David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, is an excellent book. I highly recommend it – if only for his assessment of American Christianity; the American Dream couched in Christian verbiage.
His prescription of the problem? Not so much.
The American Dream is what I would call a “secular religion” of which Platt rightly calls us to abandon, but Platt exchanges this “secular religion” for a “religious religion” and not the Gospel.
Let me explain.
“But if Jesus is who he said he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what our culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus.” ~Platt p3
“‘Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’ Now this is taking it to another level. Pick up an instrument of torture and follow me. This is getting plain weird…and kind of creepy. Imagine a leader coming on the scene today and inviting all who would come after him to pick up an electric chair and become his disciple. Any takers?
“As if this were not enough, Jesus finished his seeker-sensitive plea with a pull-at-your-heartstrings conclusion. ‘Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’ Give up evertying you have, carry a cross, and hate your family. This sounds a lot different than ‘Admit, believe, confess, and pray a prayer after me.'” ~Platt pp10-11
Throughout the book, there is a plea to surrender to Jesus, which is good, but the pleas are expressed either by making a person feel guilty or via a command to surrender.
There is no connection with the Gospel itself. How does my surrender flow from and out of the Gospel? How does my surrender to Jesus get motivated by Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection? This is the Gospel, and my surrender MUST, it MUST, flow out and from the Gospel.
The Gospel is mentioned but the “surrender to Jesus” is not connected WITH the Gospel.
Yes, we can “surrender to Jesus” but how do you know your surrender is sincere enough? How do you know your surrender to Jesus is surrender enough? Can you surrender EVERYTHING for Jesus?
Sure. We WANT to surrender everything, but the reality is, our sin touches every part of our being, sin corrupts our every molecule to such a degree that even our best surrender and abandonment to Jesus is as filthy or polluted rags before God. See Isaiah 64:6.
Ask yourself this: Can I absolutely, 100% abandon EVERYTHING in my life for Jesus? This means there is NO turning back; this means you cannot, even for a split second, think “wow, it’d be nice to have X for a moment” or “I miss X….”
I cannot do that. I want to. But I cannot DO it. It is a law I cannot fulfill.
But Jesus DID do it. For me. In my place. And it is HIS work of surrender and abandonment to God that I rest in.
Speaking of Jesus parable of the treasure in a field in Matthew 13:
“This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something–someone–worth losing everything for. And if we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of non-discipleship is profoundly greater for us than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him.”
This is very true, but this statement does not go far enough.
How does the Gospel motivate me to “abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus?”
Platt explains the Gospel very well, but there is a disconnect between the Gospel and its motivation of our doing.
Without this connection of our motivation with the Gospel, the command to surrender all is just a command, a heavy weight placed upon us we can never fulfill.
Show me the beauty of the Gospel, don’t just tell me it’s beautiful.
Let me quote large portions of Radical and let Platt speak for himself:
“Biblical proclamation of the gospel beckons us to a much different response and leads us down a much different road. Here the gospel demands and enables us to turn from our sin, to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, and to follow Jesus. These are the terms and phrases we see in the Bible. And salvation now consists of a deep wrestling in our souls with the sinfulness of our hearts, the depth of our depravity, and the desperation of our need for his grace. Jesus is no longer one to be accepted or invited in but one who is infinitely worthy of our immediate and total surrender.
‘You might think this sounds as though we have to earn our way to Jesus through radical obedience, but that is not the case at all. Indeed, ‘it is by grace you [are] saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.’ We are saved from our sins by a free gift of grace, something that only God can do in us and that we cannot manufacture ourselves.
“But that gift of grace involves the gift of a new heart. New desires. New longings. For the first time, we want God. We see our need for him, and we love him. We seek after him, and we find him, and we discover that he is indeed the great reward of our salvation. We realize that we are saved not just to be forgiven of our sins or to be assured of our eternity in heaven, but we are saved to know God. So we yearn for him. We want him so much that we abandon everything else to experience him. This is the only proper response to the revelation of God in the gospel.
“This is why men and women around the world risk their lives to know more about him. This is why we must avoid cheap caricatures of Christianity that fail to exalt the revelation of God in his Word. This is why you and I cannot settle for anything less than a God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-denying gospel.
“I pray continually for this kind of hunger in the church God has given me to lead and in churches spread across our country’s landscape. I pray that we will be a people who refuse to gorge our spiritual stomachs on the entertaining pleasures of this world, because we have chosen to find our satisfaction in the eternal treasure of his Word. I pray that God will awaken in your heart and mind a deep and abiding passion for the gospel as the grand revelation of God.” ~Platt pp38-40
“The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability. The American dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves, and we are drawn toward such thinking. But the gospel has different priorities. The gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'” ~Platt p46
“It is the way of Christ. Instead of asserting ourselves, we crucify ourselves. Instead of imagining all the things we can accomplish, we ask God to do what only he can accomplish. Yes, we work, we plan, we organize, and we create, but we do it all while we fast, while we pray, and while we constantly confess our need for the provision of God. Instead of dependence on ourselves, we express radical desperation for the power of his Spirit, and we trust that Jesus stands ready to give us everything we ask for so that we might make much of our Father in the world.
Think about it. Would you say that your life is marked right now by desperation for the Spirit of God? Would you say that the church you are a part of is characterized by this sense of desperation?
Why would we ever want to settle for Christianity according to our ability or settle for church according to our resources? The power of the one who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, and as a result we have no need to muster up our own might. Our great need is to fall before an almighty Father day and night and to plead for him to show his radical power in and through us, enabling us to accomplish for his glory what we could never imagine in our own strength. And when we do this, we will discover that we were created for a purpose much greater than ourselves, the kind of purpose that can only be accomplished in the power of his Spirit. ~Platt p60
Do you have this desperation for the Spirit of God? How do I know my desperation for the Spirit of God is enough?
I can tell you, my desperation will NEVER be desperate enough. My abandonment will NEVER be abandoning enough. To command me to do these things even in the context of the Gospel is still placing a law upon me I can never fulfill. Connect me to the Gospel. Connect my doing to the Gospel and that fruit will grow in my life because only my conforming into Christ’s image will be done.
“‘Abandon all, take up your cross and follow me.’ If in responding to this command our stress is primarily upon our own responsibility, we will first look within, at the quality and sincerity of our own faith and repentance, rather than without, at the vicarious life and death of Christ. ‘Gospel proclamation’ that leads Christians to think mainly about what they must do, rather than mainly about what Jesus has done as our substitute inclines the hearers to stray from gospel-centered missional living.
“The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has done it all–for us and in our place. Only as we believe and live in the reality of what he has done are we progressively freed to live truly missional and radically obedient lives in a broken world.
“As we grow in understanding the reality of who Jesus is for us, we are progressively freed from our personal and missional paralysis and empowered to turn outward for the gospel-good of others. The good news of who Jesus was and is for us as the God-man turns dread into joy and frees us from self-preoccupation to move outward in mission.”
All this to say, say these things; just say them in a different way–in a way in which the Gospel is my motivation not a command.