There were several great things that I very much appreciated about the book:
- David Platt really does have a heart for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is very evident in everything he says. In other words, I don't doubt his sincerity in the slightest.
- He does have a very valid critique of the widespread version of American evangelicalism that associates Christianity with America and prosperity and everything that comes with it. And even within those parts of American Christianity that push back against this Christianized American dream, there can be a tendency towards over-reliance on our money and our stuff.
- He also is right to call American Christians to look beyond themselves and their own comfort and see the needs of a lost and dying world around us, both locally and internationally. This is something that I know I need to hear, and has caused me to turn a very critical eye on my own life and how I am involving myself in Christ's mission to make disciples here and around the world. This should and does involve significant sacrifice, something that Platt demonstrates very well.
- Chapter 7, "There Is No Plan B: Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional," is a very good exegesis of Romans that shows why reaching the world with the gospel is so important. If the entire book had been like this chapter, I would have nothing but praise for it.
- Finally, his conclusion, "One Year to a Life Turned Upside Down," is one of the best parts of his book, because the things he calls Christians to are exactly the things he should be calling Christians to: reading Scripture, praying for the nations, give our money generously, serve in contexts outside our local church, and get involved in a local church.
- He is so hyperbolic in his language that he seems to completely miss his target audience. Throughout the book, he talks of the "American church" as if it were one organic whole, with every individual church being exactly the same, having completely abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ, distorted the words of Jesus beyond all recognition, willfully spending all of its money on worthless things, and entirely unconcerned with the true mission of Christ. Unfortunately, while hyperbole may make good polemic, it doesn't capture the world we live in. There are thousands and thousands of faithful churches out there pursuing Christ's mission wholeheartedly, and the real problem in much of the American church is a question of distraction from the mission, not wholesale abandonment. But there is so little nuance in Platt's book (maybe because denunciation is easier than nuanced critique) that people like me, who need to hear his message but are members of faithful churches that do pursue Christ's mission, are left out of the mix. It's all or nothing in Platt's picture of the American church, which just isn't an accurate picture of reality.
- It could just be my own perception, but I was overwhelmed by the humblebrag that seemed to pervade the book. His incessant description of his seeming eighty-five trips to India and his high demand in South Korea and his visits with the underground church in China often seem just as intent on showing how great the demand is for David Platt, the speaker and leader, as on actually making the points about the passion and needs of the international church that he is trying to make. It seems that in every chapter there are at least five different examples from his world travels or from his wise and perceptive leadership of his church in Alabama. I know what he was probably trying to say, but all I could hear was "look at all the cool things I've done and the great ways I lead."
- Platt also makes the mistake that I think a lot of authors and speakers make when talking about the international church--namely, the exaltation of international believers to the denigration of American Christians. I do not deny that there is often much passion and love for the Lord evident in international churches, but those churches have all of their own problems, like the widely prevalent struggles with occult practices slipping themselves into Christian contexts. No church in this world is perfect, including churches that are not in America, and holding the practices and/or poverty of international churches over the heads of American Christians as a flat condemnation of American churches is not responsible pastoring or preaching.
- Finally, and most importantly, the way that Platt phrases both his condemnations and his solution is incredibly legalistic--the emphasis ends up being first on what American Christians have done singlehandedly to lose the gospel and thwart God's purposes (as if anyone has the ability to actually thwart God's purposes) and then on the actions that American Christians need to do in order to recover the gospel and spread the word to a world that needs to hear it. In very few places is the point made that anything that we do as Christians ultimately flows from God, and that, just as we don't have the power to thwart the gospel, God will accomplish his purposes through our actions or even our lack of action. It's not about us, and yet Platt's book makes it all about us and the radical changes that we have to make, even as he tries to focus us on Christ's mission. This point is made far more coherently in this excellent review by John Fonville. As Fonville states at the end, "Platt may understand the relationship of law and grace, but Radical undermines a proper biblical perspective for thousands of readers. Ultimately, Radical's demands cannot be sustained and its end cannot be achieved, because only the gospel can give what the law commands."