I had two other posts I wanted to include, but I realized that they were really just rants against a particular theological point of view. I figured my time was better spent doing something constructive. So this is the final post in my review of David Platt’s Radical. I hope you have enjoyed the series. You can read them all right here (though you should note they are in reverse order).
A more robust Trinitarian theology would’ve helped strengthen every single point David Platt made and would’ve kept him from a number of the errors into which he ventures.
Why do Evangelical pastors and theologians assume the Trinity has nothing to contribute to the conversations the church is having about politics, justice, evangelism, and social ethics?
I know this may seem like an abstract question about an abstract doctrine that is better left to the dusty bookshelves of Moltmann, Barth, and Augustine. We figure it’s something those old timers in church history argued about, but who cares about it now? We moderns have more important things to talk about like God’s hatred for sinners and His love for his own self-glorification
But the Trinity? We assume, to our own detrmiment, that it’s a doctrine merely for scholastic reflection, but doesn’t really touch down in everyday life.
I want to propose, instead that the Trinity is a necessary prerequisite to understanding what Christians are to do in the contemporary culture and Platt has missed a great opportunity to make his argument much stronger. I want to suggest that the Trinity matters to what we have to say about caring for the poor. I want to argue that we have shot ourselves in the foot in the Abortion debate because we’ve missed the power of the doctrine of God’s Tri-unity to help shape, engage, and live out our beliefs.
And more specifically, I want to argue that the persons of the Trinity provide an Evangelical model for social interaction, and David Platt has walked right past his best theological weapon, not even giving a second thought to it.
The basic rundown is this:The three persons of the Trinity, though distinct from one another, are united in a loving union. This union of perfect love created the world out of an overflow of love – perfect love desires nothing more than to give itself away. When creation fell into sin under the guidance of Adam and Eve, God took His perfect love a step further. Though they did not need to, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gave themselves up for their enemies. The Son, the most physical example of this, gave up His glory to become a human. He humbled himself even to the point of death, even death on a cross – the most humiliating death in world history. He later, by the power of the Spirit, resurrected from the dead in defeat of death and the forces of evil and chaos in the world. This, in short, is called the gospel and it is from first to last about the Trinity. It was planned by the Father before the creation of the world, enacted by the Son, and is continued in the church by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, this is a quick rundown of a complex doctrine. But here’s what we have:
- God’s central character attribute is love. This love was core to his character prior to the creation of the world. Indeed, it was the reason for creation.
- That love was self-less (not self-centered). Each member of the Trinity loved the other members with self-giving love. That self-giving love extended to the creation – and then later to fallen creation. David Platt could argue that in God’s unity the persons loving each other mean that God loves himself. Okay, that’s fine. But the Trinitarian description of such a love moves it into the self-less category, not the selfish category.
- The Triune God’s self-giving love is most clearly exhibited in Jesus. He didn’t just stand aloof to our brokenness and say, “Don’t worry, I love you.” No – he entered into our history, our brokenness and died under it’s weight! The incarnation of Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of Triune, self-giving love. And that is why it is at the core of our “good news.”
Therefore: If we are to be called the people of the Triune God…
1) We are to be people known for our self-giving love. Our political involvement is not about power and preservation of our comfortable way of life. Our political involvement must be self-giving, humble, and willing to die for those we are in disagreement with. Disagreement is inevitable. But the way we disagree is an indication of whether we are emulating the Triune God or the ways of the world. This is a radical idea.
2) We are to be people who are willing to love our enemies and others considered ‘unlovable.’ Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Much of our contemporary rhetoric in the political world (I’m thinking here of “Obamanation”) is filled with hatred and vitriol and has no redeemable quality to it. We may need to criticize certain political stances, but demonizing people is not the way of the God who exhibits love to the entire world by being crucified by the world! This is a radical idea.
3) The love of the Triune God is not abstract. It is concrete in its expression – we must enter into someone’s life in order to let them know that they are loved. Indeed, we must be willing to die for them and their brokenness. Paul tells us, in his poetic description of love in I Cor. 13, that it does not matter if we have all knowledge (read: truth) if we do not have love! And that love gets it’s hands dirty. That love doesn’t just stand back and proclaim truth – it necessarily embodies the truth! Like Jesus, that kind of love is truth “in the flesh.” This is a radical idea.
The Trinity matters to truly radical living. It is only in modeling our ministries after Triune, self-giving love that we can ever truly live radical lives.
This doctrine isn’t for dusty books and obscure academic journals. It’s for the everyday life of people struggling to bring God’s kingdom to earth. It’s for people who are looking for serious alternatives to American Dream living, for people trying to navigate the moral morass that is the the suburbs. The Trinity provides an alternative model for those of us looking to engage this world with the gospel, not just make it endurable until we can get to heaven.
Platt wanted to call us to mission. The Father sent the Son to die and rise and the Spirit to empower and indwell; is there a better understanding of mission than that?
Platt wanted to call us to social justice. Is there a better example of seeking justice on a systemic level than Jesus, who was sent from the just and good Father to challenge (political and religious) systems of oppression and injustice that marginalized and dehumanized the first century poor?
Platt wanted us to preach the gospel. Is there a better place to begin sharing the gospel than with the Father who loved the Son so much that their love poured out onto a broken creation when Jesus took on human flesh? The incarnation wasn’t just something the Father and Jesus decided to do one day. It is the natural overflow of their mutual love for one another! The gospel begins there and only there.
All of this was missing from Platt’s book. And all of his good points (and some of his not-good points) could’ve been made stronger by building on this beautiful, mysterious, and, yes, accessible doctrine.
Review complete. Mischief managed.
This is part 10 in my review of David Platt’s Radical. Previously, I have looked at the really good aspects of his book, the good aspects of his book, the bad aspects of his book, and now I’m discussing some things I thought were really bad…bad enough for me to not recommend this book to anyone in my church. (Please see the prior sections of my review to get a balanced understanding of the book. If you only read this section, you’ll come away with a much more negative view than I intend).
God hates people: I knew I was going to have some problems with this book when on page 29 Platt makes this statement, “And in some sense, God also hates sinners. You might ask, ‘What happened to ‘God hates the sin and loves the sinner’? Well, the Bible happened to it. One psalmist said to God, ‘The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.’ Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms we see similar descriptions of God’s hatred toward sinners, his wrath toward liars, and so on.”
I know Platt and others (Piper, Driscoll, Washer) think they’re profound when they say this stuff. But it’s terrible biblical interpretation to pull a couple Bible verses out of their context in order to prove your point and add some shock value to what you’re saying. A point, in my opinion, which is shocking precisely because it goes against the grain of the thrust of scripture.
You can’t just say God hates people and then when people ask about it say, “Well, the Bible happened to it….the Bible says God hates us.” That’d be like me saying, “What happened to Unconditional Election? Well, the Bible happened to it.” In other words, such an approach does nothing to actually prove the point. It merely assumes it.
No. Sorry. That won’t do. Preachers, theologians, and Bible teachers need to be better handlers of Scripture than that.
This approach to these texts is a cheap version of biblical interpretation that charades as deep spiritual truth, but is actually deadly.
How Would I Interpret the “God Hates You” Passages?
The first rule you learn in Biblical Interpretation 101 is that genre is the first thing you need to determine when reading a Bible passage. The psalms are part of the literary genre called “poetry.” A unique part of poetry’s very DNA is that it is filled with symbols, emotion, and exaggeration. As Platt acknowledges, most of his citations of scripture come from the Psalms, which means that knowing/acknowledging the psalms are poetry is an essential part of understanding what the psalms mean: By their very nature they’re not to be taken literally. To miss this point leads to all kinds of grave interpretation errors…like the one represented by Platt when he says God hates people.
Furthermore, we must also recognize that words like ‘love’ and ‘hate’ don’t translate 1 to 1 into our culture. God’s love and hate are covenantal words in the OT, not strictly emotional words (like in our culture). The point being that the exaggerated language of ‘hate’ combined with the cultural context and genre give us a good indication of the psalmists point: Those who are wicked fall outside of God’s covenant (which is Paul’s point [and Malachi's] when he writes of the same thing concerning Jacob and Esau in Romans 9…he’s building on a covenant theme he’s been talking about the entire book.).
And on one more note, our individualism goes awry in our interpretations of these passages because we read these words like they’re for ‘me’ or ‘you’ individually. But if these words are covenantal words, then they’re necessarily about a community of people, not individuals. Even in Malachi and Romans 9, Jacob and Esau represent nations not individuals (and an interpretive case could be made for the same thing in Genesis, “There are two nations in your womb.”).
If we miss the genre of the passage we’re reading, if we miss the cultural context of the passage, and if we read our Western individualism on to them, then we miss the interpretation. To say that God hates all individual sinners not only goes against the main thrust of Scripture (For God so loved the world!), but is to cherry-pick verses out of their context to prove our pet-points. This is really bad interpretation. This is really bad theology. This is really bad pastoring.
After 5 posts examining The Really Good and The Good aspects of David Platt’s Radical, we are moving on to some of the less positive aspects o my review. This, too, will take 4 or 5 posts as we examine The Bad and The Really Bad.
Criticizes a Cheap Understanding of God’s Will:
I’m pretty sure David Platt and I would have significant disagreement regarding the nature of God’s will. Nevertheless, in whatever overlap there is between our understandings, I think he nailed it with his comments on page 164,
“We say things such as, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. We think, If it’s dangerous, God must not be in it. If it’s risky, if it’s unsafe, if it’s costly, it must not be God’s will. But what if these factors are really the criteria by which we determine something is God’s will? What if we began to look at the design of God as the most dangerous option before us? What if the center of God’s will is in reality the most unsafe place for us to be?”
I certainly think there’s a sense in which Platt’s overstating his point for rhetorical purposes. After all, I don’t see him trying to cross the Iranian boarder with a bag full of Bibles and no identification. Nevertheless, his questions need to be heard by American Christians. I’ve heard people voice the cliché’s he’s criticizing here. And I’m grateful for his voice on the matter.
As I’ve said elsewhere, safety is never promised to us in Scripture. You never once heard Jesus saying to the disciples, “Hey guys, don’t worry about the Romans. They don’t like me much, but you guys shouldn’t have a problem with them. Once I’m gone, I’m pretty sure they’ll leave you alone.” No, quite to the contrary, Jesus tells them that before they follow him they are to be fully aware that this can only end in a cross. Death is where this Christianity thing is headed – therefore count the cost!
God’s will wasn’t for us to have a safe, sentimental religion. Jesus came to call us to a *radical* revolution – to a life that is not afraid of death or those who can bring death because we believe that Christ has defeated death and our ultimate end is resurrection. Safe, sentimental religion is not Christianity. Christianity is a religion of self-sacrifice not safety, death not sentimentality.
It seems, then, that the most dangerous place to be in this life might very well be within the will of God. .