Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

By David Platt, Multnomah Books, 2010.

Reviewed by Dr. Paul Johnson, Assistant Professor of Missions

Author David Platt issues a bold challenge to Christians: embrace the radical faith Christ calls believers to pursue, not just a life based on the American dream. Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, asserts that the American dream mindset is prevalent in many churches today, noting how success is measured by “bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings.” In comparison to the teaching of the gospels, he observes, “American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical, but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”  He invites readers to journey with him, and discover satisfaction in life and success in the church not in some version of the American dream, but in radical abandonment to the Person and teaching of Jesus.

To describe the “American dream,” Platt quotes James Truslow Adams, who coined the phrase in 1931, “A dream … in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are.” Platt contends that the American dream contains a “dangerous assumption” that leads the undiscerning believer to pursue a “deadly goal.” The assumption is that meaning in life revolves around what a self-sufficient individual can achieve by trusting in his or her own ability and effort. The fatal goal is that believers will pursue the American dream and live to achieve their desires through their own efforts, attributing whatever is gained to their own glory. Platt states the goal of the American dream, therefore, “… is to make much of ourselves.” He claims the American dream and a life of obedience to Christ are ultimately antithetical because the goal of the Christian life is to make much of God.

Platt provides an important discussion on the nature of salvation. He describes how it is often presented as a one-time decision to receive forgiveness and the assurance of an eternity in heaven. He argues that believers are not saved just to go to heaven, but to radically abandon everything else to know and serve Christ and His purposes. He describes how God blesses people with His abundant grace so His glory is known and He is worshipped by all peoples. When we are deceived into believing that Jesus just died for us personally, Platt says we “disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God.”  The message “God loves me enough to send his son Jesus, to die for me” is incomplete. Platt claims biblical Christianity does not make us the objects or the end of our own faith, but that God and His glory is the end of our salvation.

The author describes how this radical faith begins with a proper understanding of what it means to be a disciple. He explains that genuine, committed, self-sacrificing followers of Christ are made through an intentional, slow, life-transforming process. It develops through the community of believers who love each other and share life together. Platt asserts that the Christian version of the American dream “disinfects” believers from the disciple-making plan by isolating them from others, and teaching them that the goal of life is to be good. He contends that teaching Christians to grow as Christ’s disciples involves propelling them into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others. Success is gauged not by buildings and programs, but by those engaged in the world to make more disciples.

According to Platt, the gospel and the lordship of Christ should radically transform the way believers understand and use their wealth. He describes how affluence and materialism can create a blind spot for many of us. He says there is reason to question the salvation of a person whose life does not reflect radical compassion for the poor. He cites examples from saints in the past, as well as from several in his own congregation, who sacrificially gave of their resources—helping children through foster care, and investing resources in projects around the world to aid the poor and hurting. The goal is not simply to meet a temporary need, but to exalt the glory of Christ and express the gospel through bold generosity.

Platt invites readers to participate in “The Radical Experiment,” to “see if radical obedience to the commands of Christ is more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more gratifying than the American dream.”  He challenges believers to make five commitments for an entire year:  1)Pray for the whole world, that God’s purpose would be accomplished; 2)Read through the Bible; 3)Sacrifice money for a specific purpose; 4)Spend time in another context (culture); 5)Be committed to a multiplying Christian community. The author maintains that through this process, a life of obedience and discipleship will develop, founded on abandonment to Christ rather than the American dream.

Platt challenges believers to follow Jesus for the sake of the world. He calls us to live the life we were saved to live, and discover our destiny in unwavering obedience. Anyone who desires to make an impact for the Lord will be challenged and blessed by the message of Radical.

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