By the time David Platt was 26-years-old, he had earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (A.B.J.) from the University of Georgia, and a Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Master of Theology (Th.M.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Platt had also served as Assistant Professor of Expository Preaching and Apologetics at the Seminary and briefly as Staff Evangelist at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. But when he came to fill the pulpit for a few weeks for the Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, Alabama, there was one glaring empty spot on his resume – he had never pastored a church: not a small church, not a medium-sized church, and certainly not a mega-church in an affluent suburb of one of the wealthiest counties in the Southeast.
David Platt had only been asked to fill in for a couple of weeks while the church leadership formulated its plan for a traditional pastor search. Six years later, the people of the Church at Brookhills have known no other leader than the young man God never let leave. When interviewed by Lucky Severson of PBS as to what he attributed becoming the youngest pastor of a mega-church in America to, Platt’s answer was typical of his boyish, quiet manner: “Clueless … just clueless.”
Being young is hardly the end of this amazing story. Several years ago Dr. Platt began to rethink the church and the direction he should be leading those who looked to him as their pastor. That reflection turned into a New York Times Bestseller titled, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Platt calculates that Christian churches in the U.S. spend $10 billion a year on buildings and own property valued at $230 billion. He says too many churches are acting like big corporations, but Brook Hills is now constantly looking for ways trim its budget.
Don’t let the title lead you to confuse what Platt is calling the American church to with what is known as a social gospel. That term is most often associated with left-leaning churches with political socialistic views. Radical has nothing to do with politics (left or right) or a watered down message that cheapens the Gospel. What David Platt is calling Christians to is simply to free themselves of rank materialism so their resources can be used like God wants them to be used. A promo for the book reads:
As you read Radical, you’ll discover that this is more than just about digesting a book. This is about an idea – an idea that we were created for far more than a nice, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream. An idea that we were created to follow One who demands radical risk and promises radical reward. An idea that David Platt certainly didn’t come up with, or anyone else in contemporary Christianity, for that matter. It’s an idea that was first expressed in the simple yet radical words from Jesus to his disciples when he said: Follow me.
Platt isn’t advocating that possessions are evil. Instead he calls into question how tied church people have become to those possessions. And don’t think this is some academic or theoretical treatise to sell a few books. The Church at Brookhills is in the midst of what its leadership calls a Radical Experiment. One of the first things the church did about a year ago was to take its entire surplus fund of $500,000 and give it away in partnerships with churches in India. In the months following, the church has trimmed another $1.5 million from its budget and used the savings to build wells, improve education, provide medical care, and share the gospel in impoverished places around the world.
The Radical Experiment isn’t just about money or foreign countries. At least 250 of the church’s members have moved from Birmingham to give at least three months to one year of their lives in other parts of the word. Their sites are not only set on far-away places. Listen to Platt has he relates one step his church took to change its city:
One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?”
The woman I was talking to laughed.
I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”
She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”
When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.
Some families like Chuck and Margaret Clark have sold their home in the suburbs and moved their children into the inner city. A majority of the church’s members have accepted the challenge to downsize their lives as God leads them. No one is telling anyone what they have to do. Instead, everyone is simply encouraged to simplify their life and help break the ties of debt and materialism that holds much of the American church in bondage. This is a far cry from the prosperity gospel that has become the battle cry for so many mega-churches in our land.
There is much to be gained on a personal level from what David Platt speaks to in Radical. Self-sufficiency should not be just about survival, especially among Christians. Just as the people of The Church at Brookhills are seeking to rebuild community through direct personal involvement, we should see survival as a community issue more than an individual one. Americans as a people need to rediscover another part of the American Dream. We need more of what my ancestors had when they loaded an ox cart in 1821 in North Carolina and headed out for what was then called the Great Southwest (i.e. New Augusta, Mississippi). None of them would have made it only as individuals. Every person, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, had to do more than their part. Perhaps what Platt is calling the church to, and what we must do in our current political and economic climate, only seems Radical because we’ve become far too removed from what got us here in the first place.