My initial thoughts after reading Radical

“Initial” because I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it.

Taking back your faith from the American Dream
by David Platt

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.


14 Comments on “My initial thoughts after reading Radical

  1. I just skimmed through so it wouldn’t ruin the book for me. I’m halfway. I’m embarrassed myself. I’m ready to have a yard sale to start my adoption fun or give the money to some worthy Christian cause. But one thing I disagree with is the idea that hymnbooks are “original.” They didn’t have hymnbooks back in the day. I think most hymns are from the 1800s. Songs are songs as long as they are Biblical. But all the music and performances is definitely not necessary.


  2. Leslie, I’m curious what (if any?) changes you have decided to make after reading this?
    I haven’t read it yet, but it should be here any day. I’m looking forward to it.


    • Several months ago, one of our pastors began what he is calling the Matthew 25 Initiative, so there are things I’ve been doing as a result of his leadership in that area (feeding the homeless and hungry, caring for abused women and children). But I’m even more excited, feeling less apprehension, about doing those things after reading this book (I tend to “hide” in the kitchen and I shouldn’t do that). Last year, I took steps to be more involved with Compassion International. Those things are not requiring me to give sacrificially, though; I’m not giving til it hurts, I’m not really stepping into another context, and that’s where I’m feeling most challenged. Platt offers five commitments at the end of Radical. I’m committing to do them for the next year, but I don’t know yet exactly how/what God will put together for me to do. I’ll keep you posted!


  3. I can’t believe Platt stole my church-as-luxury-liner bit :).

    Mark and I are talking about getting the Student Life material that goes along with the book for the youth.

    Thanks for the review.


  4. That’s great, Leslie. I think all of those things are so important. Sometimes I get really overwhelmed by all the things I could be doing. I try to add too many things to my plate, only to discover I end up doing nothing well. I recently quit doing some ministry things that I really enjoyed because it was taking away from things at home. I really think my main ministry is at home, especially during this stage with young kids. Not to say that any of these other things is bad in anyway. Just sharing some random thoughts. All of that to say, I’m looking forward to reading the book and more of your thoughts. Thanks. 🙂


    • I totally agree with you about our main ministry being to our husbands and children. Those things I mentioned have not taken much of my time away from our home. Compassion hasn’t taken me away from home (yet). Feeding the hungry happens before my children get out of bed, and the girls went with me to minister to the women and children. What I’m being forced to consider is what I’m teaching them by making their lives as comfortable as possible….that’s for another post, though. 🙂


      • I knew you would have thought all of that through. I appreciate you so much, Leslie. Thanks for always sharing what God is teaching you.


  5. Though I clicked over looking for a LOST recap, this is much, much, MUCH better! 🙂 I’m nearly finished reading “Radical” myself–for the first time because I’ve no doubt it’s a book I will immediately re-read. Its message I need to hear AND heed. Great (non-LOST) recap!


  6. Now, I am REALLY interesting in reading this.

    I loved what you said about this not taking you away from your first priority being your family. That’s where I’m trying to work it into our family life however slowly. With still having a baby we can’t go to the food bank etc but I can alone which is key. What ARE we teaching our kids?

    God has been stirring my heart about the idol of “ease”. Ease in my circumstances, financial world, food etc. We live with an expectation that our life should be easy and comfy. We get almost offended when we suffer (which to most of the worlds standard isn’t really suffering). Like ease is a right not a gift to be used for glory.

    Looking forward to more on this and am ordering the book.

    And just for the record….I’d be having a glass of wine with you ;o)


  7. Excellent post, Leslie! By the way, we enjoy our red wine in the evening too.


  8. This review reminded me of Pipers book, “Don’t Waste Your Life” and a book I read in college, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”. We have been blessed with so much. I often feel overwhelmed though on where to start giving. The church we go to actually has quite a number of families that are really struggling financially and wondereing where their next weeks food will come from. Amy was asking me last week why we give a basket of produce out so regularly to a certain family. It was a good opportunity to talk to her about this issue. This is an area where I’ve felt convicted to act on for some time (since early college). Thanks for sharing the review. It looks like it would be another good one to read. On a side note, I’m curious if he mentions anything about women who are moms. All the books I’ve read on the subject are written by men and seem to address people who are not already taking care of children. I struggle in knowing how to balance that out. Or maybe I’ve boughten into the American idea of safety and “perfection” for my kids as well.


  9. I love your review, Leslie. I am a member at Brook Hills and was during the earlier years of Ousley. I grew up in the Baptist church ministry so I am no stranger to the evolution of the image of church that we have created for ourselves that has created an even larger divide among church goers and non-church goers; all the while, allowing no distinction in respect to divorce, worldly abuses, etc. I am not saying that all followers of Christ have lived a lie until now, but we have all fallen short of God’s commandments and Christ’s simple and clear message has been coated with layers and layers of our own spin on the gospel. I am also not saying that all churches have dropped the ball either. However, we have allowed pop culture to dictate the direction of the church and the acceptance of people (in respect to reaching the masses) has been clouded with acceptance of the very thing that God has warned us about throughout the Old Testament church and the New Testament Church…idols in the form of anything from money to appearances. The key here now is that this is not a trend that is short lived like a fashion statement. It is a movement that we can only pray will permeate through the Bible belt and all of America. Here is a thought…if one church among thousands can take India with one year’s budget surplus, just think what would be done if the entire American church grasped this and acted. All we have to do is abide. Through our obedience, God gets all the glory and lives are saved in the process.

    As for Platt, he is a true pastor/leader/teacher in my opinion and his passion is infectious. My prayer is that his humble leadership is modeled in other churches here and around the world in addition to the great things already being done as in your church. Even though Brook Hills was mentioned much in your review, I know that Platt would state that the audience is “missing the point” if they were to flock to TCABH. This would be quite the unpopular position among pastors of many churches, but the goal is the take to gospel outside the walls of our churches instead of boxing it in for ourselves.

    Thank you, again.


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