“Initial” because I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it.
I don’t know where to begin, so I’m just going to start writing.
This book contains a radical message for the church in America. In Radical, David Platt shares how he is leading the church he pastors, his faith family as he refers to them, to obey Jesus’ commands to forsake the treasures of this world, store up treasure in Heaven, and live sacrificially for the glory of God. After all, EVERYTHING belongs to God, we are His in Christ…we have nothing to lose and everything to gain IF we follow Christ in radical obedience. As I read this book and reflected on my notes from Secret Church, I became…I’m not sure of which word to use…sad?…ashamed?…embarrassed?…that this book had to be written, that I needed its message spoken so boldly into my life. After all, we have Christ’s commands in His Word. We know what we’re supposed to be doing, but instead of doing those things, we’ve (I’ve) rationalized and justified our lifestyles to the point that we spend our resources for our comfort, lay up treasure here, and build bigger barns without batting an eyelash.
A little history
The Church at Brook Hills has been a trend-setting church in central Alabama for at least 12 years (I first heard of Brook Hills about 12 years ago, let me put it that way). At the time, the era of the mega-church and Rick Warren’s church-growth strategy were reaching their height in Alabama, and The Church at Brook Hills was our model. As churches in Tuscaloosa caught wind of the exponential growth (in people and buildings) at Brook Hills, many of them (my church included) attempted to pattern themselves after Brook Hills. All the cool kids loaded on the church van on Friday nights to attend Brook Hills’ Friday night worship. The music was “awesome” and the preaching was “relevant.” Some churches in Tuscaloosa started ditching “Discipleship Training” for small groups, church membership moved around a baseball diamond, and casual dress during worship was becoming the norm. We downsized choirs to worship teams/praise teams, purchased screens and projectors, computers and programs, and let the hymnals collect dust so we could sing, “Shout to the Lord” and “Better Is One Day.” We began building campaigns in order to accommodate all of the new people we were going to reach — an if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy. Churches began moving from “traditional” worship to “contemporary” worship. New churches sprang up with “at” in their names. And we all wanted to hear Rick Ousley, Brook Hills’ founding pastor, preach. He was in high demand for retreats and conferences and consulting.
And then things at Brook Hills were quiet for a while. Or maybe I was just too overwhelmed with my babies to care to keep up anymore. Rick Ousley stepped down because of health reasons; I had heard he had surgery for a brain aneurysm. Some time later, a friend informed me that they had hired a new pastor, one who was strong on teaching and discipleship.
Fast-forward to when some of our family members joined Brook Hills and declared, “As long as David Platt is there, that’s where we’ll be.” They drive close to an hour to attend church. Not too long ago they shared, “Did you know that more than a hundred families in our church are becoming foster families? Yeah, Birmingham Family Services doesn’t have a problem placing children with foster families anymore. Some families are totally changing their lives so they can adopt children from other countries.” “Did you hear that Brook Hills is sponsoring all of the Compassion ministries in India?” Huh? “Yeah, we had a budget surplus and saw that it would more than cover what Compassion International is doing in India.” As I listened, Isaiah 58 came to mind: “Your righteousness shall go before you…”
But Brook Hills isn’t just about social justice, it has become a teaching church. Never before was Brook Hills known for its solid teaching, but today they are making disciples in Birmingham and all over the world.
Brook Hills sounds like a completely different church from a few years ago. It is nothing short of amazing.
My point in all that is to say that The Church at Brook Hills is making waves, setting the course, among churches in Alabama again. Platt has only been there about four years and already that giant ship is turning around. It appears they’ve done a complete 180, setting a new trend for sacrifice. Like the example he uses in Radical, Brook Hills is forsaking the luxury liner and becoming a troop carrier.
Things look radically different on a luxury liner than they do on a troop carrier. The faces of soldiers preparing for battle and those of patrons enjoying their bonbons are radically different. The conservation of resources on a troop carrier contrasts sharply with the opulence that characterizes the luxury liner. And the pace at which the troop carrier moves is by necessity much faster than that of the luxury liner. After all, the troop carrier has an urgent task to accomplish; the luxury liner, on the other hand, is free to casually enjoy the trip.
The church, like the SS United States, has been designed for battle. The purpose of the church is to mobilize people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as troop carrier into the church as luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of peoples around the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world. This makes me wonder what would happen with 4.5 billion people going to hell in twenty-six thousand children dying every day of starvation and preventable diseases, and we decided it was time to move this ship into battle instead of sitting back on the pool deck while we wait for the staff to serve us more hors d’oeuvre.
Are we willing to obey the orders of Christ? Are we willing to be like him? Are we willing to risk our lives to go to great need and to great danger — whether it’s in the inner cities around us, the difficult neighbor across the street, the disease-ridden communities in Africa, or the hostile regions in the Middle East? Are we willing to fundamentally alter our understanding of Christianity from a luxury-liner approach that seeks more comforts in the world to a troop-carrier approach that forsakes comforts in the world to accomplish an eternally significant task and achieve an eternally satisfying reward?
Will the churches in Tuscaloosa follow their example today?
Whereas the patterns set by the Brook Hills of ten years ago could only be replicated if a church had vast sums of capital and a charismatic speaker, this radical experiment can be done by any church of any size. Yes, the ability to fully fund Compassion ministries in India takes a large amount of capital, but the gospel-centered and driven change at Brook Hills is not because they have the money or right speaker. I am convinced it’s a direct result of the faithful preaching of God’s word; this radical change is coming about because of the power of God’s Spirit to transform hearts through His Word.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter how many resources the church has. The church I lead could have all the man-made resources that one could imagine, but apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, such a church will do nothing of significance for the glory of God
In fact, I believe the opposite is true. The church I lead could have the least gifted people, the least talented people, the fewest leaders, and the least money, and this church under the power of the Holy Spirit could still shake the nations for his glory.
Platt’s not just preaching this message, he is on this journey of radical obedience to the commands of Jesus with his faith family. He isn’t standing off or above them, wagging his finger, “Now you need to forsake your worldly pleasures.” No, this shepherd is leading by example. “I want to be part of a people who are risking it all for Him,” he writes.
I do, too. Radical‘s indictment of the church in America and on my own professing-Jesus-is-Lord life is strong. Damning, really. There are only a few responses: YES, I’m ready, let’s do it, I’m turning away from the Christian spin on the American dream, what can I give, sell, and sacrifice for the glory of God? OR to set the book down and turn away sad because of my wealth and possessions.
I’m not turning away sad! But I did have to take a long look at my life. I rise early for Bible reading and prayer, sip my coffee and praise the Lord for another day in my life of ease; I pick which car I’m going to drive to church because I’m running a little late due to my long, hot shower; I drop $50 on lunch for my family (whether it’s at a restaurant or ingredients from the grocery store, it’s always about $50), I take a nap on bedding (frame, special mattress for the sake of my back, sheets, pillows, comforter, etc.) that costs, altogether, about $4,000; then I spend the evening over dinner, wine, and television entertainment. Most Christians I know would consider that a good Sabbath. (Well, except for the wine. Most Christians I know will condemn me for that one. Admit it — you gasped.)
Meanwhile, the poor man is outside my gate and he’s hungry.
“Regardless of what we say or sing or study on Sunday morning, rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God.”
“[W]e have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.”
“[I]f our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all.”
“Ultimately, I don’t want to miss eternal treasure because I settle for earthly trinkets. ‘Where your treasure is,’ Jesus says, ‘there your heart will be also.’ The way we use our money is a barometer of our present spiritual condition. Our neglect of the poor illustrates much about where our hearts lie. But even more than that, the way we use our money is an indicator of our eternal destination. The mark of Christ followers is that their hearts are in heaven and their treasures are spent there.”
“[W]e desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical. And in the process we need to examine whether we have misconstrued a proper response to the gospel and maybe even missed the primary reward of the gospel, which is God himself.”
“Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell…We are in debt to the nations.”
Obviously, I’ve taken some of those quotes out of their context; however, I needed the hard words more than the words of comfort that are also in the book.
I beg you to read this book (or check out the two sermon series buttons on my sidebar) and allow the gospel (Platt includes a strong, undiluted, not-so-good-feeling explanation of God’s gospel) to turn your life upside down, like it was always meant to.
Many thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah for a review copy. Click here to request a free copy of The Radical Question. Download and read Chapter 1 of Radical by clicking here.