by David Platt
Eugene Peterson tells the story in his book Eat This Book about visiting an orthodox synagogue in the little Galilean village of Hoshia. He tells of going to an early morning prayer meeting and hearing some young boys, ranging from twelve to seventeen, read from Scripture. Peterson comments, however, that “it only seemed to read for he had memorized it, the entire Torah, the first five books of the Bible” (35). He continues:
We were moved by the joyful devotion of those boys to God’s revelation to them in that scroll, by their not talking about but living the centrality and authority of these Holy Scriptures. And then more deeply moved when we later talked over how many boys and girls and men and women in gatherings all over the world, hungry men and women, were doing the same thing, and how lucky we were to have had so many good meals with so many of them—hearty meals, soul-filling meals. (35-36)
If you were to ask me, “Are you a Christian?” I would likely answer with something equivalent to a “Yes.” I don’t think I would hedge that with any fences or equivocate in any way. I would say “Yes,” but maybe I wouldn’t be as quick to add an exclamation point as others would. Maybe it’s just cold outside.
I jest, of course, but the truth is that it is easy to wonder at times whether or not we do believe what we profess. Jesus says a lot of things in his book that are very, very difficult to come to grips with—especially if one is a Christian in America. And if these things are hard to believe, how much more difficult are they to live out in everyday life? Here is where David Platt’s book picks up the story.
Platt does two things, primarily, in this book. He asks if we really believe what the Bible says and he then asks whether or not we are living it out in everyday life. His opening salvo should be enough to make one either close the book in hopelessness or press on in the hope that the book is going to challenge its reader to radically alter the very core of their faith.
I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice. You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed him and really obeyed him. (3, paragraph break omitted.)
Platt spends a lot of time decrying so-called American Dream Christianity and I am being honest when I say that I struggled with this a great deal, and this is my only really, truly honest complaint with the book: it is very difficult to read about how terrible we are as American Christians when the person doing the writing is a 30-something, with a PhD (and two Master’s degrees for a total of five degrees), leading a 4,000+ member church, and globetrotting on mission trips. By the time I got to page 85, I had heard about trips to India, China, Sudan, Indonesia, and other African places. This was the only aspect of the book that truly frustrated me.
To an extent, though, Platt redeemed himself. I did sense as I read the book that Platt himself struggles mightily with these things. There were two places where I sensed this struggle in Platt and one of the two times I thought maybe a breakthrough was coming. The first was on pages 48-49 where Platt writes:
This is where I am most convicted as a pastor of a church in the United States of America. I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God. And it’s not just pastors who are involve in this charade. I am concerned that all of us—pastors and church members in the culture—have blindly embraced an American dream mentality that emphasizes our abilities and exalts our names in the ways we do church.
The second time was near the end of the book when Platt ‘wrestled’ all the way to Sudan with whether or not he should have spent $3,000 to travel there after someone confronted him with this question: “Why don’t you just send the three thousand dollars to the people in Sudan? Wouldn’t that be a better use of money than your spending a week and a half with them? Think of how far that money could go” (197).
Don’t misunderstand me, please. I’m not criticizing Platt for sharing these two anecdotes. He has his own journey to make and I am actually glad he has shared his struggles while on the journey. I’m glad he is being honest with us about his struggles. But if you recognize you are part of the problem, and if you will ask me to give up my own money (as he does frequently), then there is wisdom in asking the question about whether or not spending three thousand dollars is a good use of money and no amount of justification (as follows this story on page 197-198) will do. Platt asks his readers to sacrifice; indeed his constant decrying of American-Dream Christianity is his sacrificial rally-cry. I understand his point; I don’t understand his solution: “Like the rich young man in Mark 10, every Christian has to wrestle with what Jesus is calling us to do with our resources as we follow him” (119). Wrestling is not a solution.
I guess I wanted the conviction to run a little deeper and I wanted a heroic conclusion. I wanted a Francis Chan solution: give up the mega-church ministry instead of wrestling with the contradiction. Three thousand dollars to sit with someone in Sudan is a far cry from three thousand dollars to feed the very people Platt says we ought to feed: “More pointedly, if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all” (111). That’s bold. It’s perfectly true. And it’s strangely confounding given his wrestling. I’m glad Platt shared the story and opened himself up to the criticism; he gives all who read it a lot to consider. (Don’t misunderstand me, please, because I don’t believe for a minute that Platt is a man who is neglecting the poor.)
There’s a lot of John Piper (the phrase ‘make much of God’ is right out of the Piper lexicon of neo-Reformed theology) in this book and clearly he is Reformed (Calvinistic) in his theological disposition. This doesn’t bug me too much, although it is a bit pedantic for those of us who do not happen to share his happiness and conviction for said theology. I’m not personally a huge fan of Piper’s theological ideas, but it does not necessarily get in the way of the larger point that Platt is making.
All of that said, I like this book. I like it because Platt is honest: he struggles. He struggles with the words of Jesus. He struggles with the journey. He struggles with the contradiction. He struggles with consistency. I could worship in his church and listen to him preach. I would gladly serve alongside him as he serves the poor because I am certain that no matter how many trips he takes, he is serving the poor, feeding them, and loving them in the name of Jesus. Platt believes that the words of Jesus are true and that we ought to be living according to them. And, to be sure, the stories he tells of Christians in various parts of the world is encouraging and challenging at the same time.
He tells stories like Eugene Peterson does: with passion: “And then more deeply moved when we later talked over how many boys and girls and men and women in gatherings all over the world, hungry men and women, were doing the same thing.” That’s the kind of stories Platt tells: Christians around the world, hungry for the Word of God, hungry to worship, hungry for the Spirit, dying for Christ, suffering for the cross, and praying despite all appearances that no prayers are answered. These are the folks that Platt tells us about, the people he has chosen to identify with, and the Christians who are our brothers and sisters in Jesus. It is the stories Platt tells about Christians around the world that ultimately makes this book worth the read.
I go away from this book extremely challenged. He challenges me to take the words of Jesus seriously and literally.
As a result, Christ commands the church make the gospel known to all people. If this is true, then the implications for our lives are huge. If more than a billion people today are headed to a Christless eternity and have not even heard the gospel, then we don’t have time to waste our lives on an American dream. Not if we have all been commanded to take the gospel to them. The tendency in our culture is to set around debating this question, but in the end our goal is not to try to find an answer to it; our goal is to alleviate the question altogether (157-158).
That is radical indeed.
*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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