By Trevin Wax on Aug 10, 2011 in Book Reviews, Interviews, Missions / Evangelism
Today, I’m happy to be joined by David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL, for a conversation about his latest book, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God. I appreciated Radical Together for its emphasis on the church as the agent through which God extends His glory to the nations. As I read David’s book, I marked up the margins with questions that remained unresolved in my mind.
Today, David graciously responds to some of my lingering questions about his bold proposal. I pray our conversation will edify and embolden you as you seek to fulfill the Great Commission.
Trevin Wax: David, in Radical Together, you write:
“If you and I want our lives to count for God’s purpose in the world, we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the church.”
Why is it so vital that the church be at the forefront of our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission?
David Platt: The local church is God’s chosen, called, and ordained agent for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. From the beginning of the book of Acts, we see God’s people, by God’s design, coming together in local churches that are devoted to God’s Word, to fellowship with one another, to worship, and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Through these local churches, the Lord began adding to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Out of 114 times that we ekklesia in the New Testament, at least 90 of them refer to specific local gatherings of believers.
Clearly, the New Testament precedent and pattern is the advancement of the gospel through followers of Christ who are joined together in local bodies. As a result, if we want to be a part of spreading the gospel to all peoples in global mission, biblically we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the local church.
Trevin Wax: In your chapter on “The Misunderstood Gospel,” you make some clarifications regarding the motivation for our obedience. You write:
Unleashing radical people into the world requires the gospel as our foundation and our motivation.
David Platt: That’s right. I don’t want any follower of Christ to be overwhelmed by guilt, constantly wondering:
“When I am going to be radical enough?”
“What do I need to do, how do I need to give, or where do I need to go in order to do enough for God?”
These are extremely unhealthy questions, for the reality with which the gospel confronts us is that we’ll never be able to do enough. No matter what we do, even if we sell all of our possessions, give to the poor, and move to the most dangerous country in the world, we cannot do enough to be accepted before God or approved by God.
The beauty of the gospel is that Christ alone is able to do enough. He alone is able to keep the law and commands of God, and He has done it. Indeed, He has been faithful enough, generous enough, compassionate enough, etc. As a result, the starting point of the radical life is death to self, death to every attempt to do enough before God, and trust in Christ, the One who has lived the radical life on our behalf.
Trevin Wax: How does this beauty of the gospel translate into the beauty of Christian obedience?
David Platt: The beauty now is that when we trust in Christ to be our righteousness, we are now free to obey from a totally different position. In Christ, we have been declared “not guilty” before God. As a result, we no longer live from a position of guilt, but from a position of righteousness. And not only have we been declared righteous in Christ (as if this were not enough!), but He has given us His Spirit, and He lives in us to enable us at every single moment to live according to the commands which He has given us. As Christians, we now find ourselves free from guilt and driven by grace.
Trevin Wax: Why is it important that grace, not guilt be what motivates us?
David Platt: In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above, guilt is ultimately an unbearable burden and an unsustainable motivator. We may change our ways for a short time based on guilt, but real, true, radical life change will not happen until we trust in the gospel.
So my encouragement in Radical Together to anyone who struggles with a low-grade sense of guilt, wondering if they are ever doing enough, would be to realize that they can never do enough…and then to rejoice in the reality that Christ has done enough for them. Then, whenever they are confronted with sin or shortcomings, I would encourage them to trust in Christ, to rest in His righteousness, and to ask Him to produce the fruit of a radical gospel in their lives. This alone will sustain radical, life-changing, world-impacting obedience for the glory of God in all nations.
Trevin Wax: You express concern about the “missional” movement, if by missional we mean merely focusing on our immediate context and not on reaching the unreached with the gospel. I think “missional” is a reaction against the older idea that “missions” is something that we pay other people (“missionaries”) to do over there. The missional movement is seeking to remind us that we are all missionaries in our local context. It seems that you see a distinction between missional churches and Great Commission churches. Is that so? Why or why not?
David Platt: “Missional” is quite a loaded, and often misunderstood, word in many conversations today. I certainly appreciate any effort to remind us that God intends us all to make disciples wherever we live, particularly in our local context. This is the command of God for each of us to follow, and so by God’s grace we need to wake up every day intentionally considering how we can most effectively make disciples where we work, where we play, and where we live.
At the same time, the Great Commission is not just a command from Jesus to make disciples; it’s a command from Jesus to make disciples of all nations (literally, panta ta ethne, of all the people groups). This means that Jesus has commanded us to go beyond just the place where we live and the people we live among. He has commanded us to go to people groups all around the world who have little to no access to the gospel. This is at the heart of the Great Commission.
So being “missional,” in the sense of the whole of the Great Commission, is never just about making disciples among people right around us. Being “missional” according to the Great Commission involves making disciples among people far away from us (geographically and/or ethnically).
As a result, in Radical Together, I want to encourage those who would claim the banner of “missional” to be truly “missional.” Let’s continue to focus on making disciples among the people around us (let’s not detract from that focus!), and let’s focus on making disciples among peoples all around the world who presently have no access to the gospel. This is obedience to the Great Commission and the heart of what it means to be “missional.”
Trevin Wax: Is it possible to so focus on the unreached people groups that we discount the good work being done by people in other parts of the world? I had this question about myself as I was reading the book. Were my five years in Romania not really Great-Commission work, since that country is partially evangelized?
David Platt: For what it’s worth, I think your work in Romania (assuming you were making disciples there with a view toward seeing all nations reached with the gospel) was absolutely Great Commission work. For that matter, I trust that my work in Birmingham, AL (talk about reached!), is also Great Commission work as I shepherd a church to make disciples here with a view toward penetrating every people group on the planet with the gospel.
We are constantly tempted to choose between either going to reached peoples or going to unreached peoples. But this need not be an “either/or” scenario. What if God has designed our work among reached peoples to be aimed toward the spread of the gospel among unreached peoples?
The example I use in Radical Together involves how we as a church are focusing on ministry to various people in Birmingham (Brook Hills Bob) with a view toward the spread of the gospel among all peoples in the world (Brook Hills Baruti). We don’t want Birmingham or the nations for Christ; we want Birmingham and the nations for Christ.
So is it possible to so focus on unreached peopled groups that we discount the good work being done by people in other parts of the world? I suppose. But not if we understand disciple-making as a “both/and” scenario instead of an “either/or scenario.” Jesus made disciples among a very small group of Jewish men in the first century in a way that has led to you and I becoming disciples in America in the twenty-first century. Let’s follow His lead and make disciples among reached places in a way that will lead to disciples being made in unreached places all around the world.
Trevin Wax: What is the value of short-term missions in fulfilling the Great Commission?
David Platt: There are so many abuses when it comes to short-term mission trips, and oftentimes these abuses obscure the tremendous value of short-term missions. The goal of short-term mission is always long-term impact…on a variety of different levels.
First, we want to be a part of long-term impact in other contexts in the world. Obviously, we are not going to be able to go into another setting and make disciples in a week or two. So our goal should always be to connect relationally with long-term disciple-making processes in other contexts. Whether it is missionaries who have moved into another country/context, or nationals living in another context/country, we want to connect with brothers and sisters who are carrying out long-term disciple-making in that country/context. They know what the best uses might be for a short-term mission team, and there is great confidence in going to a place and serving alongside brothers and sisters like this, knowing that you are a part of supporting a long-term disciple-making process in that country/context for the glory of Christ.
But the long-term impact is not just about what happens in that country/context during that week or two on a short-term mission trip. We also want to promote a long-term impact in the people who are going on that short-term mission trip. This is a part of the disciple-making process in our own churches. In the church I pastor, short-term mission trips are a huge component of our long-term disciple-making processes. We want people that we are teaching and training in Christ to go into other contexts in the world, to see the glory of God in ways they may have never seen before, and to expand their understanding of the global purpose for which God has created them.
So for anyone that is looking to go on a short-term mission trip, the goal is not just to focus on impacting another part of the world; the goal is to focus on impacting the people you take with you to another part of the world, so that when you come back to your own context, you and the people who traveled with you are that much more committed to obeying the Great Commission in the context of where you live every day. In addition, many people will come back from a short-term mission trip and decide to go into more mid-term or long-term missions. Almost all of the people who have gone out from our church to serve in another country/context for 6 months, a year or two, or a lifetime, started by going on a short-term mission trip.
In all of these ways, short-term mission trips can be hugely valuable for supporting disciple-making processes in other parts of the world as well as right where we live. Through short-term, mid-term, and long-term missions, we join together with our brothers and sisters around the world as we work with all our hearts to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Trevin Wax: How does God-centered preaching lead to passion for evangelism?
David Platt: The gospel begins and ends with God. He is the holy, just, and gracious Creator of the universe who has sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who believes in Christ will be reconciled to God forever. And this is the gospel that we proclaim in evangelism.
So how do we best lead and shepherd God’s people to evangelize? By giving them a grand understanding of God. In preaching, we unfold the character of God: His holiness, His justice, His grace, and all of His other breath-taking attributes. As we magnify His Word, people behold His glory. And they believe, deep within their minds and their hearts, that God is great and greatly to be praised. In the process, this becomes the ultimate motivation for evangelism. The more the people I pastor see God’s worth, the more they want to make His worth known in the world.
So week after week after week, as I stand before them with God’s Word, I want to show them God’s worth. As they hear His Word and they see His worth, they will lay down their lives to make the good news of God’s grace and glory known to the people around them and people groups around the world. God-centered, gospel-saturated preaching is great fuel for Christ-honoring, world-embracing evangelism.
Radical Obedience: A Conversation with David Platt.