The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Review of David Platt's Model for Missions in his Book Radical



Thomas Booher
AT 44 Missions
July 29, 2015

            David Platt’s Radical is a unique book in that it is both wildly popular and weds Christ-like living for all believers in the United States to mission’s work. Platt is one of the youngest megachurch pastors ever, and he explains that when he began preaching at his church, it was full of complacent believers who embraced cultural Christianity. They wanted to live the American dream and have Jesus too. Our spending on ease and luxury is exorbitant, and our giving to the church and to the poor is miniscule in comparison. Platt proposes a remedy by imposing a “salary cap” on oneself, setting a certain yearly budget that one will live off of, and whatever is earned over that budget is sent to Christian charities, especially those overseas where the gospel will be proclaimed and the poor will be helped. Platt explains that many live on less than a dollar or two a day, which is the same Americans spend on French fries. He emphasizes giving money sacrificially, giving until it hurts. He cites John Calvin who said that half of the church's money should be given to the poor and that no one should starve. Platt also suggests that God may be calling some people to literally give away everything they have, citing from Scripture Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler as evidence (Matt. 19:21).
            In the first few chapters, Platt explains the gospel and devotes an entire chapter to the importance of relying on God’s power, the Holy Spirit, rather than relying on our own ability to carry out His will. It is very encouraging to see a well-known minister of the Word proclaim the true gospel, and to see this book get such a wide reading leaves no doubt that many in the United States have heard a clear exposition of the gospel, even some professing Christians for the first time. Platt also recognizes that, in some sense, giving to the physically needy in order to speak to them of their spiritual needs is often beneficial. It seems he presses the principle a bit too far, and may even believe it is beneficial to meet physical needs first before spiritual needs can be addressed. While someone who is starving might literally need to be fed in order to live long enough to hear the gospel, the physical needs of man can never equip his ultimate need, which is to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and to believe it, so that he may be forgiven of his sins, saved from the wrath to come, and find joy in living obediently to His Lord.  
             Platt also emphasizes early in the book the need to be men and women of the Word of God. He stresses more time spent in studying the Bible than studying theological or practical living books. Platt detailed the passion for God that many in third world countries have, where it is illegal to read the Bible and assemble for worship. Yet these brothers and sisters in the faith secretly assemble anyways, to the peril of their own lives. Most of them undoubtedly study the Word of God far more than those of us in the United States, where we have no threat to our life to read God's Word. This was particularly convicting and shows how we have compromised our faith due to ease of living and distracting entertainment.
            Putting these things together, Platt preaches that all Christians must live a radical life where one is “sold out” for Christ so that Americans study the Word of God till their heads hurt, preach the gospel until voices crack, and give to the poor and needy until all spare cash is gone (he even emphasizes downgrading the size of your house and not buying the best cars to give more money to the poor and for the gospel). While one may take issue with the need to put a hard and fast salary cap on oneself or to downgrade the size of your home, the basic principle that Platt is building his arguments from does seem to be sound and biblical (see 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Having a home in the United States, no matter how small it is, puts one in the upper echelon of financially wealthy among all those in the world. Being generous and missions minded is a much needed exhortation by Platt. Unfortunately, his theology of missions, as will be seen, stands on shakier ground.
            It seems that Platt believes that every Christian should not only share the gospel with those in their spheres and local communities, but also ought to go overseas and proclaim the gospel. Anyone who does not, in some capacity, do this, is violating the Great Commission. He ridicules those who merely give money to missionaries, saying Jesus did not tell us to send our money but to send ourselves. Platt rebukes those who claim that foreign missions are only for those who are called to such a field, and is not for everyone. He complains that this compartmentalizes the great commission to a certain group within the church, rendering it an optional program for everyone else. He says this becomes an excuse for complacent Christians to reject the command of Christ to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, and he even suggests that such people may not really be converted.
            Such tactics may seem quite convicting, and it may spur some to become missionaries, but it simply isn’t biblical. Ephesians 4:7-16 and other places in Scripture reveal that Christ’s body is comprised of different parts, each with different functions. Not everyone will be an evangelist or a pastor by profession. All ought to be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within them (1 Pet. 3:15), but this is not the same as saying each and every Christian ought to spend large sums of money to go overseas and pretend to be called and equipped to be missionaries when they are not. Paul established elders in churches, and elders were called to continue to labor in those local churches, not to go about like Paul or Peter to the ends of the earth proclaiming the gospel. This makes sense practically as well, for if everyone is spending money to preach the gospel overseas, nobody is left at home to preach the gospel. Further, much revenue is wasted because a full-time missionary could, and should, be funded by those in the church who are called not to go but to help support those who are called to go. If everyone was a short term missionary, there would no longer be missions, because there would be no money left to conduct missions. God has deemed that all Christians should have spiritual gifts, but not every spiritual gift. The church collectively forms the body of Christ, meaning no one person is going to do all that Christ did, especially in the way that He did it. To presume one could do so is foolish and arrogant. Per Romans 12:6-8, some will be more gifted in teaching, others in serving. Some will do more acts of mercy, while others will devote more of their time to a teaching ministry. The point is that these are differing gifts of God’s varied grace, and one should neither despise the gift he has nor be condescending toward those who do not have the same gifts as he.
            Platt is right in saying that many use this as an excuse not to live faithfully as Christians, but that does not give him the license to lay the burden of being a missionary on all believers. This also leads to confusion about the true nature of God’s kingdom and His kingdom purposes. Is missions the end all, or is it a means to something greater? Missions exist so that the elect from every tribe, tongue, and nation may be gathered together as a holy people, set apart to serve God and worship Him. Glorifying God and enjoying Him forever is the chief end of man, and that chief end is not abrogated between the two comings of Christ. People conquered for Christ receive gifts from Christ to build His kingdom on earth. They become the salt and light of the world, and many must remain where they are, in their local communities, engaging the society that they live in so that Christ is manifested in all things.

            It seems that Platt’s heart is in the right place. He sees a very real and dangerous problem in American Christianity and seeks to offer a solution to the problem that will truly lead us to live “radical” lives for Jesus. Yet his solution will undoubtedly lead to burnout and guilt. Some may even doubt their own salvation if they are not missionaries. I don’t think that is Platt’s ultimate intention, but it does seem to be an undertone in his book. Missionaries need to be gifted and called by God, and sent by their church, to go to the foreign field and labor for the kingdom. The local church should supply their physical needs and pray for them, but the whole church ought not to go with them into the field. Ordinary, faithful living in the kingdom of God is less exciting, but the testimony of a faithful life lived in the midst of a godless American culture is something that the angels rejoice over, too.         

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