Radical–David Platt


imageIt’s been a few days since I turned the last page of Platt’s Radical and I’m still unable to identify the source of my discomfort. The book is wildly successful by any measure. It racks up sales and plaudits in equal measure and yet, I find myself in disagreement with the majority opinion as to the quality of this volume.

The message, convoluted and scattered as it is, is sound. The sub-titled idea of separating Christian faith from the materialism of American life threads its way throughout the chapters. The cost of following Jesus (cf. Luke 9:57-62) has largely been lost in the program-laden and comfortable church of today and Platt attempts to steer the reader’s thinking to the spiritual benefits of sacrifice in the service of His Lordship.

Living sacrificially, in terms of our time, treasure and talents, is encouraged by Pastor Platt through equal parts illustration and Scriptural authority. The Spirit will nudge you as you contrast your church home and life with those in the majority world who may, the very next day, give of their life in order to remain faithful to the Lord. You will begin to see many areas of your life in which material blessings have become a millstone around your neck that impedes the full expression of your faith.

The discomfort in reading the book for me came in terms of the author himself. The chapters are filled with Platt’s globe-trotting, suspense-filled-secret church meetings and philosophical musings while sitting in the Sudanese desert. Does all of this travel come for free? Did the fistful of degrees earned in his short life come without tuition, books and board? The reader cannot help but contrast the author and the message he wants to deliver and find them incongruent.


Multnomah graciously provided this copy for review.

Reveling in Our Limitations

image“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Harry Callahan

“As you cannot do what you want, want what you can do.” Leonardo DaVinci


We are encouraged to do big things and address the great problems of our time. Poverty, AIDS and war all cry out for our healing touch and, more often than not, we throw ourselves into projects aimed at eradicating these evils only to get frustrated at our progress. Huge organizations are built to plan the attack, organize the foot soldiers and send them into the field to bring the fight to these enemies. The problems are fought from the top down, only rarely reaching the bottom where the problems truly affect the lives of fellow human beings.

What if you turned your calling upside-down and attacked the problem from the bottom up? Instead of viewing the problem you are called to affect, you realize that your best hope for accomplishing anything is at the individual level, one on one with a person who is affected by the problem. No organization needed, no massive plan of attack necessary. Address one person and find out how to help that person. Revel in the ministry to the individual. Throw yourself completely into the life of that person and be satisfied with any progress that you help initiates in that life. Jesus expended his energies on individuals. He healed one person at a time, looking into their eyes as he did so, even though he had the ability to snap His fingers and cure all of the ills of the world at once. The individuals cured became examples of His power among their neighbors.

We all want to change the world. As DaVinci says, there are things we may want to do but cannot because of the scale or our capabilities or any number of other reasons. We could, however, influence change in one person. Perhaps, we should be reveling in these small opportunities.

You, Theologian : Where We Begin


As we accept our call to be theologians, the next logical question is to ask what that means. Many in the Christian community will default to the image of the sequestered scholar, surrounded by mountains of books and poring over the scattered papers piled before him. Theology, in this narrow view, is a field with high barriers to entry, only to be approached by a select few while the rest of us wait to receive their wisdom. Nonsense. This stereotype is not only damaging to the faith, it is flat out wrong. Go look in a mirror Christian. There is a theologian. Regardless of background, social group, education, or denomination even, you and I are called to be theologians and our theology is formed in two ways. One is by our experience of being a Christian. This is known as our embedded theology.

Our first order theology comes from the Christian environment that surrounds us. This environment, usually our church and this immediate community, usually drives what we believe about our faith. Since every church believes itself to be living by Christian principles, the initial framework of how we think about faith is organized on a similar framework to that which guides our church. The practices, stated doctrine, and general atmosphere give us some idea of what it means to be a Christian. We trust that those who developed the doctrines and traditions knew what they were doing and this confidence tells us we can accept these things without too much worry.

This is as far as many believers will ever go. If our church teaches it, regardless of the initial reasons, it’s good enough for us. Embedded theology works well for a while but some cracks in the firmness of the foundation begin to show when it is challenged. The first challenge often arrives in the form of a comparison between our church and our neighbor’s church. We may worship within a tradition that has a dry tradition toward alcohol and so we live as teetotalers. One fine summer day our neighbor Ed invites us over for a barbecue. Ed and his family are Christians who go to a different church but we still look forward to some fine fellowship. Knocking on the door brings Ed quickly to answer it, swinging the door wide with the hand that isn’t gripping his beer. Beer! Your embedded theology sends a message to your brain: smile, but watch this guy carefully since you know that no Christians use alcohol.

The barbecue is fine and later, as you nurse your third cola, you get a chance to talk to Ed alone. “Say Ed,” you say. “I noticed you drink beer.”

“Yep, I have a couple now and then. Why?”

You don’t want to lecture (but secretly you do) so you put a big smile on your face and say “Well, my pastor speaks against alcohol at least once every couple of months. I was just wondering how often yours does.”

“I’ve only heard him talk about it once.” Ed replies and takes the last sip of his beverage. “He taught us that the Bible talks about drunkenness but doesn’t say we must not drink alcohol. Didn’t Jesus drink wine?”

So it seems that some Christians do drink alcohol. How can the Bible teach both things? We trust our embedded ideas but often find them quickly challenged.

Second order challenges are much more difficult for this type of theological thinking. Imagine the family of the child who wandered away at the beach and got too close to the surf. She was swept out of reach of her searching parents and they lost her. How will the shallow theology of our community answer this tragedy. Why did God take the child? Were the parents secret sinners who were being punished? Was the child herself punished? Embedded theology is usually to fragile to deal with something like effectively. To come to grips with a loss like this requires a depth in the answers. It requires an intentional approach to theological questions. It requires that we practice deliberative theology.

Deliberative theology begins work right where we are by setting forth to reflect upon our embedded convictions. We question the beliefs that we have taken for granted and seek to place them among the spectrum of Christian belief on a subject. The deliberative approach looks into the various positions and seeks to understand that which is most satisfactory. Sometimes this is easier said than done since seeking answers outside of our narrow understanding can lead to challenges that we would rather not face. Beloved traditions and beliefs can be toppled in an instant and many will retreat to the shallow end of the pool when this threat becomes too real.

Sadly, we discover our need for a more intentional approach to theological thinking when the deeper tragedies of life occur. Our embedded beliefs prove unsatisfactory to answer the questions we have and we embark on a quest to understand. When we are prepared to set aside simply believing what we are told to believe and to make the effort to understand why we believe what we believe, we finally grow and mature as Christians. We see God as more than just Daddy. We seek out a deeper knowledge of His revealed nature and character. The result is a more satisfying faith and a more complete worship. We are living out our calling.

image by rogilde

Gideon Pursues the Enemy II


After being denied sustenance in Succoth, Gideon pursues similar support in Peniel, to the same end. A vehement no! from the men of Peniel garners similar threats of retribution from Gideon. When he returns this way on the way back home, he states that the tower he is facing will be torn down. Do the men of Peniel respond in fear? For that matter, did a similar threat to scourge the men of Succoth with briars and thorns cause them to give in? The word tells us no and that the army of God’s purpose moved on under the power of the Lord.

Church leaders can find a second item of interest in this passage. It is sometimes the case that we can misread external signals thinking that they guide our purpose. If Gideon had asked of God for sustenance, relying on the people of Succoth and Peniel to be the answerers of this prayer, he may have been tempted to turn back and question his own interpretation of the mission. Maybe not at the first denial, but perhaps the second. How many times have we, as church leaders, been certain of God’s calling to a specific purpose only to find obstacle after obstacle in our way. What is the magic number of denials that we count before we turn back? Maybe our practice needs to be …one more than that.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy

image The story of Gideon is a tale of faith, or the lack of faith. God pursued him to fulfill his purpose in restoring the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Now, as Gideon pursues the enemy across the border territory of the Jordan. Exhausted but driven, the warriors of Israel pursue the enemy without stop. Needing sustenance to carry on the mission, Gideon asks the men of Succoth for bread to carry them further.

A lack of faith stops them cold.

A church leader faces this all the time. God will implant a vision and a call to the leader for a particular church to accomplish and yet, when the vision is presented to congregation, the naysayers raise the heads and begin to find reasons why that could not possibly be God’s call on that body. In one light, their hesitation is justified. It will cost too much money, it will damage the reputation of the church, it will never work, the carpet will get dirty. The moment of truth arrives for the leader; will they act in faith to God and his strength or give in to the church in fear for their position. Too often, we fall into the latter.

Gideon faced both the fear of the loss of reputation (Ephraim) and the concern for safety (Succoth) but kept his eyes focused on the purpose to which he was called. Did he wonder how Yahweh would ever redeem this people?

Gideon’s Call from Weakness

Many people, maybe most people, have had the experience of crying out to God for an answer. Why has all this happened to me? Perhaps our eyes and voice have been pointed skyward where we exclaim, I thought you loved me! Often, we sense a silent response, our own voice echoing and fading away. When Gideon rehearsed the lamentations of Israel to the Angel who had appeared to him (Judges 6:13), the response he received was anything but.

He was commissioned to save Israel.

Similar to the calling of Moses, God again selects the weak and unsure to serve his purposes. The call does not invite a decline — “Go in the strength you have…Am I not sending you?” – yet Gideon like Moses before him demurs, citing his weakness. Don’t read past this. Note that God has anticipated the negative response that Gideon will attempt and defers it before he even voices the words. The Lord sends him in his own strength.

How many times have we failed to move on a divine initiative and failed to fulfill our purpose because we refused to move in our own strength? When the Lord calls he supplies. When He calls us to service in any capacity he supplies all the strength we need, often before we even sense the call. Did Moses and Gideon simply want to avoid getting involved or did they genuinely feel inadequate? The text suggests the former but we shouldn’t discount the latter. Certainly God may call us to a serve a purpose that we find distasteful and would like to avoid. Thinking once again that God doesn’t know our hearts, we attempt to evade the call by proclaiming our weakness. God knows and simply says “god in the strength you have.”

He doesn’t leave it there however. The Lord promises that He “will be with you.”

Have we not received the same promise in the form of the Holy Ghost? Does not God’s Spirit indwell us morning, noon, and night imbuing us with strength, wisdom, and assurance as take the first steps in fulfilling our calling? We know the answer to be true and yet we continue discover the depths of our own Gideon-like doubt when we demand signs that God is truly calling us to the vocation ahead of us. Will a sign fortify us or is there another reason that seek to avoid the mission?