A belief more radical than Radical (Countering the theologies of men like David Platt)

I am writing this for a dear friend of mine partly to address a difference of beliefs, and partly to examine some of the issues I have with the churches today, particularly movements driven by popular calvinists such as Francis Chan, David Platt, John Piper, etc.

I’ve always regarded calvinists as modern day Pharisees, with their almost wholly academic approach to Scripture and their proclivity for trying to intellectualize their way to God.  We see no end of of them on the internet too, as it provides the perfect medium for them to bloviate on and on about theological topics until they run out of words.  It’s very rare to see a spirit of humility amongst their ranks, as the extreme pursuit of (mostly) carnal knowledge comes with it the risk of puffing them up with pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) and disdain for those who are not as learned as they are.  Just as it was with the Pharisees.  Because they hail mostly from a Baptist subculture, I’m convinced many of them are also not baptized in the Holy Spirit, and thus practice their brand of Christianity without His direction and without a much needed discernment that only He can provide.

Regardless, I was particularly curious about the book “Radical,” written by the calvinist David Platt, and decided to read it to get a sense of what was currently all the rage in mainstream Christianity today.  I think Platt starts out really well, lampooning the materialistic, “seeker-sensitive” nature of churches today that never ceases to drive me up the wall.  He juxtaposes this with how believers in hostile countries come together despite the constant threat of persecution, and how nothing more than the Word itself was needed to sustain them in fellowship and worship.  Glad to see somebody is finally waking up to this megachurch/seeker-sensitive nonsense.

But then he starts to go off on a tangent.  While he speaks of the stinginess of Christians (though I get the sense that he believes just by virtue of being stingy can be evidence that a person is not saved), it does seem to me that they still give generously to the church leadership, but these leaders have become bad stewards of the money being given to them.  They’ve gotten caught up in running their churches as a profit-making, consumer-driven business rather than an actual house of worship pleasing to God.  I doubt many in the congregation would have a problem with the leadership refocusing their tithes for more constructive use.  Some might end up leaving, but then again that would weed out those who only came for the social perks or wanted their ears tingled.  Platt purports to support this, partly by talking about experimentally converting one of his church services in a format more akin to what he saw in Asia.  So I wonder why he doesn’t go the distance and completely reform his entire church in that vein.  He takes a step in the right direction, but in my view still falls short.  One of the grievances I have with modern churches is their propensity for growing too large (usually for the wrong reasons), and then addressing this by fragmenting the church into little cliques of 20 or less people, rather than creating a circuit of complete churches that should have no larger than say, 150-200 members per church.  A shepherd should know every member of his flock after all.

His proposed resolution for the materialistic Christian is also uneven and rife with contradictions too.  Starting with the rich young ruler who refused to give up his possessions to follow Jesus, the logical leap from examining that verse would presume we ALL need to give up EVERYTHING we own to follow the Lord, yet Platt walks back on this by suggesting we just need to put a cap on our lifestyle.  He tends to go back and forth on the specifics of giving, first lauding random giving, but then tempering that with more informed giving, and so on.  For all the talk on charitable giving, it still remains readily unclear how much one has to precisely give to prove he’s saved and a good Christian.

I took a closer look at the story of the rich young ruler.  To me the issue here wasn’t of stinginess, but that he considered his possessions more important than the treasure that was standing right in front of him, Christ himself, the pearl of great price.

What I sense though is that this story has a history of being used not to help Christians correct their priorities and cast down their idols, but to guilt induce the masses into giving more money to the church.  It’s all distinctly catholic in tone.  One’s affluence makes them a target for being brow beaten with guilt until they finally relent and give it up for Christ (or more specifically, the church), or otherwise they are clearly not saved and headed for hell.  So, we’ve gone from materialism to socialism.

Now I think Platt’s approach is more palatable to the reader, but still, his belief system seems to be reared on old religious concepts that are not grounded in the Word.  It’s going to cause too many to obsess over acts of charitable giving and lull them into a false sense of confidence in their good works, because now their spirituality is weighed in how much they give.

And yet we have this warning:  “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  (Matthew 7:22-23)  Note the LORD is not speaking to the world here; he addressing those who thought they were being good Christians.  It’s a sobering warning that every Christian on earth needs to contemplate and prayerfully heed.

In addition to what he writes in Radical, Platt also espouses (whether intentionally or not) a concept called “Lordship salvation.”  He begins by correctly criticizing the superficiality of the “sinner’s prayer,” but as it seems to go with so many Christians today, he starts out well and then goes off the rails.  Clearly one’s life has to undergo some kind of metamorphosis, but to what extent to confidently indicate one is saved (or regenerated as calvinists like to say) Platt again offers little or no insight.  The amorphous nature of “Lordship salvation” gives it an enormous potential for abuse, allowing people to to exploit this teaching to falsely condemn Christians who are struggling in their sins AND uplift those who have a pretense of outward holiness (but inside are full of dead men’s bones.)

Platt and those like him confuse salvation with sanctification (how the Lord continually makes us more like Him every day), and confuse spiritual birth (becoming saved) for spiritual growth.  It seems to be the crux of calvinists that they obsess over the nature of salvation (soteriology) and overly complicate it to absurd degrees (thus missing the forest for the trees, another hallmark trait of the Pharisees.)  Always ever learning, always and ever studying, and yet so many are about as far from the kingdom of heaven as one can be. (2 Timothy 3:7)

But as for me and mine house…

Regarding my own walk; a long time ago I formally declared to God, “Lord, my life and all that I have is in your hands.  Do as you see fit.”  I don’t treat my possessions then as actually being mine, because they were never mine to begin with.  And I don’t regard any riches the Lord blesses me with as a sign of apostasy any more than I would regard the times that I was impoverished and homeless as a sign of my holiness.  I believe any righteousness stems from believing His word, not merely in doing good works.  I believe one should not trust in the teachings of man and his endless inventions, but trust in His word.  (Jeremiah 17:5)  I believe the Bible supersedes everything else, and believe the Holy Spirit can instruct us in all things.  I believe much of what we see in Christianity is heresy, confusion and dissension, with the masses “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” I believe we are in the great falling away, and I believe because of this we need the discernment of the Holy Spirit now more than ever.  I believe our spiritual state is more important than our physical state, and I believe the spiritual state of Christians in America today are being neglected in pursuit of a social gospel that purports to alleviate physical suffering, yet without dealing with the underlying cause via the gospel.

And  I believe the rarity of what I believe is what makes me the true radical.

Author: Frank

One man journeys through history and the world in an epic search for truth, justice... and great pizza.

27 thoughts on “A belief more radical than Radical (Countering the theologies of men like David Platt)”

  1. Good post. Great ending. The verse you quoted ( Matthew 7:22-23) I’ve always read that to mean people who believed they were Saved (hence the “I never knew you: depart from me”. Surely, if a person is Saved, Jesus would not say “I never knew you”?

    Some of the greatest lies from Satan; an unsaved person who believes they are going to Heaven and are doing the Lord’s work. The Catholics believe in their salvation, the Calvinists believe in their salvation, and so, too, even those who are members of a Bible-believing NT Church.

    1. Itchy, I truly believe we can be confident of our salvation, it’s just a matter of WHERE we place our salvation. (1 John 5:13) Most place confidence of their salvation in their good works, something I believe calvinists continue to perpetuate via lordship salvation, even if that wasn’t the intent for some. Faith is so much more simpler than most people make it out to be though.

      1. Definitely, I don’t disagree. What I was trying to say was: these people were confident in their salvation, even though they placed it in the wrong things.

  2. Very good critique! I am with you, brother! The moment I saw the background photo (Uncompagre Mountains?), I wondered if I had stumbled onto a biblically sensible site. Thanks for your Spirit-directed words of wisdom.

    1. Thank you Ron!

      As for the mountains, not Uncompahgre, but close. It’s part of the San Juan mountains just outside of Telluride. I was heading south to Mesa Verde from there, which provides some of the best views of the San Juans you can find, especially during the fall season. Too bad Telluride is such a hoity toity town, otherwise I definitely could have seen myself living/retiring there. 😉

  3. I am very interested in this general topic and would like to say a word. To me there is a fundamental issue that if investigated might be helpful in this conversation.
    Since God made man in His image but man fell, then it makes sense that the essence of the gospel would be about man’s return to functionality. And, of course, that means that God Himself must take up residence in man. God’s answer to the problem is not just to gather up piles of non-functioning humans into heaven, but to enter men on earth, and by His presence enable us to show forth His likeness. Calvinists and others are very concerned about who gets into the heavenly pile, but seemingly unaware that a head count is not the high point of God’s plan. But we have a role in God’s plan, and if we do not fully lean on and depend on the Christ within us then I’ll continue to be non-functional even though we’re heaven bound. We must depend as much on the life of Christ now in order to live the Christian life, as we once depended on the death of Christ to become a Christian. I am very curious to know if churches today, especially Reformed churches, teach that Christ can live His life through us. It appears to me that Calvinists are just leading their people into legalism, but they are not alone in this. Legalism always elevates the law-giver and man’s ability to keep it, but it never elevates God. Just ask any honest Reformed church member and you’ll find that there are simply certain things that you do not do, and high on the list is to verbally disagree with Calvinism.
    I believe in Lordship salvation, in a sense. There is an attitude, a heart condition, necessary for salvation. No one has ever been saved who did not give over all they understood themselves to be, to all they understood God to be. The man who wants to be saved but also wants to hang onto the control of his life will not be born again. Having said that, I also believe that we can quickly and dramatically leave that salvation frame of mind. A genuinely born again Christian can take many a trip to the far country. I am not saved because I do certain things or don’t do certain things; but solely because Jesus Christ lives in me. My new heart, given to me in salvation, drives and urges me to live close to Jesus; but we have the capacity to ignore our new heart and the Spirit’s call. To put boundaries on how far we can go astray is part of the goal of legalism, but it offers no real answer, just peer pressure, manipulation, and the fear of being labeled those who never were saved.
    There is no victory for ourselves or for our country or the world, apart from the life of Christ flowing through us. It is His life, lived by Him, through me, or it is a complete waste of time. I fear that this concept is no longer being taught in our churches. I hope I’m wrong.

    John White

  4. Yes, that is simpler. I have three questions: (1) Where do we get the power to do those works? (2) Can we fail to accomplish some of them? (3) How many can we fail to accomplish and still be a Christian?

    1. God created us, therefore He imbued us with the necessary traits to accomplish His will. We can fail to accomplish it because of our ability to choose, but failure is oft the fertilizer that yields the fruit of perfection.

  5. Frank,
    I tend to be cryptic, I’m sorry. To be somewhat more clear. I appreciated your article and especially these excerpts: “it still remains readily unclear how much one has to precisely give to prove he’s saved and a good Christian” I think that this criticism could be expanded to all Calvinist’s teachings concerning the Christian life. Likewise this quote: “It’s all distinctly catholic in tone. One’s affluence makes them a target for being brow beaten with guilt until they finally relent and give it up for Christ (or more specifically, the church), or otherwise they are clearly not saved and headed for hell.” To me the Calvinists of today are the poster children for legalism. Here are two thoughts concerning the Reformed popularity.
    If you tell a people that they were chosen and their neighbor was not, human nature being what it is, they will begin to think deep in their heart that their “Electness” has something to do with their good deeds. This they will do no matter how often they are told otherwise. This does wonders for the self-image and fosters a feeling much to be desired.
    If you then hold a big stick over their head, perseverance, then they will tend to stay “in-line” for to do otherwise is to be regarded as having never been saved.
    At the end of the day, Calvinism is simply not biblically correct. There are about five major errors in it; but leading the list, even possibly ahead of Limited Atonement, is there failure to teach a complete reliance on the Holy Spirit. This error they have in common with just about everyone else.

    1. What I find interesting is that I don’t think this was the mindset of some of the prominent Calvinists from centuries past. Spurgeon is a good example of this: the thrust of his belief system was always predicated on the notion that he was so evil, so fundamentally a failure that the only way he could be saved is if God saved him. He considered himself so incapable of even choosing the right path that only by regeneration so to speak, could he be redeemed.

      Nowadays the focus seems to be on the notion that “there must be something special about me for God to have chosen to save me.” While we’re all equally corrupt, it doesn’t take away from the premise that the elect was chosen for some reason known only to God, and it’s not hard to see how easily that breeds a sense of pride and haughtiness unique to Calvinists. It’s why I regard them as modern day Pharisees: they got all the answers because they’re CHOSEN, not to mention well educated and intellectual and know Greek, so hence they understand matters of soteriology that the rest of us mere peasants could never begin to comprehend. Same story, different century. (Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach US??)

      And when the underlying premise is wrong, everything that flows from that is going to be wrong as well. Now we can’t merely be content in being elected: we have to PROVE we’re elected, and the only way that can be done to the satisfaction of our peers is by outwardly doing as many good works as possible, and once again legalism rears its ugly head. It’s like we never stopped being Catholic.

      It’s the same old pattern dressed up in different terms, but it’s so predictable that even 2,000 years later, all the warnings of Scripture that admonish us not to fall into these traps remain just as relevant today as it did then.

      1. Frank,
        Thank you for so clearly stating the truth of the issue. I’m sure you’ll once again be soundly criticized for your stand, but it is the truth nonetheless. It is so tragic that this movement that is so clearly non-biblical is so wide spread. The whole thing speaks to a lack of sound biblical teaching.

  6. On the first portion of text in bold, I believe it is somewhat incongruous to utilize coming off of a discussion of given. While certainly the Christian worldview allows for even generous persons to merit hell by other sins and lack of faith, that portion of the text, based on the previous two clauses and the modifying word “wonderful”, it appears that the idea has less to do (if at all) with the charity of men claiming to believe the Gospel but more to do with men being certain of salvation, when they are unknown to Christ, according to their miracle-working through the name of Christ.

  7. I’ve been following your blog for some time, and I thought I should chime in here to (1) apologize for some of the arrogance you seem to have encountered, and (2) to reassure you that, really, not all of us Calvinists are like that! It’s so unfortunate that we can come across this way. We, of all people, ought to be quite humble. God didn’t have to choose anyone if He didn’t want to. He could have let us all die in our sins. But in His mercy, He chose to save whoever would believe in His Son. Election is a great comfort, but it is often abused or misunderstood, thus causing great discomfort. If I am saved, I am saved FOREVER. “Nothing can snatch them out of my hand,” as Jesus said. He promises eternal life for whoever trusts in Christ. It’s that simple. If someone believes, it is because he was chosen from before the foundation of the world. It is not for us to know who is elect and who is not; only God knows that. He didn’t have to choose me, but He did. And because it’s His choice, it will NOT be thwarted by anything, no matter what. God has promised me eternal life, and that settles it.

    For the record, I agree with you about people like Piper. I REALLY don’t like his soft legalism, and he seems to also teach preparationism (which is extremely dangerous). It seems like such teachers exhort believers to look to themselves and their works for assurance of salvation, rather than to Christ and His finished work.

    If you’re interested in some really solid teaching, you might look into The White Horse Inn website. Michael Horton is one of the best Bible teachers I’ve heard, and I know I’ve been greatly encouraged and edified by his teachings.

    Wishing you peace in Christ,


    1. Thanks Evan, I know not all are the same way, and I occasionally read/enjoy several (albeit old works) written by Calvinists, my favorite being Spurgeon.

      I just try to go by the Bible and trust out of faith that the Holy Spirit guides me, and avoid getting caught up in the cerebral debates within theology. It always seems like we miss the forest for the trees that way.

  8. This page reads like you are criticizing David Platt but you listed Francis Chan in the first paragraph. Chan did exactly what you suggested about Platt. He gave up the mega church. Said he didn’t think it was biblical…only lives on a small portion of book sales…..downsized his home. He doesn’t claim in any way these things cause him to be saved. I have heard him say a few things in Crazy Love that were of the Calvinist doctrine but that was before the total turn around. He does good works but it seems to me it is from the Lord and not himself.

    1. I understand Chan was a sort of mentor to Platt, but I dislike Chan for different reasons. His actions (such as reducing his wealth) is based on the “social gospel.” I don’t know if that’s still the case and if he’s changed since then, but that’s why I never gave much credence to his teachings.

      1. Yes, the social gospel – bingo. All of this Platt chiding his congregation to downsize smacks of “collective salvation” (see Liberation Theology).

        I have no use for all this trendy schtick so prevalent in the modern church. If the pastor shepherds his flock and feeds his sheep with the meat of the Word and solid doctrine, the Holy Spirit will do the convicting. On an individual basis.

        Also, Let me add herein a reply to other blanket comments made about Calvinists. There is an emergent group of new Calvinists who seem to have a bent toward the trendy and hip. They are works focused but in a collective way. They’re not radical, they’re militant, and it seems to result in an insufferable haughtiness and little joy in the Lord because they’re too preoccupied with everyone else’s behavior. (For example, today on Back to the Bible David Platt shares a story that I found unseemly and self-aggrandizing. In my thought bubble, I muttered, “Let another man praise thee and not thine own mouth.” It was a story better told about David Platt than by David Platt.)

        Then there are those of us who are traditional Calvinists. We do not see election as “I’m special.” God’s grace and good pleasure have nothing to do with me. We see the Doctrine of Election as something so humbling, it can reduce one to grateful sobbing at the mere thought.

        In summation, I avoid at all costs anyone’s use of Scripture as a cudgel. The Holy Spirit’s work to individual conviction and sanctification doesn’t occur by a berating pastor calling for collective behavioral change. Christianity as “flavor of the month.”

      2. That reminds me of the old-timey Calvinists, where their beliefs drove them to have an incredibly low sense of self-worth. It can go to another extreme as well though, and seems to carry some Catholic overtones to it (like the Catholic-inspired practice of self-flagellations). I remember encountering a Calvinist who was so extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum that he was convinced God did not pick him for salvation even though he wanted to be saved. Very sad. If I had to think of an old-time Calvinist that struck a more balanced view, Spurgeon would be my favorite.

  9. Jesus applied the social gospel in everything he did … he demonstrated love in the most purest form … what is your beef regarding your criticisms of the social gospel which I believe our society today grossly lacks and horriblly deficient of, especially the church.
    I have learned through years of study not to be beholden of the weak interpretations of men, in any form, but to let his spirit light the way.
    Maybe you too ought to consider reframing your interpretations, for just as Chan to Pack … someone mentored you …
    It took me years to throw off “doctrines of men” but well worth the work involved to learn to let his spirit take over and lead instead of man’s biases
    Trust no one and test everything

    1. You threw off the doctrines of men only to follow the doctrines of men in people like Chan. Seems like you’re just playing musical chairs here in following manmade heresies.

      If you don’t understand what my beef is, then you obviously didn’t read my post. Try again, dearie.

  10. I enjoyed your blog. David Platt is scary. He has just enough of the true gospel message mixed with the social gospel to make him dangerous. I found a video of him speaking earlier this year on racism, in which he blamed all “white evangelical churches” for causing much of the racial division in our country and suggested we all need to repent.

    Unfortunately, he recently became the lead pastor of a really large Bible church, McLean Bible Church, in Mclean, VA, which used to have very sound doctrine. They were one of the few non-Calvinist churches in the area. Why the church chose him to be their pastor I’ll never understand.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and that’s really sad to hear! I’ve given up on any hope that people will hear the truth or assert any form of common sense discernment. They’ll do what they want and get the teachers/pastors that will tell them what they love to hear instead of the truth, and nothing will change that. I’ve exited out of the Christian culture in this country altogether as my kind is neither welcome nor accepted.

  11. Actually, Frank, you haven’t exited out of the Christian culture altogether, since you do have this blog which connects you with other Christians. I know it’s not ideal, but, as you have noted, neither are most local churches these days.

    “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

    May God bless you.


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