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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pros and Cons of "Radical", by David Platt

Pros:

1.) Platt has a deep understanding of human depravity.
2.) His critique of consumeristic Evangelicalism is good and quite needed.
3.) His emphasis on learning and understanding the entire Bible - not just the New Testament - is refreshing and very needed in our time.
4.) He seeks to promote a God-centeredness in the Christian life, in contrast to the self-centeredness so common today, even in the Church.

Cons:

1.) He pushes very heavily the idea that it is the duty of every Christian individual to be personally involved in international missions. And he pushes it to the point that he sees it as disobedience to Scripture and therefore sin not to do so. The problem is that the Bible doesn't say that, no matter how he spins texts to try to make them say it. Up until the past hundred years, with technological advances in travel, such wouldn't have even been possible for the average Christian through most of history. Should the average medieval Christian villager, poor beyond our conception, have spent his life in constant guilt because he couldn't leave his family behind and hop a boat to the next pagan continent? When addressing logical and Biblical arguments against his idea, Platt simply dismisses them, rather than dealing with them. That is because Scripture simply doesn't teach what he says it does.

2.) He tries to address worldwide poverty and American wealth in an overly-simplistic way. With the system he sets up, one is left feeling perpetually guilty for owning anything. But the Bible doesn't support his teaching. He notes the complications involved in politics, economics, and the like. But whereas such realities should make him stop trying to address the issue, he keeps going. In this and other matters, where true solutions only come holistically, he teaches a reductionistic approach that will only result in failure.

3.) Platt lacks a clear and Biblical theology of family. He seems to see attention to family as in competition with missions. As a solution to this, he is in great need of a Biblical understanding of a hierarchy of responsibilities. Parental neglect of the primary duties of family inevitably results in children abandoning the Church and Christianity. And this will be the result of Platt's approach.

4.) In connection with the above, he lacks a Biblical theology of culture. His goal seems to be to see how little you can live with, and give the rest away. As I addressed somewhat above, this results in all sorts of problems. Who would develop culture, leading to the technological advancements which Platt enjoys and takes for granted, and which furthers the missions he seeks to invest himself in? Not only does somebody have to put in the plumbing, there had to be somebody to invent plumbing. Then you need people working on advances in plumbing and other technologies, to further and improve human life. This requires capital. Platt, in all of this, seems, as sometimes happens with Reformed Baptist types, to fall into a sort of cultural Anabaptism. He fails to understand what the New Testament means when it critiques "the World", ending up in a sort of anti-Biblical Gnosticism. He makes a few occasional comments that seem intended to prevent such a conclusion, but he ends up there in practice anyway. To put it another way, he ends up in the same place that is common with Evangelicals - rather than Redemption being a Redemption of all of Creation, Redemption ends up swallowing Creation.

5.) For Platt, everything is extreme. In this regard, he is unknowingly mirroring the culture he tries to reject. He is in constant crisis mode. Everything is "radical" and "urgent". The tyranny of the immediate rules in Platt's theology. Platt would do well to return to the agrarian imagery of Scripture. True change comes like the planting of a seed and the harvesting of a crop. It takes time, often a long time. And to switch the metaphor a bit...there are times to work, no doubt. And there are real needs. But there is also a Biblical theology of Sabbath, which Platt seems to have overlooked. Less Revivalism, more Reformation.

6.) Platt ends the book with pushing the reader to pledge to "The Radical Experiment", a pledge to five points of radical commitment for the coming year. And of course, the point is that you then commit to continue this lifestyle long after the year is up. What struck me is how easily the book conforms to the very monastic vows the Reformation stood against. There is the vow of poverty, the clearest in Platt's book. Then there is the vow of chastity. Platt himself doesn't appeal to that, being a married man himself. And yet it is very clear in his theology that family takes a back seat to missions. It is only logical then that family should be a hindrance, and not something to be pursued at all, if one wants to be a true disciple of Christ. And then there is obedience to a rule, which Platt's book qualifies as. These are the means to being a saint, in medieval Roman speak - or Radical, in Platt's way of speaking. Evangelicals don't like to hear how similar they often are to Rome, in contrast with the Reformation. And yet here we have another example of how true that can be.

7.) Historical ignorance. Platt's basic thesis, bound up with the above, is that the American Dream is unbiblical. Yet the American Dream is a decidedly ambiguous matter to begin with. Platt seems to think it necessarily includes individualism, but I would strongly disagree with that. There is a pagan concept of the American Dream, which Platt is trying to address. But then there is a Christian approach to the American Dream, born out of Western Christendom and founded upon Scripture. Platt, like alot of popular contemporary teachers, doesn't seem to know the difference.

The inevitable end result of Platt's teaching, as history has proven, will be massive burnout and abandoning of the Christian faith. The only question is how massive it will be.

Platt is open that he doesn't know everything, and is learning as he goes. That is admirable, especially from a guy with two master's degrees and a Ph.D. And as much as I appreciate the positives in his book, neither they nor his degrees fix the problems in the book. It's just another example of the fact that, in our time, though bestsellers are what everybody is reading, they are what nobody should be reading.

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