2011 GREENBEAN BLOG REVIEW #2: THE PLATT-I-TUDE BOOK

My second most viewed blog of this year was a book review of David Platt’s “Radical.”  I read a lot, and at one time I considered making this blog a book review site.  I am certain the hits I got on this review are due solely to the popularity of Platt’s book.  However, there are other books I would recommend way ahead of Platts.  You can click here, here, and here to find other reviews.  Oooohhh, and don’t forget about that other one (click here).

 

RADICAL:  A REVIEW OF DAVID PLATT’S BOOK

I can usually get one whole book read on the to-and-from legs of a flight to the other side of the Rocky Mountains.  This particular trip I read David Platt’s Radical.  While I was lining up at the gate, waiting for my boarding group, I took his book out of my satchel and tucked it under my arm.  That way I could throw my satchel in the overhead and keep the book with me.  While I stood there, three different people came up to me and said, “I see you’re reading Radical.  It’s a good book.”  On the actual flight I saw another woman reading Radical.  I have not seen that with a Christian book since Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  I expect it with Twilight garbage or Harry Potter escapism, but not Christian nonfiction.  So since everyone seems to be reading Platt, I thought I would throw in my observations about his book.

  • The Good Stuff:  The great thing about Radical is that the Good stuff is very, very good.  What Platt is able to do, and he is to be greatly commended for this, is speak in an evangelical language about social responsibility.  He quotes startling and sobering statistics about poverty, illness, social injustice, and oppression all over the world and in the United States and then he calls out Christ followers as being responsible for fixing the problem.  That is what he means by his use of the word radical.  It will take a radical obedience to Jesus’ concern for the world (note–the world is in scope here, as the book is primarily about global missions) in order to reverse the disgusting abuses of humanity.  Be warned, his words will make you squirm—or, as I did, write in the margins in red ink . . . “Ouch!”
  • The Bad Stuff:  There is very little in Radical that could be labeled “Bad,” but I do have a couple of things against Platt.  First, there are some places in the book where he tends to be standing up and shouting, “Look how great me and my church are.  You are a loser because you are not us.”  I kept expecting for one of his illustrative stories to begin, “One young couple in our church talked North Korea into giving up all its nuclear weapon plans.”  Second, and this is closely related to the first, Platt writes from a sense of “megachurch guilt,” but not all churches in North America are megachurches.  He probably is so insulated that he doesn’t realize how off-putting it is to read of his 50 million dollar building programs or of all the wealthy business people in his church.  Sure, I am glad they are doing great things for God, but to those of us in regular churches not in the deep southeast, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
  • The Arguing stuff:  You knew this was coming right?  I mean, I’ve never read a book I didn’t argue with.  At times Platt takes a very strong Calvinistic leaning, particularly in the opening chapters.  Indeed, his Calvinism is so strong that it almost detracts from the overall point he is making in the book—that point being each person’s responsibility for substituting the American way of life for the gospel way of life.  I wonder if he sees the irony.  I could also argue with Platt about the reality of how best to help the poor around the world.  His arguments for how to help are more emotional than perhaps, effective.  One more thing on the arguing scale; and it might not pertain, but in reading the book I admire David Platt, but I do not know if I would like him.  I bet he is a very hard person to get along with.

All in all, I highly recommend Radical as a read that will challenge a person to be a better Christ-follower.  If that is your goal, then read Radical.  If you are sensitive and don’t take someone meddling into your life very well, then by all means, do not read Radical.

RADICAL: A REVIEW OF DAVID PLATT’S BOOK

I can usually get one whole book read on the to-and-from legs of a flight to the other side of the Rocky Mountains.  This particular trip I read David Platt’s Radical.  While I was lining up at the gate, waiting for my boarding group, I took his book out of my satchel and tucked it under my arm.  That way I could throw my satchel in the overhead and keep the book with me.  While I stood there, three different people came up to me and said, “I see you’re reading Radical.  It’s a good book.”  On the actual flight I saw another woman reading Radical.  I have not seen that with a Christian book since Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  I expect it with Twilight garbage or Harry Potter escapism, but not Christian nonfiction.  So since everyone seems to be reading Platt, I thought I would throw in my observations about his book.

  • The Good Stuff:  The great thing about Radical is that the Good stuff is very, very good.  What Platt is able to do, and he is to be greatly commended for this, is speak in an evangelical language about social responsibility.  He quotes startling and sobering statistics about poverty, illness, social injustice, and oppression all over the world and in the United States and then he calls out Christ followers as being responsible for fixing the problem.  That is what he means by his use of the word radical.  It will take a radical obedience to Jesus’ concern for the world (note–the world is in scope here, as the book is primarily about global missions) in order to reverse the disgusting abuses of humanity.  Be warned, his words will make you squirm—or, as I did, write in the margins in red ink . . . “Ouch!”
  • The Bad Stuff:  There is very little in Radical that could be labeled “Bad,” but I do have a couple of things against Platt.  First, there are some places in the book where he tends to be standing up and shouting, “Look how great me and my church are.  You are a loser because you are not us.”  I kept expecting for one of his illustrative stories to begin, “One young couple in our church talked North Korea into giving up all its nuclear weapon plans.”  Second, and this is closely related to the first, Platt writes from a sense of “megachurch guilt,” but not all churches in North America are megachurches.  He probably is so insulated that he doesn’t realize how off-putting it is to read of his 50 million dollar building programs or of all the wealthy business people in his church.  Sure, I am glad they are doing great things for God, but to those of us in regular churches not in the deep southeast, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
  • The Arguing stuff:  You knew this was coming right?  I mean, I’ve never read a book I didn’t argue with.  At times Platt takes a very strong Calvinistic leaning, particularly in the opening chapters.  Indeed, his Calvinism is so strong that it almost detracts from the overall point he is making in the book—that point being each person’s responsibility for substituting the American way of life for the gospel way of life.  I wonder if he sees the irony.  I could also argue with Platt about the reality of how best to help the poor around the world.  His arguments for how to help are more emotional than perhaps, effective.  One more thing on the arguing scale; and it might not pertain, but in reading the book I admire David Platt, but I do not know if I would like him.  I bet he is a very hard person to get along with.

All in all, I highly recommend Radical as a read that will challenge a person to be a better Christ-follower.  If that is your goal, then read Radical.  If you are sensitive and don’t take someone meddling into your life very well, then by all means, do not read Radical.

BOOK REVIEW: A LOVER’S QUARREL WITH THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH

Earlier this week I tweeted (yeah, I Twitter; @jamiedgreening) that I was reading the book A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church by Warren Cole Smith.   Almost immediately a pastor friend of mine asked me to write a review of it when I was finished.

Smith’s premise can best be summarized from a brief sentence near the end of book.  He writes:

In fact, it is unfortunate that perhaps the most apt metaphor for the megachurch’s relationship to the body of Christ is that of the cancerous tumor; as it grows, it kills the body. (p. 216).

 

This one sentence encapsulates the gist of Smith’s complaint.  He has come to believe that megachurches and the people who lead them are doing great harm to the overall church in the United States.  I thought it would be impossible to find someone who was more cynical of the church-growth movement than I am, but I was wrong.  The deeper I got into the book I decided it should have been titled Why I Hate Megachurches.  Smith is a reporter, not a pastor or theologian and he goes at his work with the kind of fervor that an investigative journalist might go after a story about faulty car seats for infants or tainted milk in school cafeterias.  One gets the feeling that a certain glee at the “Aha, I got you,” came over his face as he put the book together. 

I have to admit I like his style.  He does not hold back names or direct accusations.  He goes after all the big named people:  Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren.  In fact, he accuses Rick Warren of downright lying and Billy Graham of heresy in salvation theology.  Smith even goes after dead people, devoting a large amount of print to attacks on Finney.  The best parts of his book are when he is outlying the theological weakness of most of Protestantism right now and how quickly we buy into faddish things.

The book is not for the squeamish.  Smith very capability surveys broad scopes of history, theology, and business.  In fact, the “Christian-industrial complex” is a favorite topic of his.  Perhaps his best chapter covers the Christian music industry and how it has taken something that is free, worship, and added a price tag to it.  I liked that chapter.

The thing about Warren Smith is that he is interesting.  Whether or not you agree with his premises or his complaints his writing is engaging.  Sometimes I agreed with him, and sometimes I wanted to immediately send him an email in refutation.  I particularly felt this way over his continued insistence that a Calvinist approach is the only real sustainable theological way of doing church.  I am a non-Calvinist yet I still agree with much of what he says.  Not all, but much.  However, he kept me engaged and that really is all I ask of writer.  It is so boring to just agree with everything.

The book was written in 2008, which means it is a little dated.  However, not much has changed in the Evangelical world since he wrote.  However, much of what he laments are already being addressed by myriad people.  For example, much of his sentiment is captured in Eugene Peterson’s recent memoir The Pastor.  Many of us have begun to get the feeling and sense that the way we’ve been doing church for the past 50 years has failed.  The system is broken.  We do not have more Christians than we used to have and the a majority of those following Christ today are not as theologically, biblically and morally sound as believers were in the past.  Smith’s tone and sensibility resonate with me.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to look critically at the state of Evangelicalism right now.