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- J.S. Peter Beck III - Book SummaryIn case you haven't figured it out yet, I am reading everything I can on the missional church. Radical came highly recommended, and, after reading it, I am glad I put it off until now. Otherwise, I might have tried to copy some of the things he is doing. As it turns out, God has been leading us in much the same way; although, his emphasis on getting everyone involved in world missions by travelling to some area once a year will be a stretch for us. Platt, a pastor of mega-church in Birmingham, AL, has written a very refreshing and impacting book. He has been attempting to navigate the tension between the attractional church model and the Great Commission. As we are, he says he is on a journey in which God is showing them how to do God's mission as a church. His biggest fear "even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to him." (p.3)
The book opens with a critique of the American church as a whole. Platt writes: "I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe." (p.3) "...somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves." (p.7) The American church has created for itself:
a nice middle-class Jesus...who doesn't mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream. (p.13)
Hopefully we can all see how such a mentality is not really a worship of Jesus, but of ourselves. (p.13) This is no small thing. As Platt puts it: "We may have loved a god that we made up in our minds, but the God of the Bible, we hate." (p.30)
Platt points out that the root of the problem is found in our American culture "that exalts self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and self-confidence. (p.32)
Note the contrast, however, when you diagnose the problem biblically. The modern-day gospel says, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved." Meanwhile the biblical gospel says, "You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less cause yourself to come to life. Therefore you are radically dependent upon God to do something in your life that you could never do." (p.32)
We realize we are saved not just to be forgiven of our sins or to be assured of our eternity in heaven, but we are saved to know God. So we yearn for him. We want him so much that we abandon everything else to experience him. This is the only proper response to the revelation of God in the gospel. (p.39)
Instead of trusting in our own abilities and serving a God of our own making, the gospel beckons us to abandon ourselves to God and his mission of reaching the nations with the gospel, depending on his ability and provision. "God gave his people his image for a reason - so they might multiply his image throughout the world" through the preaching of the gospel. (p.65) "And to disconnect God's blessing from God's global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God's grace." (p.71) "...we have...drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few (e.g. missionaries) while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all." (p.73) Platt invites the reader to "let your heart be gripped, maybe for the first time, by the biblical prospect that God has designed a radically global purpose for your life...God has created us to accomplish a radically global, supremely God-exalting purpose with our lives...and God has designed our lives for a collision course with the world." (p.83)
Chapter Five shows the reader that Jesus has a surprisingly simple plan to give us a global impact - discipleship.
One of the unintended consequences of contemporary church strategies that revolve around performances, places, programs, and professionals is that somewhere along the way people get left out of the picture. But according to Jesus, people are God's method for winning the world to himself. (p.90)
Platt points out that disciple making must take place outside the four walls of the church building out in the community where people live, work, and play. The church must forsake its obsession with the attractional model and be willing to become the mobile church, to use an expression we coined at Liberty. Discipleship is more about relationships than events. Platt points out that the Great Commission not only commands us to go, but also to baptize, through which believers become identified with the church, the larger community of believers with whom we live our lives and go on mission. He writes: "...we will multiply the gospel only when we allow others to get close enough to us to see the life of Christ in action." (p.99) "Jesus' command for us to make disciples envisions a teaching role for all of us." (p.100)
This raises the bar in our own Christianity. In order to teach someone else how to pray, we need to know how to pray. In order to help someone else learn how to study the Bible, we need to be active in studying the Bible. But this is the beauty of making disciples. When we take responsibility for helping others grow in Christ, it automatically takes our own relationship with Christ to a new level. (pp.100-101)
Embracing the call to be a disciple maker requires us to listen to Bible teaching as if we will need to pass it on. It's one thing to hear a sermon for my on sake, but if I will need to share what I learn later with someone else, I will take notes. It changes everything. "It is multiplying because the people of God are no longer listening as if his Word is intended to stop with them. They are now living as if God's Word is intended to spread through them." (p.103)
Chapter Six, entitled "How Much Is Enough?," looks at how Christians should relate to the poor. "According to Jesus, you can tell someone is a follower of Christ by the fruit of his or her life, and the writers of the New Testament show us that the fruit of faith in Christ involves material concern for the poor...If there is no sign of caring for the poor in our lives, then there is reason to at least question whether Christ is in our hearts...if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all." (pp.110-111) Platt shows how the modern obsession with glorious buildings is really an Old Covenant idea. In the New Covenant, God's temple is formed by "living stones," people, and the emphasis for us should not be on structures but people. In this chapter, the author also shows us the reason for worldly wealth - in order to have more to give. God asks us to give sacrificially "to care for the needy around us." (p.126) "But the truth is, there will continue to be millions and millions of people who do not hear as long as we continue to use spare time and spare money to reach therm. Those are two radically differing questions. What can we spare? and What will it take?" (p.129) "What would happen if together we stopped giving our scraps to the poor and started giving surplus? What if we started giving not just what we are able to give but beyond what we are able to give?" (p.130) "The lesson I learned is that the war against materialism in our hearts is exactly that; a war. It is a constant battle to resist the temptation to have more luxuries, to acquire more stuff, and to live more comfortably." (p.136) Platt points out that it is easier to ignore faceless need. Once we come to know those in need, everything changes.
As I see their faces, I realize that I have a choice. You and I both have a choice. We can stand with the starving or with the overfed. We can identify with poor Lazarus on his way to heaven or with the rich man on his way to hell. We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth. Only time will tell what you and I choose to do with this blind spot of American Christianity in our day. (p.140)
Chapter Seven deals with the urgency of preaching the gospel to those who have never heard. Platt points out that people will not be sent to hell for not hearing the gospel. Rather those who have never heard will be sent to hell for rejecting the God who created them and reveals himself through creation. Every person comes into this world with a predisposition to be God's enemy. We cannot excuse inactivity in world missions with the hope that somehow God will give the unreached a pass because they never heard about Jesus. If this were the case, the worst thing we could ever do is preach the gospel to them and thereby bring them under stricter judgment. "More than five thousand people groups, totaling approximately 1.5 billion people, are currently classified as 'unreached' and 'unengaged.'...Even worse, no one is currently doing anything to change their situation. No one." (p.158) While, I might not agree with this last conclusion, I am impacted by my responsibility to take the gospel to those who have never heard.
Platt goes on: " The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as a troop carrier into the church as luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of peoples around the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world...The reward of the American dream is safely, security, and success found in more comfort, butter stuff, and greater prosperity. But the reward of Christ trumps all these things and beckons us to live for an eternal [reward]. (pp.170-172)
Radical obedience to Christ is not easy; it is dangerous. It is not smooth sailing aboard a luxury liner; it is sacrificial duty aboard a troop carrier. It's not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us. (p.181)
The last chapter is a challenge to try a radical experiment for one year. Platt asks the reader consider committing to five things over the course of twelve months.
Pray for the entire world.
Read through the entire Bible.
Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.
Spend your time in another context.
Commit your life to a multiplying community.
In Luke 10:2, Jesus tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out laborers into the harvest. "When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the the lost would not come to the Father. Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost." (p.187) Prayer, therefore, is critical to the mission.
The Word of God cannot be minimized. If God's people do not spend adequate time reading the Bible, how will we ever fulfill our mission? As for sacrificial giving, Platt points out: "We are an affluent people living in an impoverished world. If we make only ten thousand dollars a year, we are wealthier than 84 percent of the world, and if we make fifty thousand dollars a year, we are wealthier than 99 percent of the world." (p.194) We will answer to God for how we spend our wealth.
The challenge to get outside our comfort zones, recognizes that to be an incarnational Christian, we must live and minister where the people live rather than expect them to come to our church world. We must immerse ourselves in their lives, culture, and needs. Platt also encourages believers to give at least one week per year to world missions. He claims convincingly that what we learn in going will dramatically impact our effectiveness closer to home. He includes all believers in this challenge when he writes:
Consider what happens when all of us begin to look at our professions and areas of expertise not merely as means to an income or to career paths in our own context but as platforms for proclaiming the gospel in contexts around the world. Consider what happens when the church is not only sending traditional missionaries around the world but also businessmen and businesswomen, teachers and students, doctors and politicians, engineers and technicians who are living out the gospel in contexts where a traditional missionary could never go. (p.203)
Lastly, Platt makes a case for committing to a local body of believers that is pursuing the mission of God, where radical commitment to Christ is taught and modeled. "...look for the best avenue within that community of faith to be about making disciples." (p.206)
You can purchase the reviewer's book at Amazon:
Seeing God's Smile
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