Tag Archives: Crazy Love

Book Review: Radical, Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

***Update 4/16/2012*** I’d like to preempt this book review with one of the best sermons I’ve heard.  David Platt at T4G 2012 – Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions. 

What is radical faith?  Is there a prescriptive plan to follow?  Does “radical faith” assume something above true faith?  These are the questions that should be asked when reading just the title of David Platt’s book, Radical.  While the subtitle, “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” fits perfectly with what we’ve been studying this week in Consumerism, The Stumbling Block of a Generation and The Century of Self, the question arises of how does one go about “reclaiming” their faith from the American Dream?

In his book, David Platt, Pastor of an Alabama mega-church, attempts to challenge readers to “leave behind security, money, convenience, even family” for Christ.  While his goal is admirable and scriptural support abounds for this worldly separation, his methods of using personal experiences, guilt, and several extreme stories to stimulate this lifestyle change falls short.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a message that the churches in America need to hear, but in my opinion there is a more direct, perhaps even more biblical avenue to take.   

Platt’s approach begins with a comparison of his own church and his role as the “youngest megachurch pastor in history” with his experiences found in the underground churches of Asia.  Likewise, Platt asks if his own church model is something that Scripture supports, namely in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  While no doubt there are night and day differences between churches in America and those in countries hostile to the Gospel, it really isn’t a fair comparison.  No matter how hard someone tries they cannot replicate the persecution, hostility, and often times even brutal murders of Christians in other countries.  It simply isn’t a reality here, so the question for Platt, and subsequently other pastors is “How then do you reach your congregation given the distractions of materialism and consumerism that this country faces?”  This I believe is a question Platt wants to answer, but his approach of developing a “Secret Church” (p. 27) at his own church in an attempt to replicate his Asian experience falls short.  However, Platt’s method of stripping down church to nothing but the Gospel has its own merits. 

There are some strong points in the first 2-4 chapters that if expanded on could prove very beneficial to the American church, however Platt stops short of developing these ideas further.  Examples include:

  • “We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” p.7
  • “Fundamentally, the gospel is the revelation of who God is, who we are, and how we can be reconciled to Him.  Yet in the American dream, where self reigns as king (or queen), we have a dangerous tendency to misunderstand, minimize, and even manipulate the gospel in order to accommodate our assumption and desire.” P. 28
  • “We prefer to sit back, enjoy our clichés, and picture God as a Father who might help us, all the while ignoring God as a Judge who might damn us.” p. 29
  • “The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  Therefore follow these steps, and you can be saved.’  Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion,  you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life.  Therefore you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.’” p. 32
  • “So how do we respond to this gospel?  Suddenly contemporary Christianity sales pitches don’t seem adequate anymore.  Ask Jesus to come into your heart.  Invite Jesus to come into  your life.  Pray this prayer, sign this card, walk down this aisle, and accept Jesus as your personal Savior.  Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seems appropriate.” p. 37
  • “If you were to ask the average Christian…on Sunday morning to summarize the message of Christianity, you would most likely hear…’The message of Christianity is that God loves me.’…or ‘The message of Christianity is that God loves me enough to send His Son, Jesus, to die for me.’  …is it biblical?…God loves me…Me…Christianity’s object is me.  This is the version of Christianity that largely prevails in our culture. “ p. 70

While these points are certainly valid (and there are others, i.e. Chapter 7 presents strong reformed theological ideas, See J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God for a more thorough study), Platt could’ve used additional development of these ideas because each in its own way is symptomatic of the problems in today’s church.

But while these are symptoms, we must ask what then is the remedy?  This is where the fundamental flaw in Radical lies.  Platt’s focus shifts toward radical discipleship and overseas mission work, culminating in his 5 challenges over the next year for the reader: 1) Pray for the entire world. 2) Read through the entire Bible. 3) Sacrifice money for a specific purpose. 4) Spend time in another context. 5) Commitment to multiplying community (a.k.a. discipleship).  This book places a heavy, perhaps overemphasis on the Great Commission and it’s for that reason that this last challenge of discipleship should have been more developed.  In reading Radical it feels as though Platt makes a strong push toward discipleship, but never gives a clear presentation of what’s involved or how to do it (see other recommendations below).  This likely leaves readers questioning the “next step” after completing the 5 challenges and would have them wondering where do we go from here.

While these are important fundamentals in the life of the believer, they are more secondary in nature.  Here’s what I mean.  Any effort to convince people to live more for God and separate themselves from the world has to begin with their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38).  A list like what Platt builds up to and provides in the final chapter of Radical becomes nothing more than a moral checklist if the person’s heart, soul and mind is not completely surrendered to God.  This list is an external practice when what people really need is an internal exam.  This internal system check begins with knowing who God is.  This is why a balanced gospel presentation is so important.  Not only is it critical for a person to know the love of God and His grace and compassion, but to equally know the wrath of God to better understand His mercy and justice.  A person can only have a relationship with someone they know.  You cannot claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ if you do not know Him.  Just because you see a famous person on T.V. and may have knowledge of who they are does not mean you have a relationship with them. Jeremiah 9:24 says “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” 

Knowing who God is on a personal level results in a relationship with Him and a relationship with God has to coincide with a new relationship with sin.  A lack of discussion on sin is perhaps the weakest area of Radical.  It doesn’t matter how many times you can say you’ve read the Bible, how much money you give, or how much time you spend in a “another context”; the Bible calls believers to a life of holiness (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16).  A person’s relationship with God will always be hindered if they have not dealt with sin in their life (2 Timothy 2:20-21).  All the external activity of the “5 Radical challenges” becomes nothing more than a Pharisaic outward cleansing of the cup, while inside the cup is filthy (Matthew 23:25-26) unless sin is addressed.  Finally, people today need to know what it means to love and fear God and that stems from knowing who He is and it is the catalyst to a new relationship with sin (Proverbs 1:7, 8:13, 9:10, Romans 3:18, 1 John 2:1-17, 4:7-21).              

Overall the book is decent, with a few stretches to make a biblical passage fit what often feels like a social agenda (e.g. pg. 138 Matthew 19 and pg 164 Matthew 10), though he is firm to assert that the social agenda is powerless to save, he does state that those who ignore it are not truly saved themselves (pg. 115).  The subject Platt attempts to address in Radical is commendable and there are some strong points, however he falls short in his argument.  Platt probably accomplishes what he would least hope and that is to shift people from a life of licentiousness and pleasure through materialism to a life of legalism, lists and obligation, though maybe not to the extent that some feel Francis Chan did in his similar book Crazy Love.  It’s a fine line, one that believers must walk daily, but it begins not with a checklist and doing, but with knowing, loving, and fearing God and through that, working toward personal holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit.  With that ongoing process of sanctification, faith becomes not radical, but true and people are no longer motivated by guilt, but through a willingness to obey and serve their King.

I recommend reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God, John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin, and for a comprehensive look at biblical discipleship Marshall and Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine.

Book Review: Crazy Love

If you’ve spent any time on this blog then you’ve likely seen that among the various topics and passages discussed the centrality of the message is one geared toward awakening those “Christians” that are slumbering or merely coasting through life in their relationship with Christ. In fact, maybe this best describes your situation right now. Perhaps you aspire for spiritual growth, but try as you might in your own strength, you simply are not progressing. Author Alan Redpath provides the following analysis, “Full blessing in the Christian life is not bestowed except to eager, hungry people who press in to receive it.” So if the full blessing comes  to those who hunger to grow in their relationship with Christ, how then does one develop this hunger?

In his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, author Francis Chan asks, “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions?” His book provides answers to these questions and many more as Chan explores the depths of religious complacency in all of our lives and exposes us to thoughts about God, the Creator of the universe, who loves us with a “crazy, relentless, all-powerful love” that seeks to draw us ever closer into a relationship with His Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Throughout this book, Chan’s tone is more like a conversation with his readers than a textbook style lecture. His thoughts flow from one point to the next and through the extensive use of Biblical references, he succeeds in drawing readers to examine themselves on the inside to see if their Christian life would be better classified as “lukewarm” or “obsessed”. The book opens with a request to stop reading and proceed to his website www.crazylovebook.com where Chan directs the reader to view the first video of the awe-inspiring majesty of the Creator of the universe and just how immense and worthy of praise this creation is. The second video is a dynamic monologue that Chan delivers as he walks along the coastal cliffs of California on his way to enjoy the splendor of God and also surf a few waves (included below).

As the book unfolds the reader begins to get a glimpse of just who God is, why He loves us so much, and why anything less than a heartfelt, passionate, pursuing relationship with Him, simply will not do. Chapter 4 is perhaps the most penetrating as Chan details 18 characteristics that makeup the “Profile of the Lukewarm.” It’s here where he makes a bold assertion based on the Parable of the Sower that Jesus teaches in Matthew 13, by saying, “Do not assume you are good soil.” Chan argues that, “most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns. Thorns are anything that distracts us from God.” In concluding this bold approach to establish the “lukewarm” Christian, Chan provides the following conviction, “lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God.” So disgusting in fact that Jesus makes reference to the lukewarm in Revelation 3:16 by literally stating He will spit, or more accurately, vomit, them out of His mouth.

In the chapters that follow, Chan speaks of the love of God and how we are to let God do the work in us and make the changes in our heart. He states that running toward Christ, pursuing, and loving Him is much less exhausting than running from guilt and fear of sin and in fact it is liberating because it frees us up “serve, love, and give thanks” to Him. This message of loving God, fully surrendering to Him, and allowing Christ to work in our hearts are the marks of genuine intimacy that all lead up to perhaps the boldest chapter of Crazy Love, chapter 8, “Profile of the Obsessed”, which includes 14 characteristics that contrast those given earlier for the “Lukewarm.” In concluding his book, Francis Chan presents examples of real, everyday Christians that have lived their life in complete surrender to God, obsessed in their relationship with the One that pursues us relentlessly with a Crazy Love. In this final chapter, Chan supplies 2 quotation gems worth noting, “It is individual people living Spirit-filled lives that will change the church” and “The world needs Christians who don’t tolerate the complacency of their own lives.”

Crazy Love is a passion-filled message to the “lukewarm” church that has become so pervasive in America today. It’s message is one of urgency that should not only awaken those that are slumbering, but should invigorate those who are already living passionately for Christ to examine their relationships with friends, family, and fellow churchgoers to help them encounter the love of God. Chan closes his book with a Q&A section where he makes the following statement, “The idea of Crazy Love has to do with our relationship with God. All my life I’ve heard people say, “God loves you.” It’s probably the most insane statement you could make to say that the eternal Creator of this universe is in love with me. There is a response that ought to take place in believers, a crazy reaction to that love. Do you really understand what God has done for you? If so, why is your response so lukewarm?”