The “Radical” Experiment

So here’s David Platt’s “dare” to us all, presented in his book “Radical.”  He calls it the “Radical Experiment—One Year to a Life Turned Upside Down.”  For one year, the Radical Experiment asks us to:

  • Pray for the ENTIRE world;
  • Read through the ENTIRE Bible;
  • Sacrifice our money for a specific purpose;
  • Spend our time in another context (he suggests 2%, or about a 40-hour week);
  • Commit our life to a multiplying community (by this I believe he means a faith community, or local church).

There’s a danger (I felt it, anyway) in looking at these steps and throwing one’s hands up in confusion and despair.  Surrounded as we are by all the myriad pieces of our lives, which are hard enough to juggle, where do these steps fit in?  Here are some of my thoughts, as I read through the steps.

Step 1 struck me initially as overkill.  I will admit that I have tossed out a couple of “prayer calendars” sent to me by mission organizations, thinking that people interested in those particular countries will certainly pray.  But I can see how praying for other countries would affect my heartfelt concern for them, and considering my goal with Heroic Women International (see tab), praying for other countries now seems like a critical step.

In a Christian culture that thrives on daily devotional readings that fit better into our overwhelmingly busy schedules, Step 2, reading several pages of the Bible every day to get through it in a year, is a lot of reading.  But may I say, this is perhaps the most valuable advice in this entire book?  I would simply add, reading God’s Word should not be mechanical.  Rather, read the Bible meditatively, thinking about what God might be saying through the stories and lessons.  If you start and find you can’t finish in a year, don’t give up.  Keep reading, even if it takes you longer.

Pratt devotes an entire chapter (chapter 6, “How Much is Enough?”) to the ideas behind Step 3, which is perhaps the most radical part of the experiment.  He emphases “sacrifice,” not just give the left overs.  People generally tend to be tight with their money, and the thought of giving it away as a lifestyle is truly a radical departure from our natural way of thinking.

So why do it?  There are lots of reasons, but perhaps the most important is illustrated in the ancient Genesis question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  According to the Bible, yes, and this empirically necessitates opening our wallets.  But that can feel oppressive and overwhelming.  Here’s, to me, a much more pragmatic reason: giving to help improve the lives of others is good for the heart and soul.  I have yet to meet one single person who is happier or healthier because of the death grip with which they hold onto their treasure.  On the contrary, I have met dozens of people who “practice” giving for the sake of Christ and, through it, experience tremendous joy.

Many people these days are discovering the precious little gem hidden in Step 4.  Getting out into the world – whether it be across the street or in another country – enlarges ones perspective.  Seeing how other people live dramatically affects the way we view our own circumstances.  A lot of people who have gone on to do great things for others began by spending time in another context.

Step 5 may seem unnecessary to a few.  Surveys suggest a growing number of people consider themselves Christians but do not go to church.  But it’s hard to read the book of Acts and Paul’s writings and agree with this perspective.  The bottom line is we are made to belong to and engage in a community of believers.  Worship, while important in private, is absolutely critical as a body of like-minded people.  (Think the God-ordained temple worship in the Old Testament, the churches portrayed in the book of Acts, and the throng of believers around God’s throne in Revelations.)  Together, we are stronger, more apt to know and follow the teachings of Christ, more in touch with the needs of others, and in a better position to have our own needs met, when they arise.  It is a commitment made to God and others that God smiles on.  The earthly Church may not be perfect, but it is Christ’s Bride.

Before I go any further, let me state my two disappointments with Platt’s book.  1) He doesn’t develop a foundation for why we do ANYTHING for God.  Doing service or ministry out of legalism, peer pressure, fear, or any other type of compulsion, will benefit nothing.  The reason for wanting and maintaining a life of discipleship should be a deep love for and devotion to God.  If that’s not our motivation, perhaps we are not ready for the Radical Experiment.  Or perhaps we need it more than ever, I don’t know.  2) In my view, Platt seems to be addressing his book to a narrow spectrum of the Christian population.  He doesn’t address married couples, for instance, where one spouse is not “onboard” with the ideas presented in the book, nor does he speak to the vast number of people who physically or financially cannot, or are not in a position to do every step of the Experiment.  This includes people with debilitating conditions, financial hardship, caregivers, the elderly, the list goes on.  To you, I would say pray and do what you can.  To the greatest extent possible, don’t allow your circumstances to become an excuse for non-action.  Even if you can only follow one of the steps, do it.

What I think Platt’s book does well is prompt us to think differently.  Those folks who say there’s nothing radical about it (reading online comments, there are plenty) probably have never actually tried doing the five steps.  Or maybe they have heard the message so often (indeed, there is nothing really new in the book), they have become numb to it.

Let’s not become numb.  Let’s not toss out a good idea just because every little detail doesn’t conform to our specifications.  Let’s take what we can of the Radical Experiment and implement it into our lives.

One comment on “The “Radical” Experiment

  1. Excellent analysis. Pratt’s experiment is indeed a challenge, but I believe that everybody can do at least some, if not all, of the steps. It’s already made a difference in my life.

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