Imagine growing up in a church where the constant theme from the pulpit was to be more devoted, to take more radical measures, to live a higher life. If a Christian survives such a gospel-stifling environment he would be understandably leery of books that call him to live a life of fervent urgency. In reaction, he may gravitate towards a passive form of Christianity where the imperative of every sermon is to bask in a Christ who is uninterested in any action at all. But there is more than one way to truncate the gospel. Discerning that a nominal and over-comfortable Christianity now characterizes the churches of North America, Pastor David Platt is lifting up his voice and calling whomever will listen to actually get up off the couch and follow Jesus. The book is not an attempt to recruit readers to some kind of super-Christian lifestyle but rather a call truly to know Jesus, to delight in him, and to obey him.
Two kinds of people need to read this book: people who grew up in shallow churches where slogans substituted for the ministry of the Word, and people who grew up in deep churches where ministry could be conveniently scheduled at certain discrete hours of the week in air-conditioned buildings. Yes, this book is extremely easy to read – it’s not trying to be a profound exposition of any theological depth. And yes, this book is extremely difficult to read – it succeeds at getting under one’s skin and irritating the complacent.
Platt is concerned about revivalistic decisionism: pray this prayer and never worry about hell again. He combats it with a radical call to obedience. Lest one fear that Platt replaces easy-believism with works righteousness, Platt drives the reader straight to the gospel, affirming that salvation is initiated by God not by us, that we are completely dead in our sins and totally depraved prior to salvation, that we need someone else completely outside of ourselves to save us. In fact, on page 41 he writes, “And this is why Jesus came: to endure the holy wrath of God due us.”
One of Platt’s talents is the debunking of common and sloppy evangelical cliches. For example, he takes on the “God hates sin but loves the sinner” mantra and shows its flaws. He does so without losing sight of God’s true love for sinners in Christ. Instead of us thinking that we are Christians because of something we have done, Platt affirms: “Instead, we are saved from our sin ultimately because Jesus decided to do something two thousand years ago.” (44) Thankfully, Platt does not present a gospel that merely gets you into the family of God where you then discover you must maintain your membership status by being extra zealous. He makes it clear that “the way to conquer sin is not by working hard to change our deeds, but by trusting Jesus to change our desires.” (111) He has a whole section of the book where he writes about enjoying God and how that enjoyment moves you to live wholeheartedly for Him. The book is refreshingly not trying to motivate by guilt or by mere duty.
Platt peppers the book with anecdotes, like how his cash flow instantly improved the moment he said “I do” and was married. His poignant illustrations taken from his and his wife’s experience of adopting children are inspiring. He does a good job of critiquing the “accept Jesus into your heart,” or the “make Jesus your Lord, now,” or the “join up with Jesus without joining the church” practices. The book is full of zingers. He writes like the provocative preacher that he is. His chapter on why you should become a formal member of a church is well done and will sneak up on the reader who misjudged the book to be lightweight.
Jesus’ Great Commission has a way of surviving all the fads, trends, and reactionary waves of church history. One or two generations ago the call to full-time missionary service was framed as a higher calling, a vocation for special Christians who had to leave their privileged civilization behind and sacrifice their lives for the sake of the benighted masses who had never heard the stripped down, truncated message of individual soul salvation via the sinner’s prayer. Today the evangelical church pendulum has swung so far from this go-and-tell model that everyone is a de facto missionary, every human activity is somehow participation in the mission of God, and no one needs to move far away to engage unreached people groups because there is plenty of mission to do in one’s own Jerusalem.
David Platt is not even on this spectrum. For the presumptuous reader who thinks himself a Christian because he invited Christ into his heart, Platt will expose him to the radical call of Jesus to forsake all and follow the Master. To the comfortable reader who has been easily persuaded that the cost of following Christ has to do with the pain of seeing one’s investment portfolio dip now and again, Platt will not just sober him with the call to die but will inspire him with the call to live. This book is dangerous reading. Readers should exercise caution before including it on their summer beachside reading list. It could ruin one’s vacation. Rather, it would be ideal for a husband and wife to read together, one morning a week, praying and asking what changes must take place in their household for them to follow Jesus truly. Imagine an entire congregation reading this book over a two-month period and asking the question corporately: how must our life together change for us as a body to follow Jesus? Rather than merely hosting a missions conference, how about providing each conference attendee with a copy of this book ahead of time so that they are appropriately disturbed and prepared to hear of the multitude of opportunities for gospel-driven service?
One doesn’t actually need this book. The best parts can already be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But for the calloused and inoculated who manage to read the gospels without ever considering that Jesus is actually calling us to drop our nets and follow him, we need it.
- Stephen Lewis, Westminster Bookstore Staff 2013