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Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream – Book Summary

Radical Taking back your faith from the American Dream[1]

By David Platt; Summary by Stacey Tuttle

Chapter One

Someone Worth Losing Everything For

What radical abandonment to Jesus really means

Even though David Platt was touted as “the youngest megachurch pastor in history,” he became uneasy when he compared himself and his church to Jesus and his followers.  He said Jesus was more like “the youngest minichurch pastor in history,” spending most of his time with twelve men.  While American church culture appears to define success by “bigger crowds, bigger budges and bigger buildings,” He points out examples where Jesus turned away thousands of people and questions if possibly Jesus “spurned the things that… [American] church culture said were most important.”

Platt compared a secret (underground) church meeting he had attended in a closed country to his first Sunday as the pastor of a church in America:  “I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.  We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”

Examining Jesus’ ministry and the countless times he practically dissuades would-be followers from following Him (i.e. the rich, young ruler) by making it clear that following Him required abandoning everything else, Platt considers how differently the American church would likely respond to those same situations. 

Platt contends that we are starting to redefine Christianity by rationalizing away the radical call of Jesus to abandon everything, pick up our cross and follow him.  We have a more palatable Jesus.  “A nice, middle-class Jesus, American Jesus…who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have…or to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection.  A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are.  A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, …who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.”  The danger with this is not only that Jesus begins to look like us, but also that when we gather to worship we are potentially worshipping ourselves instead of Jesus.

As costly as it is to follow Jesus, not following Jesus has a cost as well—the cost of non-discipleship.   When Christians choose to remain comfortable, ignoring true discipleship and Jesus’ commands (such as the command to sell their possessions and give to the poor), others pay the cost:  the unreached, the poor, starving and suffering around the world.  But it’s a cost the nominal Christian pays as well as he forgoes eternal treasure. 

Platt exhorts readers to believe that Jesus is worth it.  Like the man who found a treasure in a field and sold all he had to purchase that field (Matthew 13)—Jesus is a treasure worth abandoning all earthly possessions and pursuits. 

Chapter Two

Too Hungry for Words

Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Gospel

Meeting in secret, desperate to hear the Word of God, willing and eager to sit for hours upon hours while being taught Old and New Testament history and theology, forgoing income, ignoring discomforts—the underground church is a stark contrast to the American church.  While the Word of God is enough for millions of believers around the world, Platt began to wonder if it was enough for Christians in America.  Would the Christians in his church still gather if there was no cool music, no video screens, no cushioned chairs, no air conditioning…no entertainment value…nothing but studying God’s word for hours at a time?  So began “Secret Church” at Brook Hills—a Friday night gathering from 6:00pm – midnight in which they simply studied the Word and prayed.

Platt urges Christians to examine how much of their understanding of the Gospel is American and how much is biblical—starting with who God is (a God who “evokes greater awe and demands deeper worship than we are ready to give him”[2]).  Secondly, Platt challenges our understanding of who we are.  Contrary to our self-improvement cultural bias, we are darkened in our understanding, with hearts like stone, a people unable to save ourselves.

When we come to truly understand who God is and who we are, we will be brought to a more appropriate response.  We have presented a weak Savior who is begging for us to accept Him.  Platt finds this an inadequate and offensive response.  God doesn’t need our acceptance; we need Him.  Our response, if we really understand our hopeless estate and His glorious grace out to be one of total, immediate and unconditional surrender. 

 

Chapter Three

Beginning at the End of Ourselves

The Importance of Relying on God’s Power

The American dream leads to two key problems.  The first is that we believe in our strength – our greatest asset is our own ability.  We believe we can do anything we set our minds to.  The second problem Platt sees with the American dream is more troubling—because we accomplish things in our own power, we are likely to attribute our success to our own strength and ability…ultimately this leads to our own glory, not God’s.  We make much of ourselves when the Bible says we should make much of God.  In fact, God has a history of putting his people into situations they cannot handle without Him, so that He gets the glory.

This is problematic, not only in our personal lives with Christ, but also in the way we do church in America.  We have a system full of strategies, plans, programs, etc. which are nearly guaranteed to increase attendance.  We start with a good performance, build incredible facilities to host it and contain the crowds, and start up a menagerie of programs to keep people coming back.  And to ensure it’s successful, we hire professionals to do the job for us.  However, Platt is concerned that this precludes our desperation for God in the process.  And it dupes us into mistaking numbers and attendance for true spiritual growth.

Platt contrasts our American church system with the church’s beginnings found in Acts.  He notes their dependence on prayer and on God.  He also notes that they were not professionals, they were ordinary men.  He also cites George Muller as an example of a man who lived in complete dependence on God. 

We can live in dependence on God, knowing that he is a father who loves to give to his children.  When the God of the universe, our Heavenly Father, gives gifts to us, he gives the best gifts.  He gives of his very self – he gives the Holy Spirit.  For example, Platt explains that when we ask for comfort, God gives us the Comforter.  Platt says that God especially loves to give to those who long to make much of Him. 

Chapter Four

The Great Why of God

God’s Global Purpose from the Beginning till Today

From Genesis to Revelation, Platt illustrates the global purpose of God: “God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth.”[3]  When God blesses his people, it’s not ultimately for their sake, but so that they might extend God’s blessing to others.  We are to be a conduit of God’s grace, not the end point of it.  God’s grace isn’t give to us that it might stop with us, but rather that it might go on through us.  He has commanded for us to go, take his gospel to the ends of the earth and Platt contends that “anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity.”[4]

Most Christians assume that “God loves me” is the point of the gospel.  But Platt points out that this line of thinking makes “me” the point, the object of Christianity.    Therefore, His grace is centered on me.  And I make decisions about church, career, lifestyle, etc. all based on what is best for me.  But God, not me is the center, the object, the end and the point of our faith.   We need to be wary of disconnecting his blessings given to us from his larger global purpose, that of using them to make his name great among all peoples, lest we think the gospel and his goodness all centers on “me”. 

The global purpose of taking God’s image to all the earth is something we are commanded to do.  It is not an optional program.  Yet, Platt warns that while we have made certain promises of God personal and directly applicable to our lives (such as John 10:10 that we will have abundant life), we have made other promises and commands optional and applicable only to some (such as in Acts 1:8 where we are told the Holy Spirit will take us to the ends of the earth).  “In this process we have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.[5]

Platt addresses the most common objection that arises, that of wanting to take care of local needs first, before addressing the needs of the world.  He points out that most Christians really aren’t doing that much locally in the first place.  But beyond that, our city makes up 1% of the world, our nation 5% of the world.  That makes our city and even our nation a very small percentage of God’s heart for the world.  “Shouldn’t every Christian’s heart be ultimately consumed with how we can make God’s glory known in all the world?”[6] Platt asks, both locally and internationally.

Chapter Five

The Multiplying Community

How all of us Join Together to Fulfill God’s Purpose

Platt examines how we are to live out God’s global purpose of making his name known among the nations by looking at Jesus’ example.  Jesus who considered his great work on earth the band of men he had discipled, not all the great sermons he taught or miracles he performed.  Platt feels that one of the consequences of our modern church strategies has been that people are often left out of the picture.  He writes, “The plan of Christ is not dependent on having the right programs or hiring the right professionals but on building and being the right people—a community of people—who realize that we are all enabled and equipped to carry out the purpose of God for our lives.”[7]

Go, baptize and teach – those were Jesus’ parting words.  Platt explains in greater detail what is involved in each. 

  • Go—“Disciple making is not a call for others to come to us to hear the gospel but a command for us to go to others to share the gospel.  A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.[8]
  • Baptize—Baptism is the symbol of new life we have in Christ.  It is symbolizes our identification with other believers and unites us as members of one family.
  • Teach—As believers reproduce themselves, teaching and modeling through example is a natural part of that.  And, “when we take responsibility for helping others grow in Christ, it automatically takes our own relationship with Christ to a new level.”[9]

Platt says that the modern church usually aims to disinfect Christians, vs. making disciples.  Disinfecting, he says, “involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good.”[10]  In this system, holiness becomes a matter of what we haven’t done.  Discipling, however, propels Christians into the world.  In this system, success isn’t defined by the numbers of attendees on a Sunday morning, but rather by the number of people leaving in order to take God’s name to the corners of the earth.

Chapter Six

How Much is Enough?

American Wealth and a World of Poverty

We all are susceptible to blind spots, no matter how good our intentions, how faithful our worship and consistent our Bible study.  A blind spot which seems to be rampant in the American church today is our response to poverty in the world.  Platt says that, “anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.”[11]  To drive home the point, Platt explores some of the Bible’s judgment upon those who neglect the poor.

There are two common errors, according to Platt, when people read Mark 10, about the rich young ruler whom Jesus told to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, then come follow Him. 

  1. People try to universalize Jesus’ words.  They think Jesus always commands this of all his followers throughout all of time.  (This is unsupported by Scripture.)
  2. At the other extreme, people assume Jesus never calls his followers to actually give up all they have to follow him.  Also not scriptural.

The central problem was that the rich young man didn’t see God as sovereign Lord, he saw him as a good teacher.  Platt asks if we are making the same mistake. 

Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us?  Or are we looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do?

Jesus never intended to be one voice among many counseling us on how to lead our lives and use our money.  He always intends to be the voice that guides whatever decisions we make in our lives and with our money.[12]

He encourages readers that Jesus loves us, and as he tells us to let go of our grip on our possessions it is because of his great love for us.  It is because he loves us that we can also trust that he will provide for us.  This letting go of our possessions is hard.  We think of wealth the way the world does—we see it as a blessing, something that is always to our advantage, rather than seeing that it may also be a barrier in our life and our relationship with God.  It is not to say that possessions in and of themselves are bad.  We give them away, not because they are evil, but because they might do more good on behalf of others.  We give them away because Christ compels us to care for those in need around us.

What can we spare? or What will it take?  There is a critical difference between these two questions/approaches to how much we are willing to give to spread the Gospel.  We are accustomed to giving our leftovers, our scraps.  We wait to see what we can spare.  But we are approaching this from the wrong end.  We need to start with asking ourselves what it’s going to take. 

Chapter Seven

There is No Plan B

Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional

Our belief that “all men are created equal” has subtly become the belief that all ideas are also created equal.  As such, different religious views are simply a matter of preference and should be considered equal.  Faith becomes a matter of taste, rather than truth.  This belief, this way of thinking has permeated the church.  The result of which is that rather than having a sense of urgency to reach the lost and dying with the Gospel of Christ,  Christians often feel that people will “go to heaven simply based on their native religious preferences”. [13]  Platt explores Romans to shed some light on this line of thinking.

  1. Truth 1: All people have knowledge of God.  (Romans 1:18)
  2. Truth 2:  All people reject God.  Our sinful natures rebel against God. 
  3. Truth 3:  All people are guilty before God. 

“I am always amazed at how we bias this question concerning people who have never heard about Jesus.  We give the man in Africa or the woman in Asia or even ourselves in America far too much credit.  There are no innocent people in the world just waiting to hear the gospel.  Instead there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need the gospel.

All too often we view heaven as the default eternal state for humankind.  We assume that our race simply deserves heaven, that God owes heaven to us unless we do something really bad to warrant otherwise.  But…this theology is just not true.  All people are guilty before God, and as such the default is not heaven but hell.”[14]

  1. Truth 4:  All people are condemned for rejecting God.  Just because a person hasn’t heard the gospel of Christ is not a get out of jail free card.  If it was, then it would mean that people were in heaven on the basis of not having heard the Gospel.  It would mean that we do a disservice to anyone when we share the Gospel with them – previously they were going to Heaven, now they might go to Hell if they don’t accept the Gospel.  
  2. Truth 5:  God has made a way of salvation for the Lost.
  3. Truth 6:  People cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ.  “If we conclude that people can get to heaven apart from faith in Christ, then this would mean there is something else they can do to get to heaven….  It would also be tantamount to saying to Jesus, ‘Thank you for what you did on the cross, but we could have gotten to God another way.’”[15] 
  4. Truth 7:  Christ commands the church to make the gospel known to all peoples.  “Many stories are told today of God revealing Christ in dreams and visions around the world to people who have never heard of Jesus.  Consequently, many Christians have begun leaning on the hope that God is using other ways to make the gospel known to people who have never heard of Jesus.  But we need to remember something. There is not one verse in the book of Acts where the gospel advances to the lost apart from a human agent.[16]

If this is all true, that people are dying with out the saving knowledge of Jesus, and it is up to us to take that message to them, then there is no time to waste, especially not on something as insignificant as the American dream.  There are about 1.5 billion unreached peoples currently, and sadly, while they have never heard of Jesus, many of them have heard of Coca Cola.  Platt points out that an American soda company has done a better job of getting its “message”, its product to the remote corners of the world than Christians have.  While many think God is unjust to let so many people go unreached, Platt contends that it isn’t God who is unjust – He has provided the way and commanded believers to take that way to every corner of the earth.  It is Christians who are unjust.  It is Christians who possess the answer for those lost people and do nothing with it.

In a culture where so many Christians are wondering about God’s will for their life, Platt answers, “The will of God is for you and me to give our lives urgently and recklessly to making the gospel and the glory of God known among all peoples, particularly those who have never even heard of Jesus.   The question, therefore, is not “Can we find God’s will?’  The question is “Will we obey God’s will?”[17]

Chapter Eight

Living when Dying is Gain

The Risk and Reward of the Radical Life

Jesus acknowledged that following him would involve risk.  The question therefore, that must be asked is, “Do we believe the reward found in Jesus is worth the risk of following him?”[18]

Jesus commanded his followers to go to places of need.  Go to the dying, the poor, the sick, the needy…  Jesus “met us at our deepest need and now uses us to show his glory and to advance his gospel among the places of greatest need in the world.”[19]

He also sent his followers out in the midst of danger, to the midst of danger.  “We say things such as, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”  We think, If it’s dangerous, God must not be in it.  If it’s risky, if it’s unsafe, if it’s costly, it must not be God’s will.  But what if these factors are actually the criteria by which we determine something is God’s will?  What if we began to look at the design of God as the most dangerous option before us?  What if the center of God’s will is in reality the most unsafe place for us to be?”[20]  Platt asks if we would be willing to be the first to tell a region about Christ and possibly even die in the process, so that someone after us might harvest the fruit of our sacrifice?

“As long as Christianity looks like the American dream, we will have few problems in this world,” [21] according to Platt.  But, he says, “the more our lives are conformed to his, the more we will receive what he received in this world…. The danger in our lives will always increase in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.”[22] 

Platt tells the story of the SS United States, “the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world”[23] designed for the navy to use during times of war.  However, she was never used for war and became a luxury liner for presidents and other “important” people instead.  “The church, like the SS United States, has been designed for battle.  The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission.  Yet we seem to have turned the church as troop carrier into the church as luxury liner.  We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of peoples around d the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world.”[24]

The American dream rewards its followers safety, comfort, ease, success, security…  But Christ rewards his followers with eternal security, safety, satisfaction, things which far outweigh what this world offers.  God is sovereign, so we are safe in His care.  God loves us, so we are secure.  God gives us his presence, which provides more satisfaction than any pleasure on earth.   Platt cites as examples people who lived in the face of the rewards of Christ even in the midst of martyrdom.  When death is a reward, then you are freed to live a radical life.  Platt believes that is the key to taking back your faith from the American dream .  Once we are able to fix our eyes on better, heavenly country, then will we be able to take risks and live radically.  In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Chapter Nine

The Radical Experiment

One Year to a Life Turned Upside Down

To know the validity of a claim, it must be tested.  Thus, Platt encourages readers to take a one-year challenge to test the claims of Christ (as put forth in Radical).  He guarantees that in one year, those who try it will find they have an insatiable desire to live radically abandoned to Jesus.  He chose a year because he believes that, contrary to our American desire to reap long-term rewards for short-term commitments, long-term benefits are actually reserved for long-term commitments.

The challenge:

  1. Pray for the entire world.   “I would have expected Jesus to say [Matthew 9], ‘You guys see the need.  The harvest is plentiful. So pray for these people who are harassed and helpless. Pray for them.’  But that isn’t what he said. Jesus didn’t say to pray for those who were lost.  Instead he told the disciples to pray for the church….When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father.  Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost….  A fundamental reality snaps into focus:  we are not praying.  This is the only possible explanation for how there can be such great need yet so few workers.  The multitudes are waiting to hear, and our most urgent need is to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out Christians into the harvest field.”[25]
    • Platt encourages readers to either read Operation World or check out their website: www.operationworld.org for information and prayer guides on every nation in the world.
  2. Read through the entire Word.   “[The Bible] is the only Book that he has promised to bless by his Spirit to transform you and me into the image of Jesus Christ.  It is the only Book that he has promised to use to bring our hearts, our minds, and our lives in alignment with him….  When you or I open the Bible, we are beholding the very words of God—words that have supernatural power to redeem, renew, refresh, and restore our lives to what he created them to be….  In our quest for the extraordinary, we often overlook the importance of the ordinary, and I’m proposing that a radical lifestyle actually begins with an extraordinary commitment to ordinary practices that have marked Christians who have affected the world throughout history [i.e. prayer and reading the Bible].[26] 
  3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.  “For one year, sacrifice your money—every possible dollar—in order to spend your life radically on specific, urgent spiritual and physical need in the world.”[27]  Make it sacrificial.  Give to gospel centered, church focused organizations that you can trust, and focus on specific, tangible needs. 
  4. Spend your time in another context.  Platt challenges readers to spend about 2 percent of the year (approximately 1 week) in another context of ministry—going to minister to those in need.  He asks, “How will I ever show the gospel to the world if all I send is my money?  Was I really so shallow as to think that my money is the answer to the needs in the world?”[28]  Our going starts at home first.  But it also goes beyond that.  He found that for the members of his church, just 2 percent of the time spent going beyond, to some place out of their normal realm of influence, had significant positive impact on the other 98 percent of their ministry within their normal realm of influence.
  5. Commit your life to a multiplying community.  “I am convinced that one reason many of us have not taken radical steps in our giving, for example, may not be so much because we love our possessions as it is because we fear isolation. If the radical, simple living we see Jesus talking about were more common in the church, it would be much easier for us to live simply as well….  If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it.  We will need to show one another how to give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously.  When we sacrifice our resources for the poor and then face unexpected and unforeseen needs in our own lives, we will need brothers and sisters to help us stand….  The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals.”[29]

“What [the end] comes, I am convinced we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American dream.  We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably, taken more vacation, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world.  Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”[30]

 Check out our compilation of Quotes from Radical – Click here!

 

 


[1] Platt, David. Radical. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2010.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3][3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid., 64.

[5] Ibid., 73.

[6] Ibid., 76.

[7] Ibid., 92.

[8] Ibid., 94.

[9] Ibid., 101.

[10] Ibid., 104.

[11] Ibid., 109.

[12] Ibid., 121.

[13] Ibid., 143.

[14] Ibid., 147.

[15] Ibid., 154.

[16] Ibid., 157.

[17] Ibid., 160.

[18] Ibid., 162.

[19] Ibid., 164.

[20] Ibid., 164-165.

[21] Ibid., 168.

[22] Ibid., 167.

[23] Ibid., 169.

[24] Ibid., 170-171.

[25] Ibid., 187.

[26] Ibid., 192-193.

[27] Ibid., 196.

[28] Ibid., 198.

[29] Ibid., 206.

[30] Ibid., 216-217.

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