Thursday, May 19, 2011

Radical or Not...?

I recently watched a series called Radical by David Platt. There is a book by the same name. While I agree with much of what was said in the series, I do think that his conclusions could cause false guilt for those who don't have a broad understanding of Scripture.

To sum up what the series was about: we are rich and should give most of what we have to the poor. His main text for the series is Mark 10: 17-31 - the story of the rich young ruler.

I hesitate to criticize his message because for the most part, the American church is very materialistic. I wouldn't want my comments to be an excuse for the baby to be thrown out with the bath water.

What I write here will not be an exhaustive review of the series and I will not cover all the good and bad things I see in it. Just a few comments of what's foremost in my mind.

What I agree with: yes we in America have a lot and for the most part are materialistic. Me too!

What I disliked most: taking various Scripture passages and either reading too much into them or taking huge leaps from them. Here is an example: he cites passages from the Old Testament showing that God's blessings made many rich. He then shows New Testament passages where possessions were used to help the poor. He then leaps to make the case that the difference is that in the OT God used the lavish blessing of His people to draw others to Himself and in the NT He used the sacrifice of His people to bless and draw others to Himself. Therefore it is now wrong to have riches. I don't accept that. Both examples are true but not exclusive to their times or 180 degrees opposite.

Early in the series we were encouraged to not try to get off the hook by comparing ourselves to others. I don't have as much as someone else; I give more than someone else, etc. Then he uses the comparison of us rich Americans compared to all the poor around the world. His conclusion is we are the rich who should probably sell most of what we have and give it to the poor.

He makes a claim from the story of the rich young ruler that riches cause us to become self-confident, self-sufficient and self-content. Remember, he reminds us, everyone of us is rich. While riches may do this, it’s a leap to say they always do.

In one place he gives a hypothetical: someone makes 10 million dollars and gives away 9 million. Platt says that would not be extravagant giving. Who says? The problem is that he has come to the false conclusion that in New Testament times it is impossible for God to bless someone with excess for pure pleasure. While I can’t imagine having 10 or 1 million dollars, I do know what it is like to have 25 dollars in my pocket. That is my allowance each week. I can do whatever I want with it. Or maybe I should feel guilty for that excess and give it to someone else.

Another thing I really disliked was the assertion that if we question (what is wrong with having stuff for example) it shows a bad heart. I disagree. We may have a bad heart but if we are being asked to do something radically opposed to what we are doing now then thoughtful wrestling through questions is appropriate.

In his final message he gives the challenge for us to look at what we have and identify if it is a necessity or a luxury. Assumed is that everything beyond food, clothing and shelter is not necessary. We should then consider selling all of the extra and giving it the poor. Then we should put a cap on our spending; everything beyond necessities is given to the poor.

While all of this self-examination is good I think his conclusion as applied to everyone is in error and dangerous. Dangerous for those who don't have a broad view of Scripture and prone to living under guilt.

So here are some of my luxuries: the computer I write this on, Internet access, coffee, the flowers I planted in the yard, perfume, my recliner, iPod, books, magazines, tools, electric blanket, my smoker, food above beans and rice, a gold wedding ring and muck more. I don’t have the money for big time expensive hobbies, a retirement account, various insurance plans, a fancy car, spacious house, or expensive dinners but I can sure be jealous of those who do.

I really wish Platt's challenge would have finished differently as we really need the heart of what he is getting at. Many people will reject it outright and not progress farther than they are now. Many with a good understanding of Scripture will see his stretched conclusions and reject his whole message. That's too bad. The heart of what he is getting at is good but some of his conclusions are beyond what Scripture calls all of us to.

The last thing is that I think there are many other areas where Jesus calls us to radical obedience that Platt neglects, at least in this series. With the rich young ruler, the issue was his heart and his love of possessions. The heart issue Jesus hits others with may be completely different. For many people it's nothing to give away money but they may have a problem with loving the admiration of people. Jesus may call them to take a position on an issue that will cause people to hate them. What matters is that we do what Jesus says and he says a lot more than caring for the poor. We have to be careful that our pet project or calling doesn't become the criteria we judge others by.

An issue dear to my heart is abortion. I could apply many of Platt's arguments to being a prolife activist. How can the church and the people in it barely conjure a yawn when millions of babies are slaughtered every year? That is my example of somewhere we could be radical and I think it is right up there with concern for the poor. At least the poor are alive and have the opportunity to improve their life.

Well those are my basic thoughts. Yes, I will spend time asking God if there is more I should give as David Platt suggests. That is always good. But I will not be motivated by guilt or biblical gymnastics and I will not be afraid to question.


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