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Review of Radical by David Platt

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

David Platt, in Radical, challenges the prosperity Gospel which teaches that God wants Christians to be wealthy, comfortable, and happy. No, Platt says, consistently arguing throughout the book that to be a Christian means to accept a difficult life. What if we take Jesus at face value when he says unless you abandon your life, take up your cross and follow me then you cannot be my disciple? What if Christ really did mean for some to sell everything they owned and give it to the poor? Radical challenges readers to take these claims and challenges seriously.

There is a considerable focus on Bible study. Platt recounts Bible study programs launched at the mega-church he pastors. However, It was after Platt visited an underground church in another country that he discovered the real power of Bible study. He was impressed with the simple meeting places and the interest in simply reading scripture together. The author laments that hunger for Bible study is not as prevalent in The United States.

Platt puts heavy emphasis on missions, and understands the Great Commission to apply to all Christians. While mission is understood to take place everywhere within normal life including school or work, Platt also argues that literally going into all the world is the responsibility of every Christian. He makes this explicit in the one year challenge at the end of the book by encouraging the reader to spend two percent of their time (or 2 weeks) in a different context on mission work.

Radical recognizes that the church is in the business of making disciples, and that this is a slow relationship-intensive process. Platt is highly suspicious of the church growth movement which claims that the right programs and techniques can mass produce disciples. He questions whether this is a good goal in the first place.

In case you haven’t been converted yet, chapter seven is basically an extended evangelic tract. All have sinned, everyone needs forgiveness, Christ offers forgiveness, you need Christ. This and other portions of the book hint at Platt’s particular brand of evangelicalism: “[T]hat still leaves 4.5 billion who, if the gospel is true, at this very moment are separated from God in their sin and (assuming nothing changes) will spend an eternity in hell. Again, 4.5 billion.” (page 76) How unfortunate that in Platt’s salvation theology, God’s grace is not sufficient to cover the ignorance of Christ. One could also question (though not within the scope of a book review), if this is entirely biblical in the first place.

I found Radical to be an encouraging work which challenges Christians to take their faith more seriously. It calls for high risk, because Christ is worth it all. If you can tolerate the fundamentalist theology when it comes to soteriology (how people are saved), this is a worthy book which challenges American Christians in particular to take their faith more seriously, and to stop asking “what’s in Christianity for me?”

Review of The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Gabe Lyons, also author of UnChristian, describes in his new book The Next Christians his vision for the next generation of Christians. Lyons begins with a brief overview of the fading influence of Christianity in America. He argues how this may actually be a good thing for the church. That it may force the church to rediscover the core of the faith. Lyons writes that the current Christian narrative is missing significant pieces of the story by focusing only on Christ’s sacrifice and ignoring what came before and after the cross. More than saving souls, Christians are called to guide people to God. Christians who are embracing this new focus of the faith are called restorers. The bulk of the book is used to describe these restoration-minded Christians. That they are described both in positive terms of what the next Christian ought to look like and with a negative term which sets the next Christians apart from the current Christians. They are provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant.

Lyons presents a quick gloss of the religious composition of the United States which is based on vague generalizations and personal anecdotes. He cites The American Religious Identification Survey (but only once) and does not heavily rely on this study nor other statistical data in forming his assessment of the current religious make-up of American society, much less any trends these studies may imply.

Of the six chapters which describe the next Christians I found that “Grounded, Not Distracted” spoke most to my experience. Lyons shares stories about how ancient Christian practices such as fixed-hour prayer and fasting are being rediscovered by the next Christians. However, this is the only mark of a “next Christian” that appears to be explicitly Christian.

The ways Lyons argues that the next Christians should interact with their culture seems to make Christianity irrelevant. It is the motivation for the Christian to engage in culture and improve the lives of their neighbors but I did not read how the next Christians aid others on their journey to God. For example Lyons shares a story of a woman who recovered from a drug addiction and created a t-shirt for sale at a major retailer. Her recovery story was printed on the inside of every shirt which contained the phrase “body of Christ.” The company asked for phrase to be removed, which it was, and Lyons praised the woman’s co-operation as an example of how the next Christians are not offended. I believe it is an example of how Christianity is made the irrelevant factor in a future religion of philanthropy.

A better title for this book might be “The Ideal Secular Humanist.” The stories which Lyons presents as exemplars of the faith make Christianity rather irrelevant. Yes, it is a great thing that a group of friends helped someone get off drugs; that people moved into a rough neighborhood to clean it up; that people create art; that people find fulfillment at the their jobs by helping others. But this is not uniquely Christian – A Muslim does good in the name of Allah, a Buddhist for enlightenment, or even a secular humanist just to make society a better place. Lyon’s Next Christians are defined primarily by the good they do for others.

Finally, I find this book’s thesis unclear. Is this a description of what the Next Christians will look like? Is this how the church must change in order to survive in the next generation? Or is this a wish list for how Christians ought to be?

At its best The Next Christians promotes a Christianity which may encourage people to be more nice (yes, even sacrificially nice) to one another for the betterment of society. However, these niceties go so far as to make Christianity an irrelevant underlying motivation to do good things.

Hear No Evil – Review

Monday, February 15th, 2010

hearnoevilThis book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Matthew Paul Turner is the author of Churched and blogs over at Jesus Needs New P.R.

Hear No Evil is Matthew Paul Turner’s musical autobiography. It begins with his upbringing in a fundamentalist Baptist Church which calls rock music the “devil’s excrement.” He takes the reader up through and beyond his college years when Matthew bursts his musical bubble. Matthew’s first hand accounts are always told with a healthy dose of humor.

The stories are told in chronological order and in the present tense. In the narration, however, it is clear that Turner is providing valuable critique on those past events of his life. He is able to both explain his thoughts, feelings, and actions in the moment while at the same alluding to his present opinions and perhaps disappointments on what was.

Matthew’s childhood church only blessed music which explicitly referred to Jesus and was free of syncopated beats. Music not measuring up was black-listed. Having a Christian label did not mean it was safe in his church, especially not for the “sinister” Amy Grant.

As Matthew begins to discover an entire world of music (beyond simply the Christian variety), his dream of being God’s Michael Jackson also begins to fade. Hear No Evil challenges Christian musicians to be authentic and not to simply baptize modern culture in Christian language. Music, for Turner, is not something that can be prescribed by religious ideals. It is something that speaks to each individual in deep, soul-stirring ways.

The first half of the book focuses primarily on Matthew’s own journey through music, while the later half recounts times when he witnessed how music profoundly affected others. The turning point appears to be when Matthew accepts his “wannabeness” and finally lands his first post-college job.

In the later half, an enlightened adult Turner introduces some rather controversial issues (almost as a side point) including divorce, masturbation, and homosexuality. I presume Matthew’s point in including these issues was to point out how music supersedes such issues in the church. While I found these asides distracting, I do appreciate his honest approach to the reality and sometimes contradiction of Christian living. The book concludes somewhat abruptly (presumably because Matthew Paul Turner still has a lot of living left to do) with an adult Matthew reflecting on music at an Easter Sunday service.

I found the book to be a quite enjoyable glimpse into (what is for me) the foreign world of a Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing. Turner’s sarcastic and descriptive humor is right up my alley. His critique of mainstream Christian music is pointed and challenging. I would certainly recommend this book to any Christian artist, those who love Christian music, and anyone who wants to rediscover the meaning of music.

You can purchase Hear No Evil from Random House here.