Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Radical by David Platt Part II

In the course of examining the first couple chapters of the Book Radical by David Platt, I’ve realized that more needs to be touched upon.  This is part 2 of a multipart analysis of this book.

I should note that, so far, through 5 chapters I’ve not read anything I believe to be heretical or unorthodox.  While I strongly disagree with the hyper-evangelical bent of the book and the pharisaical creation of a new commandment (and no we’re not talking about John’s admonition to love one another) to evangelize the world – I find that the sentiments of Pastor Platt fall relatively in line with what most churches in America today believe regardless of whether they practice the same.  However, I believe most churches in America today to be wrong on this point.

On page 58, Pastor Platt makes reference to a so called Great Commission.  Wherein does this Great Commission lie?  Matthew 28:16-20 is a commission given by Jesus to eleven disciples – those who would be called Apostles because of this very commission.  Mark 16:14-20 is of doubtful authority, but even if admitted is again directed only to the eleven.  Luke 24:44-49 contains an allusion to a commission which admits easily an interpretation of a specific commission to the eleven, as only the eleven were present.  Acts 1:4-8 contains a direct commission to the eleven as well.  There is no general commission to other believers here, and there were certainly more than the eleven, as can be seen by the upper room happenings a few weeks later.  Additionally, you have the problem that no women were ever present for the so-called great commission.  John 20:19-22 also notes that only the Apostles were present for the commission.  There were clearly other believers.  Why does Jesus limit his commission to the Apostles?

I believe the answer is found in Paul’s testimony.  In Romans 1 Paul sets himself up as an Apostle – one called by God personally.  There were already 11 (or 12) Apostles throughout the church and certainly some objection would have been made had the commission given to Paul been a general commission applicable to all.  However, I don’t believe that to have been the understanding of either the other eleven Apostles or the general Christian community.  That Paul was called by God to be a witness – called personally by Christ – (Galations 1:1) not as a result of his calling by the Holy Spirit through the elders of the church at Antioch – was proof sufficient for the first century believers and the other eleven Apostles.  Indeed, the word Apostle means one called by God.  While we are all in a sense called by God, the twelve were specifically called (commissioned) by God for the purpose of taking the Gospel to all nations.  While we have the privilege of continuing that endeavor, it is not our commission to seize upon.

I argue that it is this commission specifically that makes the Apostles the Apostles.  If everyone is commissioned, then everyone is an apostle.  The fact that we call it a “commission” is instructive.  A commission is simply put; the authority to perform a task or certain duties. The task is to take the Gospel to the ends of the world; the duty is to be a witness for Jesus.  This task and duty was a grave and serious duty which commanded the submission of the church general. 

The idea that the commission was great is not found prior to the 17th century in Christian writings.  Common usage of the term was not ubiquitous until the 20th century.  I can find no use of the term in the writings of Luther, Calvin, Edwards et al.  The first usage of the term that I can find is in the 19th century among the contemporaries and likes of Charles Finney.  Indeed, John Calvin seems to note in his commentary that the commission was limited to the original eleven Apostles as it was given directly to them.

This is not to say that a non-great commission person doesn’t believe in missions.  John Calvin and others certainly believed in, participated in, and devoted their lives to evangelism and missions.  The difference is the purpose of the Christian.  It’s subtle I grant, but important.  If I live my life to be pure and holy unto God, loving my brother whom I see and with an eye to the perfection of my faith, I will certainly evangelize and pronounce the gospel.  However, the same cannot be said in reverse.  If I live my life to evangelize, it does not follow that I will focus my will and heart towards obeying God in all matters of heart and body and spirit and mind.  It does not follow that I will love my brother whom I see – rather, if my primary goal is missions, I will instead love the stranger over the brother – the heathen over the Church. 

The great fallacy and error of hyper-evangelism is not that it seeks to evangelize the world with the Gospel of Jesus, but that it attempts to supplant the purpose of the Church – to glorify the Father and Son with another purpose – to convert the world.  Does evangelism glorify God?  Certainly it almost always glorifies God.  But that is not the only means of glorifying God, and if an unrepentant man convinces his soul that it need not concern itself with the mortification (killing) of sin in his heart because his principal goal is the ministry of evangelism then that man cannot be said to glorify God even while evangelizing. 

Pastor Platt’s devotion to missionary work above sanctification can be shown in the following quotes:

From page 16: “While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God”

From page 17: “Consider the cost when Christians ignore Jesus’ commands to sell their possessions and give to the poor”

“The cost of believers not taking Jesus seriously is vast for those who don’t know Christ and devastating for those who are starving and suffering around the world”

From page 18: “For the sake of more than a billion people today who have yet to even hear the gospel, I want to risk it all. For the sake of twenty-six thousand children who will die today of starvation or a preventable disease, I want to risk it all”

From page 21: “We will discover that our meaning is found in community and our life is found in giving ourselves for the sake of others in the church, among the lost, and among the poor”

From page 49: “Meanwhile, Jesus commands us to go. He has created each of us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and I propose that anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity”

From page 52: “It’s a foundational truth: God creates, blesses, and saves each of us for a radically global purpose”

From page 54: “But where in the Bible is missions ever identified as an optional program in the church? We have just seen that we were all created by God, saved from our sins, and blessed by God to make his glory known in all the world”

“In this way we choose to send off other people to carry out the global purpose of Christianity while the rest of us sit back because we’re “just not called to that”

“[ ] each follower of Christ in the New Testament, regardless of his or her calling, was intended to take up the mantle of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth. That’s the reason why he gave each of them his Spirit and why he gave them all the same plan: make disciples of all nations”

From page 55: “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell”

“But what if we don’t need to sit back and wait for a call to foreign missions? What if the very reason we have breath is because we have been saved for a global mission? And what if anything less than passionate involvement in global mission is actually selling God short by frustrating the very purpose for which he created us”

From page 56: “When we say we have a heart for the city we live in, we confess that we have less than 1 percent of God’s heart”

“In all this missions talk, you may begin to think, Well, surely you’re not suggesting that we’re all supposed to move overseas. That is certainly not what I’m suggesting (though I’m not completely ruling it out)”

“Meanwhile, flying right in the face of this idea is Scripture’s claim that regardless of where we live—here or overseas—our hearts should be consumed with making the glory of God known in all nations”

“[ ] from cover to cover the Bible teaches that all the church—not just select individuals, but all the church—is created to reflect all the glory of God to all the world. Because every single man, woman, and child in the church I pastor is intended to impact nations [ …] there is a God-designed way for us to live our lives here, and do church here, for the sake of people around the world who don’t know Christ”

I could go on and on throughout this book, but I believe the number of quotes above makes it indisputable that Pastor Platt believes the principal purpose of man is to glorify God through the act of evangelism.  One wonders what the purpose of man will be after Revelations 22.  Indeed, the purpose of the church and everything the church does is for the sake of the unsaved – never mind glorifying Jesus or ministering to Jesus (see “to the extent that you’ve done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me”).  Pastor Platt would convict us that if we don’t subscribe whole-heartedly to his understanding of missions, we’re practicing an unbiblical Christianity – more that if we’re not radically committed to world missions we’re practicing an unbiblical Christianity.

Really Pastor Platt?  Really?  If I’m saved while fighting drug addiction, I should set aside that fight against the flesh and take up missions?  If I’m saved while having several immediate family members still unsaved, I should put foreign missions above my own family and immediate sphere of influence?  If I’m saved, I should put foreign missions above personal sanctification and holiness?  Really Pastor Platt?  You really have a large church of people redeemed from the bondage of sin who believe this too?

On page 18 Pastor Platt equates the needs of a spiritually dead person with a child suffering from starvation or a preventable disease.  This is the hidden error that most grieves my heart.  While we can all have a heart for suffering, it is Christianity alone that provides enough glimpse at the holiness of God wherein we find the alarm over a person’s bondage to sin and eternal damnation to so outweigh the present needs of our bodies that we turn away from everything to gain that propitiation that alone can buy peace between us and God.  Comparing a lost soul to starvation and disease is like comparing a single grass hopper to a swarm of deadly locusts.  One can harm a little – the other kills you.  Starvation and disease can kill your body, but sin kills you eternally.

Think about that Pastor Platt and all those who would put social needs on the same par as spiritual needs.  If I feed someone with food today, I’ve met a temporal needs that they will forget forever after 30 seconds in hell.  In fact, if I feed them today and tomorrow and for the rest of their lives, if I give them money for college, if I teach them a foreign language, if I introduce them to the spouse of their dreams, if I bless them with 110 years of productive happy life – all of that will be forgotten eternally within the first 30 seconds of hell.

But let us go further.  Let me turn it on myself.  If I spend my life feeding the poor, and evangelizing the lost and spend not enough time on personal sanctification and holiness – if I enter heaven with less personal holiness because I was out evangelizing – I will regret it for eternity!  For no one will ever be in heaven because I was out evangelizing.  God saves by His will, not mine.  No trick of my mind or intellect can grant someone faith.  I will certainly have the honor and treasure left for doing the will of God, but even that is in peril if I didn’t do it for the right reason.  If I evangelize because I imagine it’s my personal calling when it isn’t..  if I evangelize because I deceive myself into thinking I can change the eternal destiny of someone.. If I evangelize for any other reason than to give glory to God, that reward is lost eternally.

Our works will be tried by fire and many good works built of straw, hay, stubble and sticks will be consumed.  The man who is committed whole heartedly to eradicating sin from his heart brings immensely more glory to God than evangelizing ten thousand souls and leaving his own stained with sin.  For what power is their in salvation if we continue to live in sin?  What does Christ accomplish at the cross if we simply become a Christian and move right to evangelism as the principal aim without first understanding that above all, our obligation is personal holiness?

Pastor Platt asserts that the Holy Spirit is given principally for missions.  I don’t find that in Scripture however.  Instead I find the Holy Spirit given for many reasons, not the least of which is the sanctification of the believer.  To put one reason above another is to pretend to know the mind of God where God has not revealed it.  I don’t doubt but that some are given the Spirit to powerfully pronounce the gospel, and I hope that I and my son are among those.  However, I also know that the Spirit is given to everyone to kill sin in our lives and I know that my son and I are called to do this.  In the words of John Owen, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

More on Chapters 6 et seq to follow.

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