This is a follow up to my sermon from September 18, 2022.


A couple weeks ago when I preached on wealth from Matthew 6, we saw that Jesus’ view of wealth is deep, complex, and full of wisdom. But it is also easy to misunderstand.
Some people think Jesus taught as ascetic message and idealized a a life of poverty or simplicity. But did Jesus really preach asceticism? Did he really castigate anything above the bare necessities and call for us to live a minimalist lifestyle? Is it true that the godlier you are, the more you’ll pare down? Those who hold this view would say that desiring anything above the essentials is greed. They will tell us if we have worldly goods that another persons lacks, we have effectively stolen them from the person with less. Those who take this view see Jesus as a quasi-socialist, a kind of first century Fidel Castro or Bernie Sanders, who attacked wealth and privilege and championed the poor unconditionally. They point out that Jesus elevated the pursuit of heavenly treasure above earthly treasure. Jesus, and Paul after him, called on God’s people to give generously and (at least at times) radically to help others in need. 
But then there are those who say Jesus taught a message of abundance. He said “seek first the kingdom of God…and all these things will be added to you.” What are those things that will be added to us? In the context of Matthew 6, they are earthly goods. Just as the lilies are clothed in splendor greater than Solomon, so we can know our God delights in giving us an abundance of gifts. Luxuries do not have to be seen as evils for which we should be ashamed, but gifts for which we should overflow with gratitude. Jesus promised an abundant life (John 10:10). He said that sacrifices made for him would be paid back, even to some degree even in this life (Matt. 19:29). Scripture is full of righteous, godly men who were wealthy, from Abraham and Job to Joseph of Arimathea and members of Caesar’s own household. Jesus told parables in which the successful entrepreneur is the hero. He told parables about multiplying talents and making a return on investments and doing what you want with your own property. At times, Jesus sounds like a free market capitalist who has no interest in income equality.
How is it people can read Jesus’ teaching and come to such opposite conclusions? It’s not because Jesus contradicted himself but because his teaching on money is sophisticated, not facile. Who is right — those who teach as ascetic Jesus or those who teach an abundance Jesus?
It is certainly true that Jesus gave fierce warnings about wealth at times. But (following Jerry Bowyer and his magnificent book Takers Versus the Maker) we need to pay attention to when and where those warnings about wealth are given. His warnings about wealth and his attacks on wealthy individuals are concentrated entirely in the region of Judea when he is interacting with society’s ruling class. Note this carefully: Jesus’ warnings about wealth are not universal, they are focused on a particular group of people in a particular place. Every single example we have of Jesus speaking out against wealth and privilege occurs in or around Jerusalem where he meets powerful people who are part of the cultural and political elite — men like Zacchaeus in Luke 19, the rich young senator in Matthew 19, and the money changers in the temple. The people Jesus confronted about wealth are precisely those people who got rich off the backs of others, through a corrupt system of taxation and what we today would call cronyism. 
This is not to say other groups of people are immune to the dangers of wealth. After all, other passages of Scripture (Deut. 8, Ecc. 5, various texts in Proverbs) do give more universalized warnings about the dangers and deceptions of wealth. But Jesus is polemical with the “takers” (as Bowyer calls them), not the “makers.” We can draw easy analogies with our own day. Who would Jesus direct his harshest warnings about money against today? Not working class or middle class Americans who work hard producing something other people value. No, he would target the government bureaucrats and politicians who can use the state’s monopoly on violent extraction of wealth to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Have you ever wondered why two of the very wealthiest counties in the US are Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in the Virginia, two counties that happen to straddle Washington DC? Where does all that wealth come from? Not all of it is gained through corruption, but a lot of it is. The money comes from taxation (that is to say, from you and me), and from cronyism, e.g., backroom deals and insider information. This is what was happening in the first century and it drew the ire of Jesus. How is that people with rather ordinary levels of wealth get elected, go to DC, and 5 years later are ultra-wealthy? Why are those living inside the beltway so much better at picking stocks?
Note that when Jesus was in Galilee where there were middle class and upper middle class and sometimes quite wealthy small business owners (e.g., Zebedee, who clearly had a prosperous fishing enterprise), Jesus never attacked people for their wealth. These were farmers, carpenters, fishermen, etc., who generally got their wealth in honest ways in a market economy. They provided for themselves fair and square by serving others and providing goods that others valued. Jesus never criticizes honest wealth gained through hard work — and he was around many of these sorts of rich people who had gotten their gain in legitimate ways. We know from archaeology that Galilee in general was not a poor region. Of course, he did find things to criticize in Galilee (e.g., their ethnocentrism in Luke 4), but greed was not the main problem.
But when Jesus got close to Jerusalem, his tone shifted with regard to money. As he encounter the elite, he found many wealthy people who got their wealth from others by using Caesar’s power for their own benefit (e.g, tax collectors) or by corrupting the temple system. These are people who enriched themselves by extracting wealth from productive people. They might have provided some benefit to society but their wealth was not gained through a process of free exchange but through coercion. They had the power to oppress others economically and they often did so. This is the point: Those who have to compete in a free market to make a living are less susceptible to oppressing the poor than those who have their hands on the levers of political power and can take money by force. Not all taxation is theft since tax money can have legitimate purposes, but those who have the power to tax must be very scrupulous about how they use that power, lest they fall into the pit of greed. It is very easy to use the power of the state to abuse people economically. (In Jesus’ day, this was also a danger for Jewish religious leaders since the temple was a kind of liturgical monopoly, but that is not as much of an issue in our day.) 
There are a lot of implications of all of this but here is one: So far from being a socialist, Jesus actually attacks the very type of people who would administer a socialist system. Jesus was not a porto-socialist, he was firmly anti-socialist. After all, socialists use the power of government to pick winners and losers. The entire system is predicated on cronyism. The government uses its monopoly on taxation to gather up wealth from the “makers” and distribute that wealth as it sees fit to the “takers.” But the biggest takers of all are often the government elites and bureaucrats themselves. It is a system that is inevitably corrupt — but the greed of the takers is disguised as “generosity" or “equity" or with some other benign term. The people who would run the socialist system are the very people Jesus attacks in the gospels.
Judas is perhaps the best example of this — and Bowyer points out that his surname indicates he was most likely a Judean. We also know he maintained the moneybag, ostensibly for the purpose of helping the poor, but he actually stole from it to enrich himself. He acts like a "social justice warrior" in John 12 when he criticizes Mary’s anointing of Jesus with expensive oil. Judas disguised his greed as concern for the poor — just like so many politicians today. When Jesus tells the rich young senator to go sell all, imagine him confronting Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi — these are they types he is warning about wealth. They talk about helping the poor but they game the system in their favor. People are right to be upset about how the economy today is rigged by the well connected elites, just as the people hated first century tax collectors for running a corrupt system, overcharging what the state required and pocketing the rest since no one could stop them. The powerful elites who prey upon those beneath them are condemned by Jesus — and should be condemned by us as well.
All that to say: It’s certainly true that Jesus cared for the poor and taught us to do the same. It is also true that he elevated heavenly treasure above earthly treasure. Caring for the poor is a Christian responsibility. But Jesus did not intend to make us feel guilty for enjoying wealth gained through hard and honest work. Ecclesiastes stresses that we are free to enjoy the fruits of our labors. 1 Timothy 6 makes the same point when it teaches that God provides all things richly for our enjoyment. There is a kind of asceticism that is demonic (1 Tim. 4), just as there is a kind of greed that is idolatrous (Col. 3:5). Jesus could be for or against wealth depending on how that wealth was acquired and how it was used. Wealth can be gained righteously or wickedly, and it can be used righteously or wickedly. There are righteous and wicked rich people, just like there are righteous and wicked poor people. The rich are not automatically condemned and the poor are not automatically justified. The world is more complicated than that.
Further, note that we have certain obligations that we cannot fulfill unless we are at least moderately successful financially. The classic text here is Ephesians 4:28. There is a sequence that moves a person from being a “taker” to being a “maker” and finally a “sharer”:
[a] Stop stealing — that is, stop extracting wealth from others unjustly. This theft can take many forms, ranging from outright robbery, to using the government to steal and redistribute for me, to taking charity that I am really not worthy of since I am able-bodied but slothful.
[b] Start working — labor with your own hands (or head) to be a productive and self-sufficient member of society. Stop being a drain and burden on others and meet your own needs.
[c] Share with those in need — in other words, your work should generate so much income that you not only take care of your own obligations (e.g., yourself and your family) but you have enough to give to others who are not able to work.
As I said in the sermon, keep in mind that wealth is a relative good, or a comparative good, not an ultimate good. This means that while it is appropriate to seek wealth, it has to be kept in proper context and there are many things far more valuable than wealth. Wealth is superior to some things, inferior to other things, and our lives should reflect a biblical scale of value. Righteousness and wisdom are greater than wealth. Family and a good reputation are more precious than riches. Health is better than wealth. (Ask an 18 year old, “Would you rather be middle class at your age or ultra wealthy and 95 years old?” Almost all would choose youth over wealth for obvious reasons. Time is more valuable than money.) Etc.
But this does not mean we have to swing to the other extreme and demonize wealth and the pursuit of wealth. An analogy is a woman’s physical beauty, which is certainly a good in Scripture. Women who are especially beautiful are acknowledged as such in the Bible, and several texts, such as Psalm 45, put a premium on this beauty. But other texts remind us that this beauty is not ultimate and does not last. 1 Peter 3 reminds us that the inner beauty of godliness is far more valuable. It is certainly possible for a woman to have both kinds of beauty but internal beauty will always be worth far more than external beauty; physical beauty is a relative good, spiritual beauty an absolute good. 
If wealth were altogether bad, why would we give it to the poor? That would only make their situation worse, right? The very fact that God wants us to give wealth to those who do not have it proves it is intrinsically good.
So we must affirm the “good of affluence,” as John Schneider has put it, even as we also reckon with its dangers. We can be “godly materialists” (again, Schneider) but must always remember that our godliness should drive and control our pursuit of and use of material things. It is possible to have holy ambition that is fully consistent with biblical contentment; there is nothing biblical about being apathetic or indifferent. The Bible’s teaching on wealth is full of tension points.
When we keep wealth in its proper place in the scale of value, when our loves/desires/affections are rightly and proportionally ordered, a couple things happen. First, we are set free from covetousness and greed. We do not have to demonize those who have more than we do. Demonizing the rich, or the 1%, is a form of envy, and envy is corrosive. It is true that some rich people got rich through evil schemes. But not every rich person cheated his way to the top; some got there because of innovation, diligence, calculated risk-taking, etc. God is not an egalitarian God and we do not live in an egalitarian world. God assigns people different levels of prosperity in his good providence. His reasons for our varying levels of prosperity are wise, but largely hidden from us. But rather than envying those with more, we should submit to God’s providence in this matter. Again, God distributes wealth (which is ultimately his) for his own purposes. Trust him in this. Hating the rich because they are rich is a sin (and somehow “the rich” are always defined as “anyone with more than me”). Hating the rich is not the same as loving the poor. 
Here’s a rather extreme example: Some people today say that billionaires should not exist. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said that a system that allows billionaires to exist is immoral, so we should have tax laws in place that it make it impossible to accumulate this level of wealth. But here’s the question we should ask: How much of that billionaires wealth are you and I entitled to? How much of it can the government redistribute to you before you become complicit in theft? It is true that the government has helped provide the preconditions that make it possible for a billionaire to acquire his wealth (e.g., maintaining law and order, making free trade possible, etc.). But those same conditions are in place for all of us. Why should the billionaire’s wealth be confiscated? The reality is that someone becomes a billionaire today largely for two reasons — they produce a good or service that many, many people find valuable and (especially) they convince investors that their company is worth investing into. Consumers and investors are the ones who determine whether or not anyone will become a billionaire. If you do not want Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos to become so wealthy, do not buy their products or their stock. While I despise Jeff Bezos’ politics, I do not doubt that he has made a huge contribution to the betterment of our society through Amazon. Amazon has made life more convenient for many millions and has provided jobs for thousands. Bezos might have gamed the system in some way, but the bulk of his wealth came from providing value to others. Work alone is not enough to create wealth; there must be something in your work that others value to truly gain wealth. If Amazon has made my life better, why should I begrudge Bezos for his billions? There is a very real sense in which billionaires work for you and me — they provide us what we want and are willing to pay for. To say that billionaires should not exist is to say we should go backwards; it is to say that Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Walmart should not exist. Perhaps there would be certain advantages if they did not exist (e.g., mom and pop shops could survive more easily), but the people have spoken, and want what these companies have to offer. No billionaires means no large corporations, which means no automobiles, no smart phones, no affordable “luxuries”  for most of us like fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world. And of course, becoming a billionaire does not mean one will stay a billionaire — to do so, Bezos has to make sure the Amazon packages keep arriving on time at low prices, Apple has to keep the iPhone ahead of the competition, Walmart has to make sure I can choose from 15 different varieties of peanut butter. If we envy billionaires, it is much more likely a sign that we are unhappy with our own inability or unwillingness to do what it takes to succeed. But eliminating billionaires because I am not one is not a useful solution. It will do far more than hurt the billionaire class; it will hurt all of us who depend on them for jobs, affordable products, etc. One could actually make the argument that billionaires serve us just as much as we serve them. Whatever the case, AOC’s claim that billionaires need the working class even more than the working class need billionaires is manifestly false. What keeps most people out of poverty is a job, and (as my dad once told me), “You will never work for a poor person.” The innovation and investment of billionaires keeps many people out of poverty, and that in itself is a massive contribution to the common good.
A while back there was discussion about how Elon Musk’s wealth could eradicate world hunger if he would just give all his wealth away. But such claims are foolish and naive. They betray a real lack of understanding about how the world works and how wealth is generated and what actually causes poverty. Suppose Musk were to give all his wealth to the poor to eradicate hunger. How long could his money provide food for the world’s masses? For while but not indefinitely. At some point his money would run out, and then the poor would go back to being hungry. Not only that, but there would be many more poor than before because all the jobs supported by Musk’s companies and innovations would be gone. Unemployment would go up, and unemployed people are at risk of going hungry for obvious reasons. Not only that, but it is not likely that Musk’s money would go as far as many people think. Who would redistribute his wealth? Government bureaucrats? They are sure to take their cut of his wealth to administer the program (think of Judas). Where is the food going to come from? Successful farming of the sort needed to feed the world’s population requires the same kind of economic structures that generated Musk’s wealth in the first place. If Musk’s businesses must be destroyed in the name of feeding the hungry, why do large scale agricultural businesses get to survive? And on and we could go. Any attempts to confiscate large amounts of wealth from productive people to give it to others is almost sure to make everyone — absolutely everyone — worse off in the long run. As Margaret Thatcher once said, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. It hits a dead end, it drags us all to the bottom. The only kind of equality socialism produces is equality in poverty and misery (except for the government elites who somehow manage to stay wealthy). It is worth noting that the only time a socialist experiment was tried in the Bible — the story of Jospeh and the famine at the end of Genesis — it did preserve the lives of many because Joseph operated with special revelation about future economic conditions, but it also resulted in mass enslavement. Is that the route we want to go?
In most cases, global poverty has more to do with political corruption than anything else. As deSoto has pointed out, the so-called “third world” nations are actually sitting on piles of potential wealth. But they cannot actualize that wealth because they lack the worldview and work ethic and political system to do it. It requires social trust, the rule of law, and respect for private property (the 8th commandment) to grow and sustain wealth. That’s what has set the West apart — and these key ingredients come from the Christian faith. Poverty can have many causes (political oppression, natural calamity, bad health or disability, theft, etc.), but nations that do not have a Christian heritage simply do not have the necessary pieces in place generate widespread wealth. They have the resources but not the theology and ethic needed to make it work.
But keeping wealth in its proper place as a relative (not absolute) good has another effect: It frees us from false guilt. It is not wrong for others to have more than you. But it I also not wrong for you to have more than others. Again, God distributes wealth as he sees fit, according to his own wise providential proposes. This means it is not wrong for you to enjoy God’s gifts at the very same moment some people are suffering in poverty. Now, some Christians really do love to feel guilty. They think feeling guilty all the time (and engaging in some form of self-flagellation) is the essence of piety. But it is not. The truly pious man can enjoy God’s gifts without guilt precisely because he knows they are gifts for which he should be grateful. John Calvin said, " ingrafting us into his Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which he supplies us.” According to Calvin, whatever we own ultimately belongs to and comes from God so we are stewards. But it is entirely appropriate for us to enjoy God’s gifts, so long as we trace them back to the Giver. Think of a mother and father who give Christmas gifts or birthday gifts to their child — they want their child to enjoy those gifts and would be disappointed if he just felt guilty about them. Calvin goes on to explain that God not only created food for nourishment but gave it flavor and texture for our enjoyment and delight; God gives clothes not only for necessity to cover nakedness, but for beauty and honor (think of Solomon and the lilies of the field); God has given flowers great beauty to greet our eyes, music to delight our ears, and so on. Calvin concludes that God gives many gifts that have more to do with pleasure than necessity. These gifts are not traps or tests, provided we give God thanks for them. Calvin critiques those who demanded minimalism as being far too severe. Thus, we should never let false guilt over our prosperity keep us from enjoying what God has given us. Instead of feeling guilty about your privileges, give thanks for them.
In the sermon, I pointed out that many of the people God used most to accomplish his purposes on earth had great wealth — Abraham, Moses, Job, and so on. Sometimes we can be overly romantic about grass roots, bottom-up cultural change. I certainly believe God uses “the little guy” too and most Christians are not part of the elite (1 Cor. 1). But more often than not, those who change the culture are the wealthy and well-connected. Thus my thesis in the title of this blog post: We need more wealthy (even super wealthy) Christians who can use their power for good in the world. We need rich and powerful Christians who can use their influence to extend God’s kingdom purposes, support the church, counter persecution, etc. We need Christians who start and run businesses that are so essential, they become uncancelable. Social reformation usually comes from the top down — so we need more faithful Christians at the top. 
Think of the most influential people in our world today. They aren’t necessarily the politicians, though a few of them are. They are mainly businessmen — like Bezos, Gates, and Soros. These men have an agenda, and it is a very, very evil agenda. They have been able to accomplish much of their agenda because their wealth gives them power and leverage. Soros is an evil genius, and has paired his great wealth with shrewd tactics to further his demented vision for America. What if there was a Christian man who could be Soros’ mirror image, using similar wealth and shrewdness, but for good and righteous ends?
None of this is to deny other truths I have stressed at TPC, such as the centrality of prayer and liturgy in cultural transformation. This is what gives the "little guys” (like most if us) big power: We can cry out to our Heavenly Father and know he will hear us. Prayer moves the hand of God which moves the world. But we also need to be wise and honest about God’s use of “ordinary means” to do his work as well. Without funding, God is not going to ordinarily support global missionaries. Without financial gifts, God is not going to make church plants happen by some miracle. Ordinarily, God uses the money of his people to support Christian political candidates, support Christian artists, build Christian schools and other institutions, etc. God does not have to do these things in this way — but we know he typically does. A good part of wisdom is being real and realistic about how God’s world works, and money is a key to getting many things done. So I stand by my claim: We need more Christian billionaires. We have a lot of work to do in discipling our nation (and other nations), and that requires financing. Where will the money come from? That’s the issue. If the goal is rebuilding Christendom, that's going to take a lot of money and it has to come from somewhere.
Far too many Christians today are too quick to completely drop out of society  and go with what I would consider the Anabaptist route. For example, while not everyone needs to go to college, some Christians do. If Christians completely abandon higher education that probably means that not only will we not have any Christian engineers or nurses or doctors, but we will also not have any Christian statesmen running for office or Christian businessmen who start businesses and grow them into major corporations. Think of Moses and Daniel, both of whom navigated a pagan educational system while remaining faithful, and then used their connections and influence for the good of the kingdom. We need Christians who are elite, and in our day that means infiltrating the institutions where the elite congregate, all the while remaining faithful and uncompromised.
Looking across church history, God has often used wealthy and well connected believers to support and further his w ork in the world. Without Constantine, there would never have been a Christendom. Sure, it took thousands of “little” Christians praying for the emperor (per 1 Tim. 2, Psalm 2, etc.) for several generations before God converted the ruler of the empire. But Constantine became a key piece in the fulfillment of the Great Commission; his conversion was not only a personal turning point, but a civilizational turning point that laid the groundwork for the formation of Western civilization (Christendom 1.0). Or think of the rulers who supported the magisterial Reformers in the 16th century. Without the support of these wealthy and powerful believers, the Reformation would have been crushed as soon as it began. It is not likely there will be another Reformation without powerful and wealthy Christians using their influence in kingdom oriented ways.
God purposes include converting kings and rulers, which means Christians cannot be scared of having and using political power. Such power can be used for good or evil; but we certainly should not abandon it altogether just because it might be misused. This is the mistake of the Anabaptists. Rather than running from power, thinking that powerlessness equates with godliness (the poverty gospel in political form), let’s pursue maturity so that we will know how to wield political power wisely and righteously when God sees fit to give it to us.
Why do we need more Christian billionaires? Because we want to rebuild Christendom and while money alone cannot do that, it is a necessary ingredient. Power and wealth are not bad; they are tools and we want to see them used for good. If Christians reject wealth and power, they do not go away; they just fall into the hands of the wicked. It is clear from Scripture that God desires for his people to Christianize the world and this includes accumulating riches of all kinds over the course of history. Let’s not shy away from what God has called to — he desires for us to be wise, mature rulers of the creation. Let’s aim to win, to subdue and fill the earth to the glory of God.
Finally, a few reading recommendations. My sermon was greatly aided by Kevin DeYoung’s work on these issues. He has a series of articles (starting here) on the topic of economics, mercy ministry, etc. that demonstrate a lot of biblical wisdom. 
In the sermon, I referenced the story of Jimmy Lai. The Federalist has a good account of Lai  which explains his religious motivations. Lai rightly recognizes the communism is an alternative religion:

“The Communists,” he told Economic Strategy Institute President Clyde Berkowitz, “think they can buy and or intimidate everyone off, create their own reality, and write their own history. Effectively, they assume the role of God. They are kind of a religion or an anti-religion.”

‘They have initiation into the party as a kind of baptism. They have self-criticism as a kind of confession of sins, re-education as a kind of penance, and elevation to hero of the party as a kind of sainthood. And, of course, at least Mao [Zedong] has a kind of everlasting life as a photo smiling down on Tiananmen Square and as an embalmed corpse in a casket in the square.’

‘But the party and its members do not have souls. In fact, they are dead men walking, because the truth is not in them.’

“Life,” he told the Catholic Napa Institute in an October interview, “is more than just bread; life has a greater meaning.”

He’s right, and a lot of Christians understand this on its face, but what makes Lai different from a lot of us is while it’s easy to nod and to agree, it’s entirely another to act….

We know that the martyrs and saints suffered and for their courage on earth are saved. We might hope and pray to have their courage if ever put to the test, but until we are we never truly know if we will — so many don’t. We know that suffering has a purpose, that it sharpens and tests our characters, and that it should be offered up to God, but have you ever tried? It can be done, but it is very, very difficult to lift up your heart while your body and mind drag you back down to the temporal things torturing them.

Andrew Sandlin’s article “Jesus’ Capitalism” is very helpful, providing a summary of Bowyer’s aforementioned book:

[Bowyer’s] underlying argument is this:

Jesus … was very concerned about economic exploitation, but [his] economic denunciations were not broad, to-whom-it-may-concern condemnations of all wealth. Instead, He directed His denunciations in very specific geographical and socioeconomic ways, aiming his barbs at the exploitative members of the ruling class. (p. xiii)

Drilling down into the biblical Gospel accounts and relying on recent archaeological discoveries, he notes that Jesus’ warnings to and denunciation of wealth and the wealthy all occur either in Judea or to Judeans, in the southern segment of Israel, where Jerusalem, the religious and political capital, was situated.

That last detail is especially significant, because, as Jerry argues, Jesus is not opposed to wealth and the wealthy as such, but only wealth obtained through coercive political means. If he is opposed to what we term capitalism, it’s “crony capitalism” (“the extractive elite,” p. 64) that he combated, and the Jewish religious and political leaders’ employment of their coercive government position to obtain that wealth.

The economy of the northern part of Israel, Galilee, was comparatively far from the center of Judean religio-political power. Their economy wasn’t based on politics but on what we might term commercial entrepreneurship. People made money by simply trading ancient goods and services. Jesus didn’t criticize this market wealth or the wealthy and, in fact, a number of time commended both.

In my last blog post on this topic, I included some old emails where I interacted with Platt and others who advocate some form of the “ascetic gospel” or “poverty gospel.” Here are a couple more from roughly a decade ago:
Platt has prescribed a lot of ways of tackling the poverty problem that are far too simplistic. Moving into poor neighborhoods is a great's well intentioned, but can actually backfire by creating gentrification and pricing the poorest folks out, knocking them down another notch. There are other examples from his book. I don't think he's been a practitioner of mercy work long enough to understand the problems involved. It's just harder to help people than we want it to be.
You have similar issues with short term missions, international adoption, etc. Platt just constantly oversimplifies the complex issues involved. He creates the impression that if we just gave more away, we could end poverty -- again, it's just not that simple. Global poverty has many other factors, including spiritual, cultural, and political that must be addressed. International adoption could be a good thing, rescuing orphans from bad situations, but it also rife with corruption and can bring with it all kinds of difficulties that Platt’s romanticized account overlooks or ignores.
I have some other problems with the book too. I think it's largely driven by white suburban guilt that all too easily views riches with suspicion. He does not make sufficient room for us to "richly enjoy" all God provides (1 Tim. 6). He does not have a reformed worldview, so he does not see the value in "secular" work -- in his eyes, if you really want to please God, you have to go on a mission trip or be a pastor. He does not give a sufficient place to worship and prayer in cultural transformation, etc. He does not understand the real goal of the Great Commission, which is nothing less than a Christian civilization. He has truncated the mission of the church to saving souls — and only a handful at that — instead of discipling whole nations as such. He has a sub-biblical eschatology (not a major theme in the book, but implied).
The book has many good points, especially in his critique of consumerism and the American dream. But in the end, it's not all that "radical." Somehow, "go sell all" gets watered down to "take a two week mission trip." It's just the same ol' Baptist stuff I grew up with, with a mercy ministry component added to the evangelistic.
And again:
Many people have rightly complained that Platt’s book is a guilt trip — by that, I mean it tends to create a lot of false, unnecessary guilt.
Sure, there are a lot of good things in the book. There's also some white mega-church guilt off-loading going on. Since we don't have theater style cushion seating or huge hi def tv screens at TPC, I do not suffer from such guilt pangs. But to the degree that Platt does, he is missing the right way to deal with the privilege that he and his congregation enjoy….
The biggest issue is that Platt is a typical Baptist and therefore lacks a worldview rooted in the goodness of creation and the cultural mandate. For Platt, if you want to be "radical" in serving Jesus you have to do something "spiritual" like going on a mission trip. He doesn't talk about vocational excellence. It's pietism, basically — similar too what one might find in other Baptists like Piper. His views should be compared to the Reformers who saw fulfilling one's daily vocation with excellence, being faithful in marriage, and raising God-fearing children as sufficiently godly. This might seem ordinary to us -- but it is exactly what God requires of most of us. To add to this is to create a new kind of soul crushing legalism. In the medievel period, the radical folks went to monastaries and convents. Today, they adopt Platt's proposals in the book. Calvin and Luther rightly reject all of this non-sense and show us what the normal, healthy Christian life looks like for 95%+ of Christians.
I think are a lot of books giving the same basic message as Platt but with more wisdom and depth. A lot of what he says or recommends with regard to mercy work is shallow and can even end up backfiring if not implemented with a lot of thought, e.g., moving into poor neighborhoods, international adoption, short term missions, etc. Plus, I think he has a hard time following on through on his own "radical" insights; eventually, Jesus' call to sell all morphs into going on a short term mission trip. Really?
In the end, “Radical” is not nearly as "radical" as claimed. The book fails to live up the hype. I’m very thankful for all the good work he's doing and that his church is doing -- the city and world are better for it. But I still hope there will be further maturation in this area.