David Platt’s book Radical (based on his sermon series of the same title, which I wrote about here for a few months back in the spring), while not as powerful as his sermons, stands as a much needed wake-up call to the complacent, indulgent American church.
The book moves slowly at points to lay out some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, but the real meat is found in Platt’s challenging exposition of passages in the Bible dealing with possessions and in the many stories of men and women in the history of the church who have indeed given up everything– with joy– to serve God. Women who have sold wedding rings to give to the poor. Men who have died in the process of taking the gospel to unreached populations.
Yet I found that one of the most telling stories Platt recounts is not one of martyrdom or foreign missions. It’s about simple home decor. He tells of a time that John Wesley had just bought some decorative pictures for his walls when a maid came to his door. She wore “only a thin linen gown,” and it was the middle of winter. Wesley reached for his wallet to give her some money, but he found that he had almost nothing left after having bought the decorations. “It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: ‘Will Thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward?” Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold!… Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?'” (p. 126).
This kind of thinking is foreign, even maudlin, to American Christianity. Do we see our nicely decorated homes, our closets full of clothes, our nice cars, our computers, our hobbies, our bank accounts, our trips to restaurants, movies, and the mall, etc. as the blood of the poor? Don’t we rather think of the necessity of our “hospitality ministry,” or about the flocks of Abraham and the palaces of David and Saul? Yet Platt suggests that the extent to which Wesley’s experience seems foreign to our understanding of Christianity is precisely the extent to which we have turned a blind eye to what the Bible teaches about money, possessions, and poverty.
Perhaps one great weakness in the book is that Platt does not deal with the many ways that “helping the poor” can go wrong. Often our attempts at mission and service are tainted with colonialist overtones and can cause more harm than good. I’ve read that Platt has his small group leaders read a book called When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor, and I would suggest that Christians read everything they can about how to serve wisely and well. If you read Radical hoping for a Christian encyclopedia of service, missions, and justice you will be left wanting. Yet if it’s read as a starting point, the book offers an eye-opening, challenging, and beautiful outline of a Christian life that truly is willing to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:2o) and to give up everything to be his disciple (Luke 14:33).