...reservations about David Platt’s approach to “radical Christianity” … and others in the radical tribe.
- About SI
I have no idea who these folks are. I am not sure whether they misunderstand sanctification in general, or are simply reacting to some extreme fringe movement I am not familiar with. I thought I caught shades of the social gospel - the concept of revolutionizing society by reforming men. Whatever you want to call it - something distinctly "me" centered struck me from the article. Sure enough, here is their blog's statement of purpose . . .
The Acton Institute seeks to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing.
So much for the glory of God . . .
I read Platt's Radical a year or two ago. Meant to write a review but didn't get to it.
Strengths: there's a lot of good biblical principle in the book, especially in terms of what matters most, what life is all about, etc. (Though even on this point, I recall thinking he was a bit small: there did not seem to be an emphasis on the eternal value of the glory of God... but rather on other, secondary enduring values. Still, a focus on enduring values.)
Weaknesses: a whole lot of the "radicalness" of Radical is economics, which Platt specifically disavows any knowledge of. So, as he's applying biblical principle to life-choices in a prosperous, mostly-free West, he does so with severely inadequate awareness of basic economics in a free world. In short, he should read up on the Western economic heritage and understand it thoroughly before assuming that followers of Jesus should identify some arbitrary point at which having more is having too much and should give the rest away.
Platt showed no awareness at all of two things:
1) What really helps people rise out of poverty in an enduring way that spans generations
2) How God's glory is served when people pursue excellence in their vocations and experience the results of producing what people highly value. The whole idea of our human call to productivity is missing (and, not surprisingly, the real-world impact of widespread distribution of unearned income is overlooked as well).
I could go on, but have to run.
The Acton institute is a conservative think tank that specializes in promoting the views of the intersection of faith and free-market economics. From my interaction with them (I live in Grand Rapids where they are based), their employees come from mostly Roman Catholic and Reformed backgrounds. Much of their studies make the case that the growth of government intervention for the poor results in the unintended consequences of making things worse for the poor. And that free-market principles and the entrepreneurship an be harnessed to break the cycle of poverty in the lives of the chronic poor.
As for the social gospel, the Acton institute has no associations with that stream of thought. For instance, since the later 1800's, those who believe in a social gospel promote that the free markets cannot be trusted to help create a more just society and that more and more government intervention on behalf of the poor will create a more just society.
It was a random thought - I didn't take too much time to look into it! I do think their mission statement is a bit odd. I assumed they were a religious organization - but they appear to be a secular organization with Christian values and ethics. My mistake, but I am skeptical about the eternal value of their efforts.
but I am skeptical about the eternal value of their efforts.
I was wondering, do you see eternal value for hospitals (some could be considered a secular organization with Christian values), or a research lab trying to find the cure for cancer? Or is there any eternal value in this life in running a business? If so why would this be any different?
All I know about the group is what I saw from their article. I'll discuss specifically this paragraph;
But the gospel is supposed to create a culture, and a culture takes root only within a society over time. It perpetuates itself to future generations without requiring a new revival in every season. The urgent rhetoric of preaching the gospel to the billion unreached and helping the poor right now leaves little space to create the institutions and practices (art, literature, theology, liturgy, festivals, etc.) that can transmit such an inheritance to the next generation, and to form belief in deeper and more permanent ways. Buildings cost money, and beautiful buildings even more. Universities don’t feed the poor or win souls, yet they promulgate knowledge in the church and around the world…
This leaves me with the impression that the author, while paying lip-service to Godly living, is pleading for Christians to be less zealous about their faith. I certainly agree that God dispenses different gifts to different people. Not all are called to be Pastors or theologians, or even missionaries. However, if we can agree that our salvation is part of God's eternal plan, can't we also agree we were saved for a specific purpose? God wants us to use our talents and abilities for Him, doesn't he? (Eph 2:10).
The motivations are what I question. They seek to transform society to achieve "human flourishing." The paragraph above echoes the same point - transformation of culture for the good of mankind appears to be their finish line. This is all lovely - but what difference does it make? Are talents and abilities being used for God's work, in some form or fashion, or for the greater good of man? Running a business has no eternal value. It is worthless. I own a small business myself. It's a hobby. It's fun. The company made $150k last year and will probably get to $200k - $250k this year. It is ultimately worthless and pointless, however.
I honestly see obsession with secular work a complete waste of time. We work to provide for our families. It is nothing more than that. We use our talents and abilities for the Lord - in whatever way we possibly can.
To return to your question. A Christian hospital, as a corporate entity (no pun intended) has no eternal value whatsoever. The motivations and actions of the individuals working in the hospital may have eternal value. Finding a cure for cancer in and of itself is also, ultimately, without eternal merit if the cancer victim dies without Christ. The only potential benefit I see, for anybody in any profession, is the witness we can provide for our Savior by consistent, Godly living.
We're never going to reform society for human flourishing. This is my primary objection - the motives are wrong and all messed up. We're strangers and pilgrims here until Christ returns. This is not our home. Things done for Christ and the furtherance of His coming Kingdom have eternal value. Actions done with ulterior motives, no matter how "noble," have no eternal value. How can it be otherwise?
What might help is to look at the possibilities for "society" as questions of degree. Other things being equal, is it better for a society to flourish more or flourish less? Is it better for it to languish?
I would argue that since it is God's intention that society flourish (be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, etc.), the degree to which we can make that happen, we should. It is possible for civilizations to be relatively good, relatively just, relatively prosperous, and so on--as history bears out.
Theologically, the explanation for that is common grace. If God, in His indescribable generosity has left the world in such a state that many societies can achieve relatively wise, stable and just governments, we're not being good stewards if we squander that common grace.
So... it's important to understand that government of the sinners, by the sinners, for the sinners will always be messy an flawed, but that it certainly ought to be as good as we can make it. ... and since this outcome is only possible due to a kind of grace, it also has eternal value. I personally don't believe anything good can possibly fail to matter forever.
I think common grace, in a manner similar to general revelation, is condemnatory but is certainly not salvific (I hate that word, but can't think of another). It serves to leave people without excuse for continuing to reject God (Dan 4). It doesn't contain any salvatory (is that a word . . .!?) information at all. God's grace in not only restraining His wrath but providing gifts, talents, abilities and blessings on the just and the unjust alike testify to His presence and His character (Rom 2:4; Acts 14:14-17).
If you equate a desire to see human flourishing with common grace - I must ask again, what eternal value does it have? Shouldn't our motivations be to (1) be a witness for Christ generally and (2) spread the Gospel specifically? Can't God take care of common grace on His own?
I am an inner-city missionary and the executive director of Urban Transformation Ministries reaching out and discipling drug-dealers, gang-members, teen moms, rappers, athletes in our neighborhood. We are not the only group trying to reach these groups of people. Social workers, educators, juvenile justice workers, and neighborhood organizers are also attempting to "disciple" them, but with entirely different messages and methods. I regularly run into these different organizations and people and most of them do not approach their work from a Christian world and life view, but rather a very humanistic and secular view. To them, a socialistic/big government solution to the problems in the 'hood is the only way. However, their good intentions combined with bad ideas contribute to more of the same chronic poverty and violence.
So here comes the Acton Institute, which does alot of research about how faith, free-markets, and entrepreneurship help reduce violence and poverty in depressed areas. This helps me when I write grants to foundations that want me to site different studies in order for me to build a case for why they should fund me. I don't have time to do that kind of research for myself so I am very very grateful for the Acton institute for doing the grunt work for me. Interestingly enough, God is using their common grace and dedication to human flourishing in a supportive role for our ministry whose purpose is to "redeem inner-city youth, families, and communities with the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ."
Furthermore, I have had numerous opportunities to share my faith with some of these neighborhood organizers, social workers, and etc... which are some of the most socially liberal people that I've ever met (on a side note, I received a Christmas card from one of them and he mentioned that the best thing that happened to him that year was Obama being re-elected) and having read some of Acton's research has helped me delve into conversations about their work and our work, which has then opened up opportunities for me to share the gospel and scripture with them. Yet many of these social worker-neighborhood organizers are amazed at the power of the gospel to change people's lives that we encounter.
Also I think we do need to be careful what we judge to have eternal value, especially since part of being made in God's image according to Gen. 1 and 2 is our work.
I'm responding to the article and your questions - not your work. I respect your work. You are utilizing networks to facilitate your missionary work and the furtherance of the Gospel.
I was a military police officer for 10 years and am not approaching this issue with the naive, wide-eyed, schoolboy manner you perhaps think I am.
I am not saying the good intentions of people cannot be used by God for good. I am saying, however, that these works are without merit to them in an eternal sense unless they are saved. I am not saying God cannot providentially arrange matters so you benefit from their work. I am saying that work is without merit to them, personally, without faith in Christ. Do you disagree?
Your rationale appears to be this:
1. The organization seeks to help people
2. The organization has benefited me
3. Therefore their work has eternal value
Therefore, would you really agree with this conclusion from your argument:
1. Apple made iTunes
2. Bill listened to a sermon on his iTunes player from his iPhone
3. Bill got saved
4. Therefore Apple's work has eternal value
I took a look at your organization's website. I beg you to believe that I am not denigrating your ministry, nor your motives. I believe the fruit of real salvation should be a desire to reach all people - including the poor. I understand you necessarily partner with various NGOs and perhaps even some government organizations in your work. People with all sorts of motives can be a help in your work.
I just see no warrant in Scripture that these noble motives undertaken by those who are (1) not saved, (2) not engaged in spreading the Gospel or (3) both - have any eternal merit to the person whatsoever. Your ministry is obviously involved in spreading the Gospel to people who desperately need it. That is well and good.
Certainly you appreciate the existence and work of Catholic Charities, for instance, while at the same time recognizing that these fine people doing their work are probably not saved?
Therefore, what good does their work do for them? Nothing.
What good does your work do for you? "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master," (Mt 25:23).