic growth wherein all the people around them would hopefully be blessed.

It has become hugely popular for short term missionaries (or vacationaries) to 3rd world nations to We go over to 3rd world countries, notice the poverty and complain about it. But complaining and handouts don’t lift nations out of poverty. The only thing known to do that is capitalism.

Capitalism is what makes a country go from 3rd world to 1st world. Handouts will not only help a country grow economically, they will actually end up hurting them.

Where as our current approach to missions tends to produce dependency , a focus on economically developing an area through micro loans given to local people through a trustworthy agency has the potential to radically change an area for the better. Organizations like Kiva, who seek out local partners that are interested in the long-term growth and development of an area have been shown to produce real, lasting results.

For those who still are inclined to travel the world, the focus of such trips should be on the long-term growth and development of the people. Not the short-term decision-for-Christ-so-we-can-count-another-notch-in-our-belt.

Selfless entrepreneurs can and should be sent to selflessly serve and help setup businesses in the 3rd world to help left their culture out of poverty.2

Here are a few videos to help you understand what we as a Christian community can do if we stop wasting our money on short term vacations and, instead, seek to be responsible with how we invest our time, money, and energy.

Podcast interview of Jessica Jackley

Bonus, Hans Rosling mentions microfinance in this Ted Talk video on the statistics of global poverty:

  1. For some reason I do not think this couple remained with IMB. I don’t think this model of missions fits the hand-out view of missions most Southern Baptists seem to favor. []
  2. People whose only gift is preaching are almost wholly worthless in my estimation for the long-term growth and development of an area in my estimation. []
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Problems with church planting: Defining terms

Church planting has been a hot topic (quickly becoming an obsession) in the Souther Baptist Convention for the last few years. And after examining the issue, I plan on writing a series of 6 posts intended to outline what I believe are the pitfalls inherent in the modern church planting movement. But first, I believe a helpful foundation for any fruitful discussion on the subject will be to define a few key terms.

Church

Even though they are loathe to admit it, 501c3 non-profit orginizations with property and staff are, at the end of the day, businesses. True, they are not like traditional businesses. These masquarade under the otherwise organic term “church”, they enjoy special spiritual prominence, and through that they are able to solicit and extract large sums of money through what amounts to sanctified begging (or extortion, take your pick) rather than the production of a good or the performance of a service.

As Alan Knox rightly and frequently points out, there is only one Church, the body of Christ, and even though that body finds a tangible expression in the form of local group of believers, the only valid reason for drawing a difference between groups of believers is by their location. For example, the letters in the New Testament were addressed to “the church in..” rather than “the First Baptist Church of..”

Church planting

When one speaks out against church planting the common retort is that it is through the planting of new churches that the church of Christ has spread throughout the world. There are two distinct senses in which the phrase “church planting” is used. The first sense is more rightly understood as evangelism, the “making disciples” we are commanded to do in Matthew 28. The second sense, and the one I will be argueing against, is the establishment of new non-profit orginizations complete with staff, buildings (or other arrangements for a regular meeting place) and a clear affiliation with a larger denominational orginization.

In this sense, another name for “church planting” can easily be “denominational colonialism” since the criteria for establishing new churches in this second sense is not whether a body of local believers already exists but wether a body of local believer who are members of our denomination exists or not.

In the next 4 posts, I will be outlining the problems with church planting where the goal extends above and beyond the basic biblical mandate of evangelizing and making disciples.

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Cultural illiteracy and the gospel

The following are ex-scripts from a conversation on Facebook regarding the contextualization of the Gospel. As a disclaimer I will say that while I agree that the gospel or good news of Jesus is eternal and requires no context but the one it brings of it’s own accord, I believe we have a responsibility as ambassadors of Christ to make an effort to provide as clear of a communication of that message in whatever cultural context we find ourselves in as possible.

“Do our folks really need all that much re-education in order to communicate with the lost?”

In many cases, I would say yes.

We have created a very noticeable Christian sub-culture. My atheist coworkers affectionately call it “Jesus-junk” (here’s an example) We have segregated ourselves in many respects. We’ve created a “Christian” version of almost everything.

We need to take a sober stock of what we’ve surrounded ourselves with. What is acceptable/beneficial to take part in. For example, social media. We missed the boat the first time around, but thankfully we were given a second chance when MySpace lost it’s foothold and Facebook took it’s place.

We also need to take into consideration what we need to stop taking part in. Like right-wing politics to the point we end up wrapping the Cross of Christ up in the flags of our fathers.

Finally, as Christians who are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should actually be in a better position to gauge and plot a course through the turbulent waters of our culture. Especially in a time when most people are simply carried away by any new fad, technology, etc.

Christians ought to serve as anchors even when the culture at large has no sense of moorings. And we should lead not just morally or ethically, but economically and technologically as well.

So yes, we need to be students of the culture we find ourselves in. Just as doctors don’t start prescribing medicine without examining a patient first, we can’t expect to sent culturally illiterate people into the world and expect them to have the best possible results.

“The state of a man’s heart is not dependent upon his culture.”

No, but the state of the culture a man finds himself in does determine how and if that man’s heart may be reached by varying means.

While I agree that the gospel transcends culture, I believe we are clearly tasked with figuring out the best ways to communicate the truth of the gospel in varying contexts.

Just like we can’t ignore context when interpreting Scripture, we also can’t ignore it in relation to the lives of the people we seek to reach and expect to be efficient communicators.

“I do not share your appraisal of illiterate evangelists. Success of the gospel does not depend upon the education, class, background, training, or experience of the messenger.”

True. Baalem shows us that God can apparently use even an ass to get His message across. But do we really want to make Him? Isn’t part of being a good ambassador knowing one’s cultural context?

Yes, God can use any means he wants. However he has chosen to use us and he has charged us with seeking after the wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit.

I believe Francis Schaeffer’s predictions regarding a fundamental epistemic shift in our culture has largely come true. Sadly, our present discussion about whether (rather than how) to understand the culture shows we still largely simply haven’t gotten the message.

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