David Platt’s book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 52 weeks. Platt is the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama, about 1 hour east of my house. The congregation is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, but it’s no traditional Southern Baptist Church.
Over 750,000 copies of the book have been sold, and it’s having a significant influence in many churches, including my own. I started reading it a while back, but never finished (my own fault entirely) — but I know I need to. So I figure that by blogging through it, I’ll get finished.
Here’s the theme of the book (p. 3) —
You and I can 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.
Platt then cites the many places where Jesus intentionally preaches in a way that drives people away, such as —
(John 6:54-56 ESV) 54 “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
(Luk 9:57-62 ESV) 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Obviously, Jesus attended a different seminary from most preachers. This is not the way to win converts! Unless, of course, you only want deeply committed converts.
Ultimately, Jesus was calling them to abandon themselves. They were leaving certainty for uncertainty, safety for danger, self-preservation for self-denunciation. … Almost all of them would lose their lives because they responded to the invitation. (p. 12)
Platt ponders the state of the contemporary church and concludes —
We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves (p. 13).
Platt next points out that the gospel is a call to treasure. Over and over, Jesus promises “treasure in heaven” to those who follow him. The kingdom is a “treasure in a field.”
The cost of nondiscipleship 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 brings us to the crucial question for every professing or potential follower of Jesus: Do we really believe he is worth abandoning everything for? Do you and I really believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying, and so rewarding that we will leave all we have and all we own and all we are in order to find our fullness in him? Do you and I believe him enough to obey him and to follow him wherever he leads, even when the crowd in our culture — and maybe in our churches — turn the other way? (pp. 18-19).
You know, Platt puts his finger on one of the toughest questions for a church leader. Churches have budgets, building payments, salaries, and programs, and these require money. No one wants to be the preacher or eldership that runs off so many members that the church closes. We leaders think, what good is it to preach truth if the church closes its doors, good people are laid off, and the land is sold to build condos?
You see, it takes a lot of courage ask the church to actually follow Jesus, because the church just might say no. Of course, they’d never actually say no. Rather they’d just quietly decide to worship somewhere else — some place that carefully affirms what they already believe and how they already live.
(But, you know, I can’t think of any church where that’s actually happened. I know churches that have split or lost vast numbers of members over the instrument or other identity marker of our denominational heritage. But I don’t know any church that fell apart because the preacher preached a truer version of Jesus.)