Book Review: Radical by David Platt

Rating: 2 stars

It is always difficult to critique a book that deals with Christian compassion. 

This is especially true when it comes to one that that has been so well received as Radical, by David Platt. This book is also a New York Times bestseller, and some might consider it bad form to criticize that rare Christian book that reaches this landmark. 

But for Christians, no book short of the Bible should be beyond criticism. And not to belabor the point, no one is saying that Christians should not show compassion. The only question is, does Platt present all of the relevant biblical data on the subject?

Before I answer that, let me first commend Platt. His plea for American Christians to get out of their generally superficial spirituality (built around a “nice, middle-class, American Jesus”), is much needed. This book also exposes the shallowness of worship and “programs” that is prevalent in so many churches, and Platt helps his readers to realize that Christian living involves both service and suffering.   

Platt also reminds us that there are millions overseas who suffer from oppression and poverty. He encourages readers to serve the destitute, both here and abroad.

While there is much to like, however, I must give a negative answer to my earlier question. Sadly, Radical suffers from four major problems.

First, while Platt does use much Scripture, he is often guilty of eisegesis (reading his own thoughts into the text rather than letting the text speak for itself). For instance, he quotes Christ’s statement to “sell all that you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me.” 

But was Jesus really calling all believers to do this, as is implied? Or, was Christ challenging the rich young ruler on his claim that he perfectly kept God’s Law, as this passage is commonly interpreted? This possibility is not considered. 

Second, in a book that so emphasizes helping the poor, one would expect exegesis on texts like 1 Timothy 5 and Galatians 6:10 (which emphasize that charity begins in the local church, and that diaconal assistance must meet certain qualifications). There is none.

Third, the role of the church is largely ignored. While Platt is right to be concerned about evangelism and serving the less fortunate, the Bible offers specifics on how to do this–most especially through the diaconal ministry and ordained ministers and evangelists. But Radical never addresses these vital functions of churches. Rather, it is simply assumed that each Christian can just decide for themselves to be evangelists or to perform works of mercy without any elder oversight, which is essential (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Hebrews 13:17).

Fourth, there is much use of guilt. At one point, Platt makes Christians feel guilty for worshiping while so many poor people are left outside; never mind, apparently, that worship is a divine command. One is also left with the conclusion that true service only comes when one either moves overseas or goes to work in a soup kitchen. Surely God will call some to these mercy ministries, and yes, most Christians should serve more than they do. But why can’t they also serve through their chosen vocations, and in their local churches? 

In closing, no one can or should accuse David Platt of not caring. His level of compassion is not at issue, and frankly, Christians today would do well to ask the Lord to give them caring and serving hearts. Rather, the issue is, does he rightly divide the word of truth on the topics of compassion and evangelism? Sadly, he does not do so nearly as well as he ought to.

Simply stated, while Radical makes the case *that* we should do these things, it falls short in telling the Christian *how* to do them.

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