What is it about David Platt’s writing that allows him to turn, the “Pick up your cross and follow me,” of Jesus’ teachings into a national best seller? (I’m suspicious…) Or, to play the cynic, does he lure people in with an intriguing, difficult message and then deflate the call to follow, or completely toss the message aside?
Kudos to David Platt for sparking a healthy critique of the church; moderate examination is always a sign of health. One thing Follow Me strongly accomplished was encouraging the question, “Is my experience of Christianity the full picture of what Jesus brings?”
Follow Me amplifies this healthy critique from Platt’s earlier nationally resonant book, Radical. In Follow Me, Platt writes to reveal the who and how of “radical” Christian living.
In my reading, I discovered three healthy things and four unhealthy things from Follow Me.
- Follow Me brings the question: “Isn’t there supposed to be more than reading my Bible, going to church, and talking to people about Jesus? Jesus seems to ask more…”
- Platt spells out the reality and origin of God causing new life to take root within us (p. 18); he illustrates that people who come face to face with Jesus do experience change and their lives are called into something different from their surroundings. This is the sanctifying work of grace.
- Follow Me spells out the necessity of repentance and grace in our world (p.20), even though I think he missed the mark that God isn’t out to do something impressive or worthy of glory, but rather that it’s simply God’s nature to dive head-first into the brokenness (theology of Glory vs theology of the cross).
On the point of grace, when writing about the end-goal of grace, I believe Platt misses that grace isn’t about getting us to heaven, but about God bringing his justice into our world to make all things new, including you and me.
“If you and I know and believe that Jesus came to save us from hell for heaven, then we have no choice but to spend our lives on earth making that salvation known.” (p.87)
[There's no doubt that all who rely by grace through faith on the person of Jesus will forever and for always be in the loving presence of God; but there's also no biblical doubt that the goal isn't to "get out" of earth but rather enflesh God's work of justice and mercy as we work and pray, "Your kingdom come…"]
Here are the elements of Follow Me that I felt missed the mark:
- For a book about following Jesus, there was very little Jesus of the Gospels; Platt provided little Gospel narrative clarity on who you were going to follow, and what it looks like from a Gospels-perspective to follow. Readers were inundated with the necessity substitutionary atonement theory and the old evangelical adage: “Because Jesus did that, you should just follow, just follow.”
- Follow Me had no connection of Jesus or discipleship to the present reign of God (which Mark’s Gospel explicitly states is “the Gospel”, Mark 1:15). As I wrote above, Platt’s starting point is a handful of preconceived doctrines (albeit biblical) rather than a biblical, Gospel narrative. He uses doctrinal bullet points rather than the story of Jesus to try to speak about discipleship.
- There was very little direction for ordinary discipleship; Platt’s litter of extraordinary missionary stories was deflating and felt grandiose (almost boastful). Plus, such adventures are markedly different than incarnational moving in with a people to share in the Gospel as a way of life, rather than the Gospel as a package to deliver.
- Platt concludes Follow Me by inviting the reader into a very personal, though personally shared with others who are also on their personal faith journey, “following” program of: reading your Bible more, going to church more, and evangelizing more, with an ending caveat to encourage others to be disciples (of which Platt focuses little attention in his book).
Platt’s conclusion, by my deduction, is that when people ask the above, “Isn’t there more…” he says, “No, not really.”
But can you blame him? He’s excelled at drawing people into a large megachurch in Alabama; what Platt does well is getting people to do the normal church thing. Why would he want to critique that legacy and impressive success (by some standards) and say, “I think we’ve missed something…” There’s a lot of risk for him in that.
My final thoughts:
Platt does provide the gift of a great question in Follow Me as he invites people to entertain the thought that discipleship is missing in a lot of the church today. But, I don’t feel Platt’s answers take us in the best direction; while his examples are helpful and sentimental at times, I don’t think we can provide a healthy path of Christian discipleship if our noses aren’t buried in the Gospel stories and from that experience asking with people in our community, “How do we live this life that Jesus came to bring?” …all this of course starts with the gracious embrace of God, which is what Platt tried hard to underscore.
My feel is that this book only makes sense for a comfortable audience who knows little of brokenness on the systemic level and who is numb to identity behind the national capital system and this is sent searching for a greater brand for fulfillment. You don’t read this book in an inner city church for a church study, you’d be ashamed to bring it up, mostly because Platt all but ignores the “good news” of God’s gracious justice which intends to restore all things.
Finally, discipleship and dying to self from Platt felt like a self makeover and augmentation as Platt writes not about the loss of self but the enlargement of self as self discovers through Platt’s book how to become part of the greatness and find fulfillment in the completion of self.
So, where would I point you if I wouldn’t recommend Follow Me?
- Read the Four Gospels
- Read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (I’m baffled at how Platt wrote a modern book on discipleship with only one mention to Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship)
- Read Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission or The Divine Conspiracy.
- Read this hidden treasure with the same title as Platt’s book: Follow Me by Luke Kammrath.