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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our Selfless Self-Centered God

Introduction


In my review of David Platt’s first book, Radical, I noted some fatal flaws in an outright dangerous book. I felt that Radical strayed far from Platt’s beliefs and actions, and was inconsistent with his philosophy of missions and ecclesiology (how he does church). I would not be exaggerating one bit to say I hated Radical and was seriously worried about the future of David Platt’s ministry direction and his disciples.


It is, then, with great joy, that he has released his newest book, Radical Together. This book recants several mistakes of Radical and addresses several points that were addressed in critique of his book. At location[1] 654-2180 he says, “I began sensing a tendency in our people to define holiness by how much we do for God. Amid all our talk of radical obedience, we were losing sight of gospel grace.” In another place he says, “I get frightened when I think about Radical in [a legalist’s] hands.” (loc. 396)


While I sent Dr. Platt two e-mails about this book, the first my critique, and second a plea to reconsider his humanistic leaning, I never received a reply. As a lightly-read mostly unknown bivocational volunteer associate pastor, I didn’t expect a response, but it is nice in Radical Together that there is some evidence that Platt read my e-mails. I began my critique with 1 Peter 2:9, and early in the book (loc. 143) Platt introduces the purpose of his book with 1 Peter 2:9; later in the book he quotes a story from Paris Reidhead’s sermon against humanism (loc. 1517), which I posted both in my review and sent in my e-mail. Whether these are coincidences or not, I am quite glad that Platt is making strides in Radical Together to correct the mistakes he published in Radical.


Having read Radical Together, I am now much more comfortable with Platt’s ministry and theology, and am glad for the work he is doing both abroad and locally. I am glad for his emphasis on the church body, the Bible, and local missions and discipleship. Unfortunately Radical Together still has some serious mistakes concerning humanism, and just a touch of mysticism, though both are considerably better than Radical. It is also a bit light on Jesus (not on God, but on the cross of Christ), and tends to make mankind more a victim of sin than a practitioner of it.


This review will focus on three major topics in Radical Together, starting with Platt’s best point, Ecclesiastical Accountability, then moving to a major improvement in Platt’s writing, concerning Mysticism, and will conclude with a look at Platt's humanism. In my prior review I mentioned that Radical was horrendously written with almost no continuity; Radical Together is written considerably better, definitely with more movement. As the reader will see later in this review though, from topic to topic there are some major contradictions in Platt’s writing from chapter to chapter. What is important in this point is that his writing and theology have improved drastically from Radical to Radical Together. By far the best improvement is in how he presents the believers role in a church body.


Ecclesiastical Accountability


In my original review I made the point that Platt presented the individual Christian as one “who saves the world of their own accord,” Platt agrees with this individualistic assessment, stating, “In my first book, Radical, I explored how the biblical gospel affects individual Christian lives.” (loc. 99) In Radical Together Platt focuses much more on the role of the church in missions and the role of the individual in the church. This is obviously his main point, as the title attests, that Christians ought to be together with other believers in order to form a working body. The introduction of Radical Together points out that Christians drastically decrease their effect when they “journey alone.” (loc. 99)


One of my major contentions with Radical was that, “the local church is overlooked”, in Radical Together Platt puts a much better emphasis on local missions and the local church, giving a multitude of examples of how his church ministers in Birmingham’s poorest communities (loc. 315), adopts children both locally and abroad (loc. 492), and focuses on God-centered worship (loc. 1489). Platt shares a story (loc. 1489) of a young man who was called to repentance by seeing the church worship a holy and righteous God who is both just and justifier. It is a powerful call to the church to focus on making disciples of Christ rather than trying to meet their earthly and/or sinful desires; Platt doesn’t explicitly quote Matthew 6:34, but no doubt he would give a hearty amen to it, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”


In order to seek first the kingdom of God in everything, Platt calls the church to focus much more on people than performances, places, programs, or professionals (chapter 4). This call requires looking at what the church is doing, and instead of asking, What is wrong with what we are doing? it is better to ask, What is right with it? (loc. 236) This question leads to doing away with things that are not inherently wrong, but which are not using the resources and people of God to their highest and best usefulness.


There is a wonderful movement within Christendom recently to call for greater church oversight of evangelists, missionaries, and small group leaders; not telling them what to do or how to do it, but ensuring they are orthodox and striving for holiness. There are rogue evangelists and missionaries operating every-which-where preaching every sort of heresy, and so every call for better oversight is wonderful, and Platt’s book does so with tact and biblical support.


Churches and church-members who are encumbered by things that are not “wrong” but are also not right will be challenged and improved by taking Radical Together seriously. However, Platt’s ecclesiastical call is not all good.


Ecclesiastical Errors


Another of my greatest contentions with Radical was that David Platt was forcing his ministry focus on everyone, I put it this way,

This all plays out most damnably in Platt’s application, that this radical lifestyle should be true of everyone. What makes him think that someone who won’t volunteer at the homeless shelter in Birmingham will sell their Mercedes and volunteer at the homeless shelter in Mozambique? Why does David Platt’s ‘thing’ have to be my ‘thing’? Are not some called to be evangelists, others pastors, some teachers?

Platt has somewhat improved on this point, but not completely, he points at many ways in which his flock are ministering for Christ, but he continues to perpetuate his error of projecting his own desires on the whole church, stating,

So for you and me not to be intentionally engaged in taking the gospel to unreached people groups is disobedience to the command of Christ. Our churches are in the wrong before God if we are not prioritizing the spread of the gospel to every people group. (loc. 1178)

This error continues to think that the goal of Christianity is to save one person from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and not to call all saints to immersion in Christ. I’m sure Platt would disagree with the following ludicrous statement, “Because Anglo-Saxons, Pontians, and Afrikaners have seen someone repent and come to Christ, missions to these people groups should cease.” But the way he has made his call to world evangelization makes it seem like it is more important to call uncalled peoples to repentance than it is to call everyone to repentance.


Platt seems to misunderstand that the Lamb’s Book of Life, penned before eternity began, includes a certain number of names of people who will certainly come to repentance (Revelation 13:8, 2 Peter 3:9). Radical Together contains far fewer heresies (please note that not all heresy is damnable to the preacher) than Radical, but probably the one that bothered me the most was “What we need to understand is that Jesus did not command us simply to take the gospel to as many individual people as we can.” (loc. 1152) I refute that, even the "simply", because Christ commanded his followers to go and compel everyone they met to come in (Matthew 22:9), Christ cares and prayed for each individual saint (John 17:20), therefore the church must be in the business of spreading the gospel in their hometown, in the surrounding area, to the end of the country, and even to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).


David Platt’s fruit speaks for itself, I love him as a brother; even so, I must make a harsh statement. These errors would be easily avoided through a cursory study of the Book of Acts or the doctrine of predestination, or just letting the Bible speak instead of forcing a hermeneutic of radical world evangelization on every passage.


Mysticism Revisited


Evangelicalism has many great enemies, both external and internal, and one of the most dangerous I see is a slippery slope towards extrabiblical revelation, or operating off of "feelings", or "callings", or "hearing from God in prayer". David Platt's first book was bursting with mysticism, David Platt's second book is almost devoid of it.


There is only one blatant example of mysticism in the book, and it is very oddly placed and seemingly out of context since it is never expanded upon. Platt, when speaking of cutting "not-right" programs within the church, gives a list of very good questions, then states mystically, "And then wait for God to answer." (loc. 185) Platt gives no indication how to hear from God, how he may answer, or how to know that it is God actually answering. This is one of Platt's only single sentence paragraphs in the book, and I have to wonder if it was a point he meant to expand upon. Whatever the reason for this sentence is entirely a mystery to me, and I am glad that it was the only blatant example of a dangerous heresy infecting Evangelicalism.


Not long after that statement Dr. Platt dives into a beautiful defense of the sufficiency of scripture. He starts by attacking ideas that the Bible is insufficient, then states that an effective church must, "be competent to communicate and faithful to follow the Word of God." (loc. 592) Platt makes a lengthy defense for holding to the Bible, rejecting unbiblical ideas that the Bible cannot address modern congregations, and calling more churches to preach the Word instead of trying to be innovative. He makes a cutting statement that is sure to wound many pastors and teachers operating today, "Even among those who stand by the spoken word, many lack confidence in the sufficiency of God's Word." (loc. 672)


I hope and pray that this is the future of Dr. Platt's ministry, rejecting mysticism and holding fast to the revealed Word of God in the Bible. It is, after all, the Word of Eternal Life, by which faith comes to men by which they may be saved by the grace of the Resurrected Christ (John 6:68, Romans 10:17, Ephesians 2:8-9). Platt somewhere claims that this view is by no means new, and I readily affirm that statement, holding to scripture alone is an essential and I am glad he is gravitating towards that belief.


How then, does Platt make such mistakes concerning certain doctrines? I believe it is because of his extrabiblical exaltation of the salvation of men over the glory of God. He asks early in the book for the reader to be willing to look at the Word and the world with a "fresh, honest, and open perspective." (loc. 116) This unfortunately implies that in the past the church has failed, has stagnated, has corrupted, and has become intolerant to the Word; this may certainly be true in many so-called modern churches, but it unfortunately rejects millennia of Christ-exalting missions. What Platt wants us to be open to is not a better Christianity, it is called humanism.


Platt's Great Heresy: Humanism


I am not a textual critic, I don't claim to know for sure what an author was thinking when they wrote a book, but within Radical Together there is such a radical contradiction between the synergism of the beginning parts of the book and the monergism of the latter parts that something major must have happened to Platt in the middle of the book. For that reason, I must break this section into two parts, the first dealing with Platt's heresy, and the second with Platt's orthodox views.


Humanism states that the chief end of God is the happiness of man, that God is doing everything toward mankind towards their greatest good, desiring them to reach a state of eternal bliss, even to the detriment of himself. Platt is right in many places to state, "We are selfless followers of a self-centered God." (locs. 87, 129, 565, 1434, 1653, et al) However, as the title of my review is meant to convey, God is God-centered, but that does not require God to be selfish, afterall, in Philippians 2 we see that Christ was selfless, he poured himself out, he died on a cross counting others as worth more than himself. His selflessness led to something amazing, his exaltation, as God has given him a name above every name. The biblical position is that God is explicitly using men to glorify himself; I have not had the opportunity to speak with Platt on this or any other topic, but I expect we would disagree greatly on this topic.


On location 398, Platt warns legalists reading his book that it is impossible for them to be good enough to be right before God. While this is true in our current inherited depravity, it is not entirely a true statement. The Bible teaches throughout its pages that a perfect person who abstains from evil and does what is right will stand before God blameless and accepted (Psalm 24:3-5, Galatians 5:3, for example). There are two ways to Heaven presented in scripture, one, the way which Jesus attained Heaven, by being totally righteous, and two, the only way by which men may be saved, the righteousness of Christ attributed to them, their sinfulness having been attributed to him. Dear reader, I am not sure that I can fully convince you of the dangers of humanism, often Christianity and humanism seem indistinguishable, but I assure you they are polar opposites, and presenting Christ as merely a justifier without showing him to be just as well is a great error, he is not just redeemer, he is also righteous. He does not merely try to save people, he perfects them in a single sacrifice.


Where humanism becomes most dangerous, in my opinion, is that it presents God as having done everything he possible can to save someone, and is desperately hoping that they will complete what is lacking in his effort. Modern Christianity (not Platt) puts it this way, “Accept Jesus,” “Ask God into your heart,” “Give your life to Christ,” "Surrender to God," etc etc. It makes man sovereign over God, and in it the name of God is blasphemed among the nations.


Let me convince you that this is Platt’s belief, he says, “Until they get a right understanding of the gospel, they will never be a part of accomplishing the purpose of God.” (loc. 390) Elsewhere he says, “I am convinced that in the church we can actually prevent God’s people from accomplishing God’s purpose. If we are not careful, our activities in the church can hinder the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.” (loc. 116) This can be lumped into a heresy called Synergism that God is working with man, both for salvation and for his purposes. Christ states explicitly that he is building his church (Matthew 16:18), Peter asks, “Who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17) Christ doesn’t work WITH us, he works THROUGH us (Ephesians 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, et al), so to think that we can impede the progress of the kingdom is foolish, and shows a deeper problem.


The Bible describes mankind as worthless (Romans 3:12), but Platt says, “[the local and the foreigner] are equally valued by God and equally lost without God.” (loc. 1266) Platt writes a nice piece of prose from location 1493 to 1511 on why we ought to be motivated by seeing people rejecting God to their own detriment to take the truth to them. As nicely as it is written, it is utterly humanism because it assumes that the animistic tribes are looking for the Creator, the Mohamadian factions are looking for a graceful God, and the followers of Buddha are desiring a better prophet. This thinking was directly refuted by Paris Reidhead, by experience, in his sermon, “10 Shekels and a Shirt.” The unbeliever is hostile in their mind towards God, with their mind set on the flesh it is impossible for them to seek God. The Christian is not doing them a favor by taking the gospel to them, the Christian is actually waging spiritual warfare on their soul, calling them to commit treason with the world and turn to their greatest enemy, who is God, for grace and mercy.


Platt frequently points the purpose of the gospel at the glory of God, but in effect he is still striving to see the happiness of man perfected in God. The Christian is called by Platt to save animists (all things, living and dead, have souls) from idols in Africa (loc. 1502), and calls the American materialist to trade their possessions for God (loc. 194). The man in Matthew 22:1-14 who came into the party for personal gain was rejected by the King, it is imperative that we focus on Christ’s glory and not the eternal happiness of men, for the glory of Christ as the end goal will result in the eternal happiness of men, but the eternal happiness of men as the end goal will never reach that goal.


An important point against humanism is that if Christ never saved another person ever, he would still be glorified for his past work of grace and for his current work of justice. Platt overwhelmingly made salvation a contingent to success in Radical, and unfortunately continues that motive in Radical Together, stating, “It is worth it for billions of people who do not yet know that Jesus is the grave-conquering, life-giving, all-satisfying King.” (loc. 150, emphasis mine) This humanistic belief leads to a direct contradiction of scripture in Platt’s recent book. Jesus said, “Pray for laborers…for the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2) Platt on the other hand, assuming the church is working with Christ instead of him working in the church, says, “We will always have enough people.” (loc. 1067) It was without surprise when Platt prints a misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3:9, quoting a missionary, “God is not willing that any should perish, and neither am I. He wants all people to know him, and that’s why I am going.” (loc. 1537) This humanistic doctrine blasphemes God, making him impotent to save everyone whom he desires to save, making humanity in charge, and it impugns faithful ministers who have very small, or even non-existent, conversion rates (think Noah and Jeremiah for example).


Humanism is dangerous, it has cost at least one man his soul (Matthew 22:13), it will undoubtedly cost many others theirs, it presents God as imperfect and incapable of accomplishing his will, it demeans his sovereignty, and it discourages missionaries who do not see mass conversions. Christ knows exactly who he is praying for, he knows exactly how it will be accomplished, and he knows that it will be perfect (John 6:44, 10:28-29, 17:20). God is willing that many shall perish, since many do perish, he is as glorified through demonstrating his wrath on a reprobate as he is in lavishing his grace on a saint.


Humanism is to be rejected in total, it is not to be dabbled in, it is not to be perpetuated. I sincerely pray that Dr. Platt will soon repent fully of following this man-centered error.


Rejecting Humanism?


Late in the book, Dr. Platt rants AGAINST humanism; I do not know whether or not he realizes how much the rest of the book contradicts his tirade, but it does give me great hope that he will soon be Christocentric instead of anthropocentric. At location 1678 he states,

God does not need me.
God does not need my church.
God does not need you.
God does not need your church.
God does not need our conferences, conventions, plans, programs, budgets, buildings, or missions agencies….
…all the stuff we have created could turn to dust, and God could still make a great name for himself among the nations.

Elsewhere Platt describes a man telling communists that if he is forbidden to speak, then rocks would preach (loc. 1028). Platt understands, at least a little, that God is not synergistic (working with us), but monergistic (working all things by himself), and I look forward to a day when Platt writes a book from the monergistic side of missions and ecclesiology.


Conclusion


Jesus told Peter that if Peter loved him, he ought to tend and feed Christ’s flock (John 21:15-17). Radical Together has done a much better job than Radical towards this goal, recognizing that the church is the way in which Christ is accomplishing his goals. Overall I was edified by the call for the church to work together, for Platt's adherence to the Bible as the final rule of faith and practice, and in his later refutation of man-centered missions.


Radical Together is sure to produce more gospel-centered and graceful ministers than Radical, I am pleased with the direction of Platt's ministry and am hoping that his next book will have nothing radically wrong with it. I pray that he, and you dear reader, will see the dangers of mysticism and humanism and reject both outright. I pray that we can stand together and pray, "May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of his suffering." (loc. 1517, Revelation 5:12)


David Platt's church is a model of both local and overseas missions, and I hope that by his example many churches will engage the world, strengthened and upheld by Jesus Christ himself. We have such a great and lasting promise from God that he will not lose even a single one of his saints, not willing that even one should perish, and that when the gospel of the kingdom is preached in every nation, every saint reaching repentance, then the end will come. So let us go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in to honor the One who was dead, but yet lives, who is always making intercession for his saints.



[1] All citations are Kindle locations; in order to convert these to page numbers, the reader ought to divide roughly by 16.7.

1 comment:

Cedric Gifford said...

I know God as the basis of reality without whom there is nothing certain. God is the power. The power is love. Jesus was sent to teach this by his Father and to bring love in the form of grace into the world.

Doctrinally, grace was not accepted by the church for nearly four hundred years until perceved by St. Augustine of Hippo and codified.