February 11, 2015
A book review on David Platt’s newest book, Counter Culture A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
In recent days, David Platt, former pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and now current president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has published his most recent book Counter Culture: a Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Persecution, Abortion, Orphans, and Pornography.
Though Platt has published a number of books, his most recognizable one is his Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream in which he called for disciples of Jesus to consider giving away all they had in order to live radically for the sake of Christ and His church.
Almost immediately, Radical struck a chord amongst many Christians, but especially so with younger evangelicals. The vision that Platt cast for the Christian life was compelling. For many Christians, Radical served to put them in positions that they might never have dreamed of: selling all of their possessions and going overseas to share the gospel amongst peoples who have never heard the gospel.
With the publication of Counter Culture, we see Platt still emphasizing the main things in the Christian life — the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ — except this time Platt has widened his scope toward a host of issues that touch upon the lives of Christians, especially in a western context.
After first defining the gospel in chapter 1, Platt uses the rest of the book to explore various issues that require boldness and Christian fidelity: poverty, abortion, adoption, marriage, sex slavery, ethnicity, and more. Instead of rehearsing his arguments, I would instead like to point out three things about this book that has me hopeful concerning the future of evangelicalism and the advancement of the gospel in the west.
ONE: The days of picking and choosing for younger evangelicals is over.
For many young evangelicals, David Platt’s voice has been one of challenge and conviction. Through his ministry, many myriads of people have followed the call to sell all their possessions and give their lives for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, since first publishing Radical, Platt has left his pastorate at Brook Hills Church in Alabama to become the president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. With this move, it’s likely that his message of radical self-giving will be broadcasted to an even wider audience.
Platt begins his book by reflecting on the encouraging stories of many young people — especially young evangelicals, as they are most likely his target audience — desiring to fight injustice on behalf of Christ. “I am greatly encouraged when I see such compassion, conviction, and courage in the church today,” Platt writes, “we simply aren’t content with a church that turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the realities of social justice in the world. We want our lives — and the church — to count for social justice.” (xii-xiii)
However, while young evangelicals can certainly be praised for their pursuit of social justice, Platt senses a certain “picking and choosing” among social issues that receive applause (e.g. poverty and slavery), while with other issues like homosexuality and abortion, many Christians are content with silence. “And our picking and choosing normally revolves around what is most comfortable — and least costly — for us in our culture.” (xiii) If we are to follow Christ, we must talk about — and be convictional about — issues that will get us far less “atta boys” and far more scorn and hate. “What if Christ in us actually compels us to counter our culture. . .and courageously share our convictions through what we say and how we live, even when these convictions contradict the popular positions of our day.” (xiv)
This is Platt’s central concern in Counter Culture: many of the social issues of our day concern us because they concern God, and if we seek to be a faithful people with our gaze fixed upon His glory, we will be thrust into a position in which we must counter the cultural winds of the day. What that means for those who want to follow Christ is that they must no longer neglect issues that concern God, but strive toward a holistic faithful witness in all of life, for the glory of God. There will be costs, but what do they matter when God’s glory is at stake?
TWO: Jesus Christ’s lordship is supreme over our whole lives, including — and especially — our sexual lives.
On my count, five of the ten chapters — half of the book — deals with sex and issues related to sex. What this reflects is not Platt’s and other evangelicals’ obsession with sex (though there will be some who will no doubt claim that’s the case), but instead shows how the gospel’s implications are both deep and wide. Yet, it’s not just that we look into a culture and point the finger, instead “the divine Word speaks into a divided world of sexual sinners and tells us that we have all gone astray.” (181)
The pattern that God has instituted in creation is good. Marriage between one man and one woman, not only serving as a creational good that promotes human flourishing within the family unit, also points to the goodness of the gospel. Whenever that pattern is subverted, abused, or neglected, the glory of God is at stake.
Abortion is a travesty because human beings, created in God’s image, are destroyed under the hand of radical individualism and self-worship. Sex trafficking is a travesty because human beings are used and abused in subhuman ways so that evil men might satisfy their wicked desires. And things like pornography only spread the fire further.
The logic of the apostles — and thus the logic of Jesus — is that if you wish to be faithful to the King, you must submit to his lordship — in all aspects of life. May every square inch of our lives be submitted to the lordship of Christ for his glory. Especially our sexual lives.
THREE: In order for us to seek holistic human flourishing, our soteriology has to become cosmic.
In Counter Culture, Platt is still urging that some people indeed should sell their house, move to the unreached, and give their lives to Christ. Except this time, Platt also recognizes that, in lieu of the creation mandate, a radical calling for the cause of Christ could look like institutional development and participation. “Not every one of us can give equal attention to all these issues. . . but what is necessary for all of us is to view each of these cultural issues through the lens of biblical truth, and to speak such truth with conviction wherever we have the chance to do so.” (20-21)
In fact, as we think about the global advancement of the gospel amongst unreached people groups, we ought to think about the good of things like religious liberty. In fighting against global sex trafficking, we ought to fight for righteous legislation amongst governments that helps to liberate women and children from the throes of sin. To end abortion, one needs to pray; but one also needs to vote, to stand on side walks pleading with women to seek an alternative while sharing the glorious gospel of Christ, and be willing to open their homes to orphans and widows.
Humanity’s greatest need is the gospel. But in order to seek fertile ground for gospel advance, we must strive to fight sin as far as the curse is found: in our personal lives, as well as broken systems. The Kingdom of God needs lawyers, mothers, plumbers, and more. All of which are noble callings for those who are called, and all of which promote the flourishing of the gospel for the glory of God. In order for us to seek holistic human flourishing, our soteriology has to become cosmic.
CONCLUSION: Toward Holistic Evangelical Social Action
“With the collapse of Renaissance ideals, it is needful that we come to a clear distinction, as evangelicals, between those basic doctrines on which we unite in a supernaturalistic world and life view and the area of differences on which we are not in agreement while yet standing true to the essence of Biblical Christianity. But even beyond this, I voice my concern because we have not applied the genius of our position constructively to those problems which press most for solution in a social way. Unless we do this, I am unsure that we shall get another world hearing for the Gospel. That we can continue for a generation or two, even as a vital missionary force, here and there snatching brands from the burning, I do not question. But if we would press redemptive Christianity as the obvious solution of world problems, we had better busy ourselves with explicating the solution.”
You might think that the above quotation was from the preface to Platt’s newest book; it wasn’t. Instead, it was written by a man named Harold Ockenga and taken from the Introduction to Carl F. H. Henry’s now massively influential neo-evangelical manifesto The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry’s book, though pre-dating Platt’s by over half a century, sought a similar aim: if we are to strive for the advancement of the gospel, let us do so with both hands to the plow knowing that through our labors He will receive the glory. Though the landscape is different from those days in the late 1940’s upon the initial publishing of Henry’s manifesto, the spirit is much the same. We as evangelical Christians are called to be in the world, but not of the world. Our ethic is not derived from any sort of worldly principality or power, but from the One who is enthroned on high. May we all strive toward faithfulness till the end, come what may.
“So let us not stay silent with this gospel. Let’s not allow fear in our culture to muzzle our faith in Christ. And let’s not enable indecision to rule our lives. . . We don’t have to ask what the will of God is; he has made it clear. He wants his people to provide for the poor, to value the unborn, to care for orphans and widows, to rescue people from slavery, to defend marriage, to war against sexual immorality in all its forms in every area of our lives, to love our neighbors as ourselves regardless of their ethnicity, to proclaim and practice truth regardless of the risk, and to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Of these things we are sure.” (253-254)
Scott is married to his wonderful wife Jessi, and is currently an M.Div. student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He studied History at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. Follow him on Twitter @scottacorbin.
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