Sunday, December 4, 2011

Radical Together, By David Platt

A Book Review by Chris Haven

In Radical Together, David Platt has once again written a book that excites, convicts, and sends one well outside of one’s comfort zone. In his first book, Radical, Platt focused on how individuals should live as committed Christians. In this new book, he takes similar concepts and applies them to the local church.

There are six chapters in the book. The first chapter delves into the issue of how churches do ministry. In short, Platt argues that local church ministries often slide into a mode of doing many good things that actually detract from the best thing, which is disciple making.

In chapter two, Platt clears up some possible misapplications of the call to be radical with respect to the gospel. Platt suggests that on the one hand a believer is saved from work, meaning justification is all about what Christ has done for us and nothing about what we do to earn God’s favor. On the other hand, the believer is saved to do good works. Good works should be the natural result of becoming a Christian. Platt writes that the proper stance of the Christian with respect to the gospel and work is: “In the Gospel I am free to follow [Christ’s] commands” (p. 30).

In chapter three, the focus is on the Word of God as the centerpiece of what it means to be a disciple making church. Platt argues that there needs to be a dependence upon the sufficient Word for both what the church is to be doing and the method for doing it. Chapter four addresses what Platt sees as the wrong method for doing local church ministry. For Platt, it is a strategic misstep for a church to subordinate the equipping of individual saints for ministry to the creating of cutting edge worship performances and environments, excessive programming and the reliance on “professionals” to do the work of the ministry.

Chapter five is a plea for foreign missions. Platt exhorts churches to have a burden not only for the lost in their immediate communities, but also the lost within the many unreached peoples around the world. In chapter six, Platt provides several examples of what it means to live more selflessly to advance God’s agenda.

There are many positive things to mention in this sequel. First, Platt’s tone is to be commended. While he has much to criticize about the contemporary American Evangelical church, he avoids what sometimes comes across in others with similar critiques as bitterness against the “establishment.” There are many examples where Platt shows modesty and humility. He acknowledges, for instance, “I have so much to learn” (p. 3), and later in the book reflects that as a rookie pastor “I had no clue how to be a part of, much less to lead, such a large church” (p. 42).

Second, Platt’s discussion of ministry planning is right on the mark. He highlights a very real proclivity among churches to stray from the main focus of the church, namely, the evangelizing the lost and discipling the saved. Anecdotally, he shares of one man in his congregation that confessed, “despite all the good things he had done in the church, he could not name one person outside his family who he had led to Christ and who was now walking with Christ and leading others to Christ.” I have no doubt this reality is widespread in Evangelicalism today. Platt is concerned about this, and we should be also. If the purpose Christ established the church to fulfill has been largely lost in the busy activities of the church there is a very serious problem.

I believe his critique of the contemporary formula for church growth is accurate. There is a tendency to create metrics of success in churches around the most visible and tangible elements which may have very little to do with achieving real spiritual growth. As performance, places, programs and professionals become the focus, the development of individuals into Christ-like maturity is left to a less-than-effective “system.”

As a corrective for this state of affairs, Platt exhorts churches to put everything but the theological non-negotiables “on the table.” We cannot simply ask “what’s wrong with certain programs and activities?” because that is not the issue. There are many good things that churches find themselves doing. The more productive and relevant question is whether current “programs and activities [are] the best way to spend our time, money, and energy for the spread of the gospel in our neighborhood and in all nations?”

Fortunately, Platt is not alone in his prescription. Others are thinking the same way. For example, Matthias Media, the publisher that recently released the popular book, The Trellis and the Vine, is an Evangelical Australian-based resource producer that has been publishing resources for several decades that are designed to aid churches in focusing on evangelism and edification as the main course of church life. They have also produced an excellent resource called Mission Minded to help churches strategically plan with the right priorities. Also, Kevin DeYoung’s and Greg Gilbert’s book released this year called What is the Mission of the Church? echoes many of the same ideas that Platt addresses with respect to focusing the churches resources around the mission/Great Commission of the church.

A third positive feature of the book worthy of highlighting is Platt’s reminder that while the recent popularity of missional living and local church planting is to be commended, we should not lose sight of our duty to reach the lost around the world. Human nature is the swinging of pendulums, and I think Platt has given us a helpful reminder to keep proper balance.

As for negative critique, there is a question I have about Platt’s move from the individual Christian to the collection of Christians as the local church. A social theorist might say Platt falls on more of the individualist rather than collectivist side of the scale. There is a sense that Platt perhaps makes a jump from what individual Christians ought to do (Radical) to what the church as a group of individuals ought to do (Radical Together). In other words, the mission of the whole can tend to sound identical to the mission of individuals. The places in the book where this seems to be most prominent is where he discusses what is today often referred to as “social justice.” It is completely appropriate to expect that individual Christians should be all about serving and giving to the physical needs of their fellow man around the world (p. 18). However, I think we need to be careful here. In What is the Mission of the Church?, DeYoung and Gilbert rightly speak of an important distinction between the “the church organic” and “the church institutional.” They suggest that “there is a difference between the individual Christian and the local church, and therefore we can’t just say that whatever we see commanded of the individual Christian is also commanded of the local church. For DeYoung and Gilbert, “the mission of the church…seems to be something narrower than the set of all commands given to individual Christians – it’s proclamation, witness, and disciple making.”

I suspect that Platt may not take real issue with this, however, I think Radical Together does not clearly articulate the distinction and may lead unintentionally to undermining the narrowing of ministry focus advocated in chapter one. Perhaps it would have been helpful for Platt to insert a few lines in chapter one addressing the need to see the church’s mission as a bit narrower than the duties of individual Christians.

In conclusion, Radical Together is a book that should be read widely. This would be a great book to study for a church leadership team who wants an introduction to what they need to be thinking about to assess their ministry. Other books with a complementary philosophy of ministry, like The Trellis and the Vine, Mission Minded, and What is the Mission of the Church?, would be helpful books to read along side this one. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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