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.
A Limited Gospel:
One of my frustrations with much of the evangelistic efforts of modern Evangelicalism is the ingrained assumption that the gospel is primarily about getting people into heaven. All other things serve that purpose. The Southern Baptists are largely the spearheads of this understanding of the gospel, and David Platt, in general, fails to break free from the mold. While I am excited about Platt’s push for justice for the poor and marginal (something rarely discussed in Southern Baptist churches), Platt still falls into the assumption that the gospel is primarily about preparing people for the next life instead of teaching them that heaven is being brought to earth in this life when the church lives out the ethics of Jesus.
Platt spends the entire 7th chapter of his book discussing what ‘the gospel’ is. His outline is as follows (The parenthetical statements are my brief summaries of the sections):
1) All People Have a Knowledge of God (God has revealed Himself to everyone…even people who’ve never heard his name)
2) All People Reject God (All persons have rejected God because of their sinful hearts)
3) All People are Guilty Before God (No one is innocent)
4) All People are Condemned for Rejecting God (The law cannot save anyone, it only condemns)
5) God has made a way of Salvation for the Lost (Jesus is the only way, not other religions)
6) People cannot come to God Apart from Faith in Christ
7) Christ Commands the Church to Make the Gospel Known to All Peoples
Now, if you’re paying attention to the outline, you’ll notice that Platt is following the typical Evangelical formula for “getting someone saved” by leading them through Paul’s epistle to the Romans. But my biggest beef with this approach is that it fails to take into account Paul’s intentions in the book of Romans, itself, and substitutes, instead, the Evangelical agenda for the book of Romans. Such an approach reduces Paul’s greatest letter to a series of proverbial proof-texts designed to “lead someone to the Lord.”
But Paul’s intention was quite different. After all, he wasn’t writing to unbelievers, but to believers.
In Romans, Paul’s primary concern is not establishing a bunch of proverbs intended to lead unbelievers to faith in Christ. Paul’s intention is to write to Christians about how God has put them in right standing with His covenant purposes and how God has shown himself to be faithful to His covenant promises in sending Jesus as both the representative of humanity (Israel) and God. Jesus fulfills both sides of the covenant obligations in his death and resurrection. And through faith in Jesus (and the faithfulness of Jesus!), all people can be put in a right relationship with God, no matter if they are Jew or Gentile.
But none of this is mentioned in Platt’s recounting. Platt’s primary concern in citing Romans lies far from Paul’s primary concern. In pursuit of his own agenda for Romans, Platt consistently cites scriptures outside of their context to reinforce this pre-established agenda. Paul’s point about all people having a knowledge of God, all people rejecting God, and all people being guilty before God are not primarily about teaching unbelievers they’re sinners. Rather, Paul’s primary point is to teach Jewish and Gentile Christians that neither party is morally or spiritually superior to the other. Paul’s not writing a handbook of soul-winning, Paul’s writing a handbook on ethnic diversity in the early church – especially ethnic diversity that dealt with the status of the Jewish people in relation to the Gentiles who are newly grafted into the story of Israel.
In short, Platt uses Romans to “get people saved,” but Paul was writing Romans in order to tell “saved people” how they are to understand their new-found relationship to each other and God. Platt is concerned for the billion people in our world today “who will not go to heaven because they have never heard of Christ” and are “dying and going to hell without ever knowing there is a gospel.” But Paul mentions neither heaven nor hell in the book of Romans! Because his point is elsewhere.
Add to this the fact that for all Platt’s talk of the gospel being “God-centered,” I’m a bit disappointed that he spends most of his time in this chapter discussing humanity and our falleness (which Platt, by the way, attributes to the sovereign determination of God, which acted prior to human free will!). Even under point 5 where he talks about what God has done to make a way for us, he gives all of two or three lines discussing the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the rest of the time he spends pounding the gavel of exclusivism in a pluralistic world. Another subject Paul doesn’t discuss in Romans, though he has a ton to say about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Platt’s discussion is lopsided because his theology is lopsided. And his exegesis is lopsided because he fails to do the hard work of biblical interpretation in Romans. Rather, he just assumes he knows what the book is about.
In the end, when we reduce the gospel to nothing more than “getting people saved” by taking them through Platt’s 7 points, we are left with no conception of the recreation of all things beginning in the present age, no conception of how the gospel brings heaven to earth in the present age (in fact, quite the opposite, on page 179, Platt contends this world is not our home, which is the opposite of what the NT writers claimed!), no conception of how resurrection life begins in the present age. Instead, what we get is a lot of guilt, a brief mention of a God who died and rose for us, and then a commission to go out to the world in order to make them feel guilty with our proof-texts and then mention at the end that they, too, can be saved because Jesus died and rose again….that is, they can be saved if God doesn’t hate them (but we’ll get to that in a bit).
For all our arguments over the bodily resurrection of Jesus, if we do not offer a salvation to the world that actually means something to their physical, this-worldly existence (not denying, of course, that there’s a next wordly aspect to our salvation…but even it is physical!), then our cognitive assent to the bodily resurrection of Jesus is meaningless act of the intellect.
While there is truth to Platt’s understanding of the gospel (we are all, indeed, sinners who cannot save ourselves!), I merely contend that it is not a robust enough understanding of the gospel. If Evangelicalism is to have a powerful voice in our culture, then we need a deeper, more biblical understanding of the gospel and how the scriptures speak of the gospel.
Platt is writing for the church in this book. He’s not writing for non-Christians. Thus, I contend that he missed an opportunity to do exactly what Paul did in Romans – preach the gospel to the church and show her how it matters to how she lives her everyday life. Platt had an opportunity to spell out, for the church, what words like ‘gospel,’ ‘justification,’ ‘atonement,’ etc. mean in the context of Romans. But Platt assumes (a faulty assumption, in my opinion) that the readers of his book already understand these terms and goes on to reinforce the old Evangelism-technique approach to Romans. Such an approach, unfortunately, leaves Paul’s intentions in Romans behind and leaves the modern reader lacking a fuller understanding of Scripture. As a pastor who happens to believe these words matter to our everyday lives, Platt’s approach genuinely saddens me. I wish he had used his platform better.
This is not a matter of me complaining Platt is not scholarly enough. And, really, this is not a matter of me singling out Platt for his reduced gospel. This is a frustration I have with the larger Evangelical community in general. Our gospel is reduced to “getting sinners into heaven” instead of making disciples of Jesus who bring heaven to earth. We all, not just David Platt, need to repent of this.