Reviews

Radical Together

by David Platt

April 26, 2011

David Platt, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God (Multnomah Books, 2011), 176 pages.

David Platt released Radical last year, promising to help readers “take back their faith from the American dream.” The promise appears to have been counterintuitively alluring, as Radical made The New York Times bestseller list and in various forms (audio, study guide, sermon series) found its way into hundreds of churches and thousands of Christian homes. In short order, Radical’s spirit spread like wildfire. It’s even acquired church visibility up in my neck of the woods (rural Vermont), a locale typically insulated from and oblivious to the publishing trends and phenomena sweeping the rest of the nation. I’ve seen Radical for sale at Wal-Mart, which, given its strong words against consumerism, is a bit like finding AA pamphlets for sale at a liquor store. For some suburban Christian communities, Platt’s book has become a bright orange badge of self-reflection, a sign of the desire of some to rethink how first-century discipleship plays out in the midst of twenty-first-century cultural Christianity. “I may have this book stuffed in my kid’s Eddie Bauer diaper bag,” it says, “but I am seriously thinking about downsizing the house, trading in the Escalade, and adopting eight kids from Uganda.”

To be clear, this is a good thing.

Nevertheless, in the wake of Radical came unsurprising criticism. In some regards, Platt is an unlikely publishing juggernaut: he was a seminary professor and did not figure so prominently in really any of the media-savvy corners of the evangelical world. But he has sounded many of the same alarms as Francis Chan, whose ministry (and bestselling book, Crazy Love) might be seen as the forerunners of Platt’s emergence. Like Chan (did), Platt pastors a megachurch (the Church at Brook Hills outside Birmingham, Alabama). Like Chan, Platt wrestles with how such ecclesial largesse jibes with mustard seed faith, flesh-crucifixion, and cross-taking mission. And like Chan, Platt has taken his share of heat for this wrestling.

Currently Skye Jethani at Out of Ur and Mike Mercer (Chaplain Mike) of The Internet Monk have been hashing out ways to demythologize and challenge a particularly unhealthy activism-for-everyone they are detecting in the strains of “radical Christianity” now emerging. Other than Mercer’s direct review of Radical, however, he does not appear to mention Platt or his book in his current series, and neither does Jethani (that I can see). But the radical idealism of Radical (and Crazy Love) is clearly in their crosshairs. Kevin DeYoung wrote a helpful review that summarizes some of the concerns many of us have about Radical.

We may synopsize the concerns with this question: Doesn’t the new push for “radicalism” in Christianity simply amount to a souped-up (but gospel-deficient) pietism? Or, in other words, are we simply cracking the whip of legalism in a new way, appealing to white suburban guilt in order to manufacture a religious zeal that is not sustainable? It is a legitimate fear.

Radical Response

So this month as Platt’s follow-up debuts, the question is this: Would these concerns and criticisms shape how the author develops the implications of Radical for the mission of the church? The good news is that Platt appears to have taken the concerns to heart, and he really does demonstrate having listened to his critics, given their challenges due consideration, and being willing to soften in some places and sharpen in others. Thus, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God takes on the implications of the cost of discipleship on the corporate aims of the body of Christ.

The most glaring evidence of the author taking his feedback to heart is Radical Together’s second chapter, which is titled “The Gospel Misunderstood.” No doubt Platt himself felt a bit misunderstood previously and would shore that up this time around, reminding us pointedly that “The gospel that saves us to work saves us from work.” Actually, he composes that line the other way around—“The gospel that saves us from work saves us to work”—because it better fits his emphasis on the fruit of faith rather than the focus of faith. This could be a misstep in itself, but we ought to take Platt’s words at face value when he writes, for instance:

No matter what you do, even if you sell all of your possessions and move to the most dangerous country in the world for ministry’s sake, you cannot do enough to be accepted before God. And the beauty of the gospel is that you don’t have to. God so loved you that, despite your hopeless state of sin, he sent his Son—God in the flesh—to live the life you could not live. Jesus alone has kept the commands of God. He alone has been faithful enough, generous enough, and compassionate enough. Indeed, he alone has been radical enough (23).

That is a most necessary and helpful reminder. Platt rightfully reiterates, “The gospel has saved you from your work, and you are free from any effort to overcome your guilt before God” (24). Radical Together, like Radical, is rife with imperatives, but this time around the author is keen on tying them to the indicatives of the gospel in a more prominent way. I am grateful for this mindfulness, and if I could provide an imperative of my own to anyone who purchases the book hoping for inspiration, it would be to underline the sentence on page 35 that reads, “The gospel is the key—and the only sustainable motivation—to sacrificial living.”

Indicatives Matched to Imperatives

If critics will find theological quibbles with Radical Together, they will have to settle for saying that Platt does not seed these indicatives into his text more consistently throughout the book. But he says what’s necessary. And in that regard, the real quibble we policers of gospel-centrality may have with the book is not what Platt says, necessarily, but how he says it. Radical Together may not reflect the Pauline tendency to keep those indicatives and imperatives tightly matched—Philippians 2:12-13; Galatians 5:19-23; Colossians 1:29; etc.—but it reflects the match nevertheless.

The book’s third chapter, titled “God Is Saying Something,” stumps for the authority of God’s written Word in the unparalleled power of the gospel. Platt previously nods at the potential for Radical-inspired disillusionment in his introduction, writing, “You may even be a Christian who is tempted to throw in the towel and say, ‘My church will never be radical’” (viii). I have suffered through and seen others suffer from the nagging and chiding that can result from such discontentment in the church. Indeed, as a pastor, I’ve done a fair share of this nagging myself. In chapter three, Platt basically answers the question, “How do people become radical?” and makes this his key practical application: Preach the Word.

As members in the church, will we trust that God knew what he was doing when he gave us his Word? Together, will we realize that our greatest need is not to be successful business executives, profitable money managers, or even good parents but to know God and to walk with him (52)?

That is a very good word. And while other pastors and writers have said it more artfully, more cleverly, almost none of them get to say it to as many people as Platt does. For that reason alone—that Radical Together’s platform gets these counter-(church)cultural, God-centered words before the eyes of thousands of evangelicals who wouldn’t pick up books by John Piper or Michael Horton (et.al.)—we all ought to be grateful for Platt’s platform. Your cousin at the seeker-sensitive, production-driven megachurch will likely read, “The Word is sufficient to hold the attention of God’s people and satisfying enough to capture their affection” (57).

Short Read, High Cost

Radical Together is a short and relatively easy read, which belies the commitment and the cost argued for on its pages. Throughout six relatively brief chapters, Platt explicitly and implicitly connects God’s love for us in Christ with our mission of love for others in Christ, holding up close-to-home examples of downsizing families and internationally adopting couples and further-flung examples of death-defying world missionaries.

What constitutes “radical,” according to Platt, varies according to the calling of God upon our lives, but it is clear that some kind of out-of-the-norm sacrifice is required. (At this point, I would love to recommend to you a message by Bill Streger, pastor of Kaleo Church in Houston, Texas, called “The Gospel and the Ordinary,” which was preached at the Lead Conference in Maine last year). And yet, in Radical Together at least, the self-sacrifice is not pitched as sexy and self-exalting. In the book’s sixth chapter, “The God Who Exalts God,” Platt does an adequate job explaining that God’s foremost passion is for his own glory. He writes:

Humbled by the reality of a self-existent, self-sustaining, self-sufficient God, I realized:

God does not need me.

God does not need my church.

God does not need you.

God does not need your church.

God does not need our conferences, conventions, plans, programs, budgets, buildings, or mission agencies.

I would recommend this particular message to any Christian wholeheartedly.

The book itself I recommend with only one concern, as previously mentioned, that he would have more tightly matched the imperatives of discipleship to the indicatives of the gospel when writing. But it is clear that Platt gets this connection, understands it well, and has allowed previously shared concerns to shape his presentation, which no doubt allows him to better present what he actually endorses!

In Isaiah 6, we see the prophet’s radical zeal to pour himself out in mission. What prompted this willingness? An undone-ness resulting from beholding God’s manifest glory. Platt’s book, designed to call churches to self-emptying exaltation of God, could have shown more evidence of reveling in that same awe. But that is admittedly a personal preference.

Jared Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and blogs at The Gospel-Driven Church.
33 Comments
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  1. Very helpful review. Thanks, bro!

  2. Thanks so much, as I tend to shy away from the latest ‘things’ it’s good to see folks who take a discerning eye to things and then share a balanced view.
    As a pastor I guess I should do more of that, but as a small church pastor I already have a lot to do. ;-)

  3. Very helpful. I was wondering what this second book was all about. After the first one transformed/is transforming my life so much, I wondered what could be left! Now I’m anxious to read it and see what God will teach me this go round.

    Thanks!

  4. Nice review. You are correct, Platt does get it. As a member of The Church at Brookhills, I am amazed at how people have responded to his teachings. The message can easily be cast aside in the wealthiest zip code in Alabama and one of the wealthiest in the nation. However, I see people changing every day. No, I have not sold everything and moved to some far away land, but my focus on the gospel has changed as has the way I look at my “things”, such as relationships, home, job, money, etc. Mr. Wilson’s book has also helped in these areas. If we know God, know the gospel, and are prepared to share the gospel and God’s love in every aspect of our lives, then it does not matter if it is called normal or radical. It is the christian’s proper way of life. Today’s authors such as Platt and Wilson have been quite successful to remind and teach such a way of life.

  5. Jared,

    This is a really good review most of the way through. But I do wonder how much your admitted personal preference clouds your vision with your critiques.

    I suppose my point, in short, is this: I think if Jesus was around today saying, “You have to hate your family and your life to follow me”, the YRR crowd (of which I gladly consider myself a part- no disrespect whatsoever) would say, “That’s legalistic.”

    I know people allege stuff like that all the time, but I honestly think it’s true.

    Andrew Faris
    Someone Tell Me the Story

    • Andrew, thanks for your response.

      You don’t have to wonder, however: The whole review is clouded with my personal preference, including all the positive stuff.
      :-)

    • Mitchell Hammonds

      Andrew,
      You do make a good point but most of Americans cannot relate to the context in which Jesus made the statement you mention. The Jewish culture was being “turned upside down” with respect to what was normal practice in that day. Families were going to be torn apart over the Gospel of Christ. I think a Christian converted from Islam would understand the context much better. But I do agree with you… Jesus had some very hard things to say for us.

      • I think that notion might be relevant to Christians today who transition from religious/cultural roman catholic homes to protestantism.
        I can think of a friend who made the transition, and had to deal with the pressure and disapointment coming from her parents and immediate family.
        It’s probably not something immediately relatable to a person from a bible belt christian family though.

        • “It’s probably not something immediately relatable to a person from a bible belt christian family though.”

          Yes it is. I’m the daughter of a United Methodist pastor in the Deep South, and was myself saved by Grace at age 40, now finding myself at odds with my earthly father over the authority of Scripture. I believe it trumps human wisdom; he believes that human wisdom trumps Scripture. He wants me to agree to disagree. I can’t. And so while I struggle to honor my father as in the 5th commandment, I also find comfort in Jesus’ words when my dad rages at me because I won’t give in and can’t affirm his wild speculations. I can hold fast to the truth because Jesus has given me that grace and provided me that comfort in that very passage.

  6. What I find inconsistent about what Platt writes about in Radical is his attendance at various conferences. Platt rails against American consumerism but yet participates in Catalysts conferences that feature jugglers, unicyclists, etc. People pay upwards of $300 for such conferences. Why would Platt be involved in a conference that feeds off of american consumerism and that adds to the ever growing problem of the celebrity culture within the Church today?

    What is even more disturbing is Platt’s involvement in teh Elephant Room conference which ran a deficit of $40k which James McDonald’s ministry picked up the cost. Couldnt $40,000 be used in more “RADICAL” ways to help the very poor and needy people who Platt mentions in his books. There is a definite disconnect between Platt’s call to action in Radical and his involvement in conferences that feed even more into the very american consumerism that Platt rails against.

    • I’m sure somewhere in your comment there is something relevant to the book review. I’m also sure that somehow this is the appropriate forum for such comments.

      • Mitchell Hammonds

        So no one is allowed to disagree with David Platt Stan? There are elements about Platt’s books that are dangerously misleading… regardless of intentions. This is not to say there aren’t constructive elements as well. Reformed Berean makes valid points… and they’re not that difficult to pick up on. This is a forum to make such points. Not everyone finds the entire book to be so encouraging.

        • Did I say no one could disagree with David Platt?

          I didn’t think so.

          If Reformed Berean disagrees with Platt about an issue in the book he should say as much. Instead, he has thrown around a few accusations without support. I don’t think that is very constructive or encouraging. Even if he did have support for his accusations I don’t think this is the forum for that.

    • Jesus was found to be inconsistent too, hanging around with all those sinners. Perhaps this is exactly where Dr. Platt needs to be to get this message out.

      Anyway, thanks Jared, for a great review.

    • Reformed,
      Have you contacted Platt and asked him those questions or are you just throwing your almighty opinion around based on your perceptions? Platt is a very godly man who puts much prayer and thought into decisions (He actually meets with his elders to decide which speaking engagements to do/not do.). The reformed community seems very quick these days to bash a brother. I’m all for refuting heresy publicly but if you have a question on integrity for Platt, it seems that you would go to your brother first before publicly accusing him online.

    • Francois Deschamps

      I had the same reaction with Francis Chan, regarding his presence and participation at the Catalyst Conference. It feeds a kind of discomfort (shall I say dissapointment) in my appreciation for his message, which I found so convincing.

  7. Great job my brother. I appreciate your humble and straight forward honesty. Good insight on what appears to be a wise follow up to Radical.

  8. very good review Jared. Haven’t read Platt’s book but recently started following him on Twitter and was interested in reading his book, having read your review I’ll want to pick up a copy even more. Oh, and looking forward to your next book, can’t get here soon enough.

  9. I am currently reading this to do a book review. I am halfway through it and have been challenged as I began reading it. It does fit a lot with what I believe. However the difference for me is that I have a wife and 6 kids, 2 of which are adopted and how I am living out my life wholly and completely for Jesus.
    Appreciated your thoughts and the comments good stuff to consider as I will be putting together my review once I have finished it.

  10. [...] Jared Wilson reviews David Platt’s Radical Together: The good news is that Platt appears to have taken the concerns to heart, and he really does demonstrate having listened to his critics, given their challenges due consideration, and being willing to soften in some places and sharpen in others. Thus, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God takes on the implications of the cost of discipleship on the corporate aims of the body of Christ. [...]

  11. [...] Jared Wilson Reviews Radical Together. [...]

  12. [...] Wilson has an excellent review of David Platt’s new book, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the [...]

  13. [...] Wilson has an excellent review of David Platt’s new book, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the [...]

  14. [...] Purchase David Platt’s new book here. Read a great review of the book over at TGC. [...]

  15. [...] Jared Wilson gives his review of David Platt’s follow-up to Radical, in Radical Together.  I’ve joked that it’s the same book, Platt just changed all the words “I” to “We”.  Wilson says: So this month as Platt’s follow-up debuts, the question is this: Would these concerns and criticisms shape how the author develops the implications ofRadical for the mission of the church? The good news is that Platt appears to have taken the concerns to heart, and he really does demonstrate having listened to his critics, given their challenges due consideration, and being willing to soften in some places and sharpen in others. Thus, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God takes on the implications of the cost of discipleship on the corporate aims of the body of Christ. [...]

  16. [...] follow up of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt, seems to have strengthened his argument by tying the imperatives to the indicatives, which was really my only criticism of [...]

  17. I probably should have just stuck with skipping the reviews. I read the book and thought it was a great butt kicker. Pardon my honesty. As “Christians”, we would all do well to pray that God would graciously allow us to love Him more. When that happens, we will get radical about our faith by gladly embracing a way of life that is consistent with a NT follower of Jesus – embracing the high cost of discipleship while walking away from the counterfeit treasures this world is selling. I just published my first book called The Cost Of The Disconnect. My prayer remains the same for my book and for Davids…that God would be rightly worshipped for the sake of His name among the nations. Let’s read/comment less and just exhaust our lives for the cause of Christ! And yes…I’m holding up the mirror. This word is as much for me as for anyone.

  18. [...] time to write an extensive review, but for one that offers a few more thoughts than mine, see the review over at TGC. But here are several reasons why I think this book is helpful (notwithstanding a few of the [...]

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