David Platt is no stranger to provocative claims. Last spring he challenged the Southern Baptist leadership to rethink its reliance on the "sinner's prayer." Two years earlier he published the bestselling Radical, a trenchant critique of materialism and widespread complacency in the American church. Now, in his latest book, Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live (Tyndale), Platt, lead pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, turns from letting go of the American Dream to grabbing hold of Jesus, and recognizing the high demands of being his disciple. Jeff Haanen, a freelance writer and school administrator, spoke with Platt on the pervasiveness of "cultural Christianity," the role of hell in evangelism, and the sharper edges of following Christ today. (CT managing editor Katelyn Beaty also spoke with Platt at the recent Urbana Student Missions Conference, and parts of that conversation are included here.)
In Radical, you critiqued a version of the American Dream. How is Follow Me different?
In Radical my goal was to expose values and ideals that are common in our culture yet antithetical to the gospel. So I was focusing on what we need to let go of in order to follow Jesus. In Follow Me I move from what we need to let go of to who we hold on to as followers of Jesus. So I'm not just looking at the gravity of the things we've forsaken, but looking at the greatness of the One we follow, and what it really means to follow Jesus on a day-by-day basis.
A lot of people, after reading Radical, said, "Okay, what do I need to do? Do I need to sell my house? Do I need to adopt children? Do I need to move to another country?" My answer would be, "Go to Jesus." There's no program for what this looks like in everybody's life. The picture is, "Abandon yourself to Christ. Surrender everything in your life to Christ. Put a blank check on the table with no strings attached." That's the whole point. Let go of dreams, and plans, and ambitions that are more worldly than they are biblical, and say, "I'll do whatever, go wherever, give whatever." Press into him and see what he leads you to do.
The beauty is he'll lead some people to adopt. He'll lead some people to sell their home and move overseas. We've seen some people sell their homes and move into a dangerous inner city environment. We've seen some people keep their home, make disciples in their home, and leverage their home for the spread of the gospel in their community and the nation.
We're tempted to just look for a check-off box: Here's what I've done, now I'm "radical." No, the picture is: Press into Christ, and really get serious about what it means to follow him and make disciples for him.
You begin by criticizing "trite phrases of the church" such as "Just ask Jesus into your heart," or "Simply invite Christ into your life." What's wrong with these phrases?
I think, if we're not careful, we've taken trite phrases like this and dulled the challenging words of Christ in Scripture. Following Jesus is not merely the invitation to pray a prayer or to say certain words or to even assent to certain truths. The call to follow Jesus is a summons to lose your life. Jesus is more than a Savior who's just begging to be accepted into our hearts. He is a King worthy of infinite adoration and surrender of our lives.