Book Review: Radical, by David Platt
Last year David Platt released his first book entitled, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. Its release created quite a stir in the Christian community but was widely well received, eventually becoming a New York Times bestseller. Since then many have criticized Platt for being too extreme with regards to finances, promoting a works-based faith, and leading his followers to sacrificial burnout (for a more balanced critique of Radical see Kevin DeYoung’s review and Platt’s response to it). Despite this criticism, Radical has been one of the most influential books of the past few years, causing many to question their own entanglement with American materialism and the human proclivity for greed.
Towards the end of the book, Platt sums up the key messages he is communicating:
“Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism; joy is found in generosity, not materialism; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism. Ultimately, Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy.” (183)
As you can see, materialism and greed is only one fraction of the argument. Platt also addresses the modern slide towards universalism, arguing instead that salvation is only found in the work of Christ. This fits nicely with what is actually the core thrust of the book: missions. As a well-traveled pastor, Platt’s main goal seems to be seeing the Church do a better job on missions. Materialism, nationalism, universalism, and individualism are all detrimental in that they keep us from furthering the work of missions and evangelism.
Still, Platt does spend quite a bit of time talking about finances and poverty. But the interesting thing to note is that he is not addressing anything that the Religious Left hasn’t already been saying for years. The difference is that, unlike Jim Wallis or Shane Claiborne, Platt rejects universalism and is otherwise conservative theologically. In one sense you can say that Platt is indebted to Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo for pricking the evangelical conscience to the issues of poverty. In a different sense you can say that the evangelical community is indebted to Platt for doing so from an orthodox, conservative stance that is better received than the liberalism of Wallis, Sider, or Campolo.
One final thing to note, and it is hardly an addendum, is the prescription Platt gives for greed and materialism. Generosity and surrender to God’s will is the path of the believer and the key to freedom from the “American dream.” But the thing that screams the loudest from the text is Platt’s complete silence with regard to the government’s role in this discussion. There is no assumption that if poverty exists the government needs to tax the rich more and spend more on poverty relief. Nowhere does Platt argue—as Wallis, Claiborne do—that the government should be the one to end poverty. By avoiding public policy Platt is able to gain the trust of an audience that is not otherwise predisposed to listen to his message.
While many critiques of Radical are indeed valid, overall the thesis of the book is strong and unwavering. Americans are too engrossed with ourselves and our stuff. True religion requires us to live sacrificially so that the orphans and widows of the world can receive assistance from the Church. Hopefully David Platt will continue to call the American church to a closer walk with Christ in this regard.