An Interview with David Platt
I hope every reader of this blog can set aside one hour to listen to David Platt’s T4G breakout session, “An Unadjusted Gospel in an Unreached World,” which you can download or stream below:
It’s essentially the same as chapter 7 of his book, Radical, and he argues that gospel theology demands a missional urgency. He walks through the book of Romans to show seven truths about people who have never heard of Jesus:
- All people have knowledge of God
- All people reject God
- All people are guilty before God
- All people are condemned for rejecting God
- God has made a way of salvation for the lost
- People cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ
- Christ commands the church to make the gospel known to all peoples
This is a winsome, compelling, urgent message. You might even want to skip a meal in order to set aside time to listen to it.
Platt is the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Radical is his first book. In the days ahead I’ll link to some dialogue in the pipeline regarding some concerns about the framing of the book—especially in chapter 6. Hopefully this will be some iron sharpening iron and a model of irenic discernment and engagement.
David was kind enough to answer a few questions from me about some of the practical aspects of his global missions vision:
What role does the cross play in the biblical vision of radical living?
First and foremost, the cross makes radical living possible. We live only because Christ died. In His death and resurrection, we have been reconciled to God and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This is the spring from which radical living flows. Because of the cross, we are dead to our sin and dead to ourselves. Christ is our life, our joy, our satisfaction, and our delight. The cross delivers us from our attachments to and affections for the things of this world, and the cross frees us to give our lives in radical abandonment to the will of Christ for the glory of Christ in all nations.
The cross also reminds us that the radical life is not a life of legalism, but a life of love. Some will take the idea of radical obedience to Christ and twist it into a measure by which we are approved by God. The more radical we are, we will tend to think, the more accepted we will be before God. But the cross reminds us that God’s pleasure in us is not based on our performance for Him. There is nothing we can do, no matter how radical we might be, to earn favor before God. God’s pleasure in us is based solely on Christ’s performance for us on the cross. So the cross reminds us that the radical life can never be the legalistic life. Instead, the cross compels us to a life of love. As sinners once dead in our transgressions with nothing in us to draw Christ to us, He saw us in our need and gave His life for us. And so now we see others in their need—spiritually, billions who are without Christ, including thousands of people groups who haven’t even heard of the cross—and physically, masses who are starving and suffering—and we give our lives so that they might know the Christ of the cross. The radical life is uniquely and completely cross-driven.
Part of the “radical experiment” is praying for “the entire world.” How do you recommend we do that in an informed way? In other words, how do we go deeper than “God please bless the world and save all the peoples of the earth”?
One of the recommendations I make in the book is to use Operation World because of its tremendous help in this area. There is no other book outside the Bible that has impacted my own prayer life more than Operation World. God has used it to teach me how to pray for the church and the lost with specific needs in specific nations. So first, I would recommend using Operation World (either buy the book or use the free online version). [Note from JT: a new edition, the first revision in 10 years, is due out in September 2010.]
Another recommendation I would make is to use the prayers of Paul in the New Testament (as well as his requests for prayer) as we pray for the advancement of the Gospel in the world today. Paul tells us how to pray for missionaries in texts like Romans 15:30-33. He shows us how to pray for the church in other contexts in places like Colossians 1:3-14 or Ephesians 1:15-23 and 3:14-21. These Pauline prayers are excellent guides for praying for the nations.
On a whole, the more we learn about the world, the more we will be able to effectively pray for the world. So I would recommend going to websites like the Joshua Project and learning about unreached peoples . . . and then praying for them. Look at international news websites and then pray through the headlines that are listed there. Above all, go into international contexts and meet individuals, families, and churches, and then your prayers for “the entire world” will become all the more personal, and in a sense, all the more powerful.
If pastors and lay folks want to spend their time in another country or another context doing ministry, do you have any suggestions of where they should start in order to do real ministry (instead of just doing a feel-good inspiring short-term trip)?
There are so many abuses when it comes to short-term mission trips, and we certainly need to be careful to avoid various pitfalls. The goal is always long-term impact through short-term mission . . . on a couple of different levels.
First, we want to be a part of long-term impact in other contexts in the world. Obviously, we are not going to be able to go into another setting and make disciples in a week or two. So our goal should always be to connect relationally with long-term disciple-making processes in other contexts. Whether it is missionaries who have moved into another country/context, or nationals living in another context/country, we want to connect with brothers and sisters who are carrying out long-term disciple-making in that country/context. They know what the best uses might be for a short-term mission team, and there is great confidence in going to a place and serving alongside brothers and sisters like this, knowing that you are a part of supporting a long-term disciple-making process in that country/context for the glory of Christ.
But the long-term impact is not just about what happens in that country/context during that week or two on a short-term mission trip. We also want to promote a long-term impact in the people who are going on that short-term mission trip. This is a part of the disciple-making process in our own churches. In the church I pastor, short-term mission trips are a huge component of our long-term disciple-making processes. We want people that we are teaching and training in Christ to go into other contexts in the world, to see the glory of God in ways they may have never seen before, and to expand their understanding of the global purpose for which God has created them. So for anyone that is looking to go on a short-term mission trip, the goal is not just to focus on impacting another part of the world; the goal is to focus on impacting the people you take with you to another part of the world, so that when you come back to your own context, you and the people who traveled with you are that much more committed to obeying the Great Commission in the context of where you live every day.
Tell us a little bit about “secret church”—how it started, what it is, and how other pastors might implement something similar.
“Secret Church” was something we started at Brook Hills based on time I had spent with our brothers and sisters in underground Asian house churches. There, they gather together at the risk of their lives for 8-12 hours at a time just to study the Word and pray. It’s simple, raw, dangerous, and satisfying . . . all at the same time. So when I came to Brook Hills, some of our leaders sat around one day saying, “Why don’t we do the same thing?” So we decided to try it. We set a Friday evening when we would gather from 6-midnight and simply study the Word, in addition to praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Just a simple 6 hours of straight teaching and prayer. The first night we did it, we had about 1000 people, and after that it began to grow. We now have “Secret Church” a couple of times a year, and we have to take reservations because our auditorium at Brook Hills will be packed full (i.e., we sold out of over 2500 tickets this last time in about 3 hours). One of my favorite sights as a pastor is to look out across a room packed with people at 12:30 a.m. (we never finish right at midnight!) with their Bibles open listening to the Word of God being taught.
People are hungry for the Word, and there are numerous ways other pastors could implement something like this. There’s really nothing special or creative about it. It’s just the study of the Word and then prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters. All of the material from the Secret Churches we have done to this point is available for free online. Some churches have hosted their own Secret Church and simply watched the DVD of teachings from a past Secret Church at Brook Hills. Other pastors have taken the teaching material, adapted and adjusted it however they wanted, and then taught it in a similar format in their churches on a particular night. Really, any pastor could take any topic/portion of God’s Word and do the same thing . . . it’s just Bible study and prayer, and the Word itself does the work!
One of our goals in Secret Church from the beginning has been to study not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the nations. I want to lead a church with people who are equipped to make disciples in all nations, and so the purpose of Secret Church is to equip people in ways that they will then be trained to go into other contexts of the world to teach the Word. We also are in a process of taking all the teaching from Secret Church and translating into the top 6 languages in the world. That way, we can go into underground locations in other countries with hours worth of biblical/theological training in people’s native languages, and we can give them mp3 players with a plethora of biblical/theological training. So the goal is not just what happens each night at Secret Church. The goal is the equipping of the church here and around the world to make disciples of all nations.
How would you counsel folks who feel a constant low-grade sense of guilt that they are always failing the Lord and never doing enough?
This is a great question, and it’s one of my greatest concerns even in writing this particular book. The last thing I want to do is leave readers overwhelmed by guilt, constantly wondering, “When I am going to be radical enough? What do I need to do, how do I need to give, or where do I need to go in order to do enough for God?” These are extremely unhealthy questions, for the reality with which the Gospel confronts us is that we’ll never be able to do enough. No matter what we do, even if we sell all of our possessions, give to the poor, and move to the most dangerous country in the world, we cannot do enough to be accepted before God or approved by God. The beauty of the Gospel is that Christ is alone is able to do enough. He alone is able to keep the law and commands of God, and He has done it. Indeed, He has been faithful enough, generous enough, compassionate enough, etc. As a result, the starting point of the radical life is death to self, death to every attempt to do enough before God, and trust in Christ, the One who has lived the radical life on our behalf.
The beauty now is that when we trust in Christ to be our righteousness, we are free to obey from a totally different position. In Christ, we have been declared “not guilty” before God. As a result, we no longer live from a position of guilt, but from a position of righteousness. And not only have we been declared righteous in Christ (as if this were not enough!), but He has given us His Spirit, and He lives in us to enable us at every single moment to live according to the commands which He has given us. As Christians, we now find ourselves free from guilt and driven by grace.
In addition to all this, guilt is ultimately an unbearable burden and an unsustainable motivator. We may change our ways for a short time based on guilt, but real, true, radical life change will not happen until we trust in the Gospel.
So my encouragement to anyone who struggles with a low-grade sense of guilt, wondering if they are ever doing enough, would be to realize that they can never do enough . . . and then to rejoice in the reality that Christ has done enough for them. Then, whenever they are confronted with sin or shortcomings, I would encourage them to trust in Christ, to rest in His righteousness, and to ask Him to produce the fruit of a radical Gospel in their lives. This alone will sustain radical, life-changing, world-impacting obedience for the glory of God in all nations.