Note: This is the first in a series of book reviews we’ll be posting over the next two weeks.
Imagine a Christian book that forcefully made the following points. How do you think it would sell?
- The Gospel is diametrically opposed to some aspects of the American Dream we cherish most.
- Consumerism is a blind spot for contemporary Christians just like slavery was for Southern white Christians in the early 19th century.
- Genuine discipleship means not just tithing, but carefully choosing a modest lifestyle and giving away the rest, regardless of income.
- Followers of Jesus are called to give not just “what can we spare” but “what will it take” to evangelize the world and end the most egregious forms of poverty.
I happened on David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream in the airport recently. Normally I religiously avoid Christian bestsellers, but in this case I read all of chapter 6 (“How Much is Enough: American Wealth in a World of Poverty”) while I stood in the airport bookstore. I almost missed my plane. By the time I was done, I was actually weeping (a little) in public—an absolutely unprecedented, and rather embarrassing display of emotion for me.
Why was I so moved by this book? I think because it gave me hope. You see, living simply and giving generously used to be standard issue Christian ethics. But over the last 200 years, the massive tidal wave of consumerism, upward mobility and the American Dream has totally overwhelmed the church, leaving only a tiny remnant to protest. There have been occasional attempts to push back the tide, but since the Reagan Revolution the vast majority of evangelicals have been very loud about abortion and homosexuality and very silent about wealth and poverty.
But all of a sudden Platt, a stereotypically slick, charismatic megachurch pastor is saying things like this:
What is the difference between someone who willfully indulges in sexual pleasures while ignoring the Bible on moral purity and someone who willfully indulges in the selfish pursuit of more and more material possessions while ignoring the Bible on caring for the poor? The difference is that one involves a social taboo in the church and the other involves the social norm in the church. . . .
Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us? Or are we looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do?
These are hard things to hear, but Platt offers them without legalistic self-righteousness and with an empowering tone of grace. If you’re looking for a 20-page introduction to genuine economic discipleship, I’d recommend turning straight to chapter six of Radical. It’s the best bestseller I’ve read in a long time.
What do you think? Is Radical‘s success a sign that things are changing for evangelicals?