Radically Ordinary

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream One major and glaring weakness in David Platt’s bestselling book, Radical, is his failure to discuss vocation – the places and positions God has called his people to in this life.  I do agree with Platt that the church in the United States is much too “Americanized” and some of us need to get off the couch and take our faith much more seriously, but I don’t appreciate his guilt trip that might lead readers away from their God-given vocation.  As one friend of mine said, Platt would have done well to deal with Paul’s epistles, specifically the application sections.  And might it also be said that Platt’s huge vision is somewhat American itself (i.e. focus on the big, extraordinary, and glamorous)?

Not every Christian is called to be a missionary and sell everything he/she has.  All Christians should be ready to give an answer for their hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14), but not every Christian is called to be a pastor, teacher, or evangelist (Eph. 4.11).  There are modern-day Timothy’s, but there are also modern-day Lydia’s.

So what is vocation?  Gene Veith says it well – in a Luther-like way:

“Though [God] could give [daily bread] to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as he once did for the children of Israel when he fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other.  This is the doctrine of vocation” (p. 14).

Veith goes on to say that God could just create new humans from the dust, but instead he chose to create new life through a mother and father, and calls them to raise children in love.  He could just heal people without any means, but instead, he has gifted certain people to work as doctors, lab technicians, and pharmacists.  He could put a sort of force field around people, but instead he has given us soldiers and policemen to protect us.  This is vocation: God calls his people to different tasks and jobs in which they can serve their neighbors and glorify God in doing so.  Veith: “The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one’s neighbor” (p. 39).

“…Vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts – the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday – but in the realm of the ordinary.  Whatever we face in the often humdrum present – washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends – this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love.  We are to love our neighbors – that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists.  These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us” (p. 59).

If you’re a Christian mother raising messy kids, or if you’re a Christian father who drives for UPS, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t “radically” serving the Lord.  Sure, you should pray for missionaries and support them as you can, but God has put you where you are.  You’re not a “lesser” Christian because you haven’t sold everything and gone overseas for six months or more.  You run into your neighbors every day, and your duty is to love and serve them in your vocation, where the Lord has put you.  And he is glorified when you do so.

If you’ve read Radical, please read Veith’s God at Work to learn a more balanced approach to the Christian life.  There are no guilt-trips in Veith’s book and it is a more edifying and encouraging approach to serving God and neighbor.  And remember Luther’s teaching: “A maid is more godly than a monk.”

Maybe someone should write a book on how “ordinary” Christians glorify God in their “ordinary” life – but would people purchase a book about regular Christians who stock the shelves of Safeway, clean hotel rooms, sell car parts, or fix laptops?

shane lems

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27 comments on “Radically Ordinary

  1. Kevin Grimm says:

    I would read such a book as stated in the ending sentence…I am that one and only wish to serve the LORD wherever HE may lead me!

  2. Celal says:

    I don’t know anything about David Platt other than that he is endorsed by John Piper or about this book other than what I read in the blurb on the web page ; however, I find myself hesitating to follow this review which seeks to somehow soften the “radical” message of the book.

    Jesus was always very radical in His calling and teaching. I also find that one of the weaknesses of the Reformed view is to seek to be comfortable in the world as we wait for the coming of the Lord. The tenor of the teaching about “vocation” is rather indicative of this desire, in my opinion.

  3. Bill says:

    I didn’t understand Platt to be saying we must all sell our possessions and become missionaries, or that those who don’t are “lesser” Christians. This review, in my humble opinion, seems unnecessarily bitter and angry. It is helpful, I think, to remember what the word “radical” means. In that sense, we should all do radical Kingdom work, imho.

    • Thanks for the comments everyone.

      I think Paul’s repeated phrase in 1 Cor. 7:20 & 24 is very helpful in the discussion.

      Thanks again,
      shane

      • Celal says:

        I think we need to ask ourselves to whom 1Cor 7:20 & 24 is addressed : is it not to a very immature and carnal church ? These Christians were not at the heights of wisdom and discipleship. Let’s be careful not to draw the wrong conclusions.

    • matt says:

      I don’t see any bitterness or anger in this review, like at all. In fact I’ve never seen any bitterness or anger in any of the Reformed Reader’s reviews. And what is wrong with seeking comfort in the world as we wait for the coming of the Lord? Reformed folk are just as radical as anyone when they preach the offense of the Gospel.

      Here’s an interesting review that I’m sure the non-Reformed folk here will not get (And that’s not bitterness or anger,

  4. Nick says:

    Let’s be careful about swinging that pendulum friends… Instead of sitting back and using God’s grace as a justification to be lazy let’s “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24) I understand the guilt trip deal and how that might come across but that is not the intention of the book. The point is that we as “ordinary” people can do extraordinary things for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and for His glory. Elijah was just like us and he served God faithfully and mightily. (James 5:17) Let us not be in business of excuses but of gospel proclamation.

  5. Tom says:

    When God moves the hearts of many in a large church it’sencouraging to hear. Platt’s work is encouraging to the old and new who want their people on mission. I don’t think he’s guilting anyone, only excited and was willing to share how God moved in his church!! Both books are valuable and it is written in a context of American Christianity where the concern is that many have become very complacent. I was encouraged as a church planter to hear how God can change hearts in many seasoned Christians.

  6. Monty Ledford says:

    Speaking as a father and grandfather, I find myself leaning more to Shane’s caveats than to a call to radicalism from a book which I admit I have not read. I more and more appreciate the call to singleness as a real “shock troop” qualification for discipleship. I realize that Paul is quite clear about the excuse of making our place in life a reason not to be whole-hearted for God (which I take it is the burden of I Cor’s “those who are married must live as if they were not”, etc.) but when I think how important it is to provide stability and routine for young lives, and how exhausting the day by day care of a young family is, and especially, a large family (we had six children), and then how much is laid upon the mother in particular, then the call to radicalism echoes in my life with special undertones.
    The celibate orders had a real advantage, as did their non-Catholic counterparts, such as Salvation Army, etc. Making celibacy a requirement for priesthood was of course a massively wrong move, and insisting on life-long oath of celibacy also a arrogant and dangerous move, but requiring celibacy for limited and specific purposes is a wise move. I realize, once again, that those of us in routine middle class married life cannot take others’ celibacy as a vicarious credit that gets us off the sacrificial hook.

  7. […] California. He blogs, along with fellow classmate Andrew Compton, at Reformed Reader where this article first appeared: it is used with […]

  8. Mark says:

    I slightly disagree with this post in one area. In every case in the NT, the response of the gospel is always “mission-minded”. Lydia invites the apostles in after her conversion. The Philippian Jailer cleans Paul’s wounds and gives him food, etc. When God saves a salesman, that salesman is to use his vocation now for the glory of God. He now pledges his goods and his life to kingdom work and not just to being a “normal” Christian. Christians aren’t “normal”. They are temples of the Living God, called by God and set apart (sanctified) by God for work in God’s kingdom…

    • Richard says:

      Respectfully, Mark, I think this misses the point of vocation. The point of vocation is that this is the way in which we love and serve our neighbor–by being faithful to our vocations to which God has called us. God works mainly in the “ordinary,” not in the extraordinary. As a husband, I love and serve my wife in my vocation as husband–this is the way God works out our santification, by our faithfulness in our vocations. I agree with Shane–when we miss out on the doctrine of vocation–a Biblical and Reformed/Lutheran doctrine–we miss out on a major point of how God works through us for our neighbor and the world. The issue is that this isn’t “flashy” enough for some of us.

  9. Michael Boyd says:

    I know this is a book review narrowly focused on one output of David Platt’s ministry- his book Radical. When I read this review it leaves me cringing somewhat because I know Platt would agree with many being called to various domestic professions (maybe he did not convey this in the book or did not have the room. I don’t know.). Also, because it may leave many thinking Platt, his local church ministry and theology are lacking. I have the advantage of knowing this because I used to be a member of the church where Platt preaches in B’ham and regularly listen to his sermons, so have sat under his weekly teaching and know the church (my sister and family are still members, but live much closer than I do). I think I have a unique perspective due to being a long-time member of an OPC and then a strong 1689 reformed baptist church before becoming a member of Brook Hills where Platt preaches. I’ve sat under some strong reformed pastors trained at Greenville and Westminster, PA in my OPC days, then under Mike Gaydosh from Solid Ground Christian Books at the reformed baptist church I was a member of (I wish I was still a member of but too far from where I live). From my perspective and the church life I’ve know since 1995 in the couple of churches prior to the church where Platt pastors, what he is saying is needed and biblical, not only what he says in his book Radical, but in what he preaches every Sunday expositionally. What else is Christ talking about in those gospel passages and how should it be applied to the situation in America today in view of so many believers in hot pursuit of the good American life and what it offers with it’s many possessions, etc? Keep in mind the context of the physical church Platt pastors- in the wealthiest area of Birmingham, AL. When I attended, the parking lot was full of BMWs, Mercedes and $50,000+ vehicles just to give you an idea.

    Sometimes I wonder if pastors are aware of how the typical Christian thinks as they do not get to mingle with them in a secular workplace day in and day out with the unguardedness that comes from not being around a pastor. It is sad just how weak theologically and world-focused people who call themselves believers are! Most do not even understand the Gospel where I live in the south and think they’re going to Heaven because they walked the aisle and said the sinner’s prayer! It does not matter that they don’t go to church now and are raising their children away from the church. For those who are regular church goers, they are so theologically anemic it’s sad. Their victims of weak, self-help, unbiblical preaching.

    I think sometimes you have prophet voices come along and God is pointing out blind spots through them both to the theologically astute and also these world-focused, easy believism so-called Christians. I live in the south where just about everybody thinks they’re a Christian, but really are not. I live in the midst of a cultural Christianity. David Platt is one of those prophet type men God has raised up and the things he says- like in his recent book Follow Me- is desperately needed in the culturally Christian, easy-believism south and elsewhere. That’s why men like John Piper and many of the well-known reformed baptist leaders like him. Really, what he says is the same things Piper says and we know what a deep thinker Piper is.

    Beyond the book Radical, his preaching is some of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s ashamed he’s known for his focus on missions/radical type sermons from conferences when really, I’d say he’s even more gifted in just teaching the Bible. For example, the history of redemption series he preached a few years ago starting in Genesis and going through the whole Bible to Revelation. What pastor in the typical church does something like that-,at least here in the south and in the other church contexts I’ve been in? The people who hear this teaching would not have heard it anywhere else in the area they live and unless picked up books they don’t know of to read, would remain theologically ignorant. It is quite eye-opening, life-changing and faith strengthening to those God has providentially placed under such preaching. It’s also something else to consider what a blessed situation it is to hear that type teaching from the pulpit in view of the anemic preaching going on all around on almost every corner here in the south. I’ve commented to my wife many times how surprised I am at just how gifted he is at conveying truth, and I mean the same type stuff I’ve read in heavy-weight reformed theological works. This is coming from a fellow who’s iPod is busting at the seems from reformed pastors- from both the credo and paedo perspectives. So, in view of knowing the context of Platt’s ministry, I think he clearly presents a “balanced” Christian life- one I’ve found even more balanced than my previous church situations and others I know of, I also think he is a reformer type effectively combating easy-believism and issues like revivalism and altar calls in typical Southern Baptist churches, among other issues. I wrote what I did here to provide some context, not really to be critical of the book review.

    • Richard says:

      Thanks, Michael. This was helpful to put his book in context.

    • Michael,

      Here’s the problem, Platt had every opportunity in his book to present this balanced view, but he didn’t.

      And every pastor who I’ve heard speak against the American Dream has achieved it already.

      • Michael Boyd says:

        Yes, it’s unfortunate Radical was not a well-rounded book in providing some balance with some of the teaching of God calling some to everyday ordinary vocation, and maybe pointing out some of Veith’s points would have been good. But, considering the reasons for the book, that may be OK. His focus is on American Christians who are comfortable to a fault. We all need to examine ourselves in relation to our possessions and if these things grip too much of our heart leading to idolatry. The book is a prophet type call aimed at an American Christianity engulfed in our material goods while many times ignoring the great need of the Gospel locally and globally, and of the great physical needs, also locally and globally. The book serves a purpose, and one I believe, was God-ordained.

        The criticism of Radical being a guilt-trip was a common one after it came out. The first review I think I remember reading was from Kevin DeYoung and that was his main concern if I remember correctly. What’s interesting is if you’re familiar with Platt’s ministry and listen to the Radical sermons the book came from, Platt couches all that teaching in the Gospel. He took the balm of the Gospel and applied it to where his listeners may have perceived they failed. Platt responded to DeYoung and has painstakingly since then in his preaching, and the Radical Together book that came after Radical, stayed as clear on this issue as possible and always states the beautiful Gospel to those wounded. He did also have a chapter in Radical toward the beginning where he did clearly state the Gospel.

        But, something I’ve thought and my wife and I’ve discussed, is calling for holiness and obedience guilting people? Would we say that of the apostle Paul with his admonitions? Am I missing something? Also, I wonder is there such a thing as a good guilt that leads us to repentance as long as it’s framed within the confines of the Gospel? I know Platt is far removed from preachers who apply the law in their preaching, guilting people, with no Gospel. Neither is Platt one of these performance oriented preachers who leaves believers in a hopeless state with no Gospel and all it encompasses to give them hope and realize their acceptance with God is because of Jesus and all He’s done on their behalf, not anything they’ve done. If you look up his sermon titles, they’re always called “The Gospel and…………”. That is an emphasis that was present before the book Radical came out.

        One other interesting tidbit, when Platt was preaching through his Radical sermon series back in 2008, I believe, he had not been at Brook Hills long. He and his wife moved into a very nice luxury home upon moving to Birmingham after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I saw some interviews conducted from this home geared at introducing himself and his wife to the congregation and it looked very nice and luxurious- far exceeding what the majority of Americans would know. Sometime right before he preached through the book of James (2009), if I remember correctly, he down-sized his housing situation greatly, realizing the inconsistency it would be for him to live the way he and his family was in view of what he was preaching. He also did that at a point where he probably lost a lot of money because of the economy at that time. That was the worse time you could have sold! He also drives a simple car- a Honda, and not one of the expensive ones. I know this because I’ve seen him get out of the car after parking next to him. He walks the talk and is not hypocritical. The same goes for how Brook Hills operates.

  10. Monty Ledford says:

    ouch! on that last one.
    I am reading a biography of Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf and am very impressed that, with all of his aristocratic background and natural connections to the good life, he gave so unstintingly to his refugee community and to the cause of the Gospel. I know this doesn’t solve our problem. I am intrigued at the number and intensity of the responses on this–I guess all of us as Americans are pretty touchy about these lifestyle issues.

    • mattbredmond says:

      Michael,

      I also live in Birmingham. And I know his neighborhood. The fact is he has achieved the American Dream. Every single person I come into contact with regularly who is from the third world would recognize this. I do not assume he puts his trust in his possessions. However, telling people to not pursue the comfort you enjoy is at the very least questionable. We call it diabolical when televangelists do it.

      Also, I cannot help but wonder at how moving from upper middle class Shelby County to middle class Shelby County is considered radical in any shape, form, or fashion. I do not fault him for this but I do fault the thinking that this is worthy of any kind of praise.

      • Richard says:

        Just purchased your book, Mr. Redmond, looking forward to reading it. Appreciate your comments and blog.

  11. 2samuel127 says:

    Dr. Platt, in his latest PR push to pump his book “Follow Me,” has sacrificed his integrity in a quest to increase book sales. Whether this was his idea (doubtful) or his publishers (probable) he should not have willingly gone along with it.

    http://thouarttheman.org/2013/08/17/630/

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