A Review of David Platt's book Follow Me – A Call to Die. A Call to Live (2013).
This is the most recent book to challenge the doctrine of faith alone in a non-doctrinaire way. He doesn't ever tell the reader precisely what he's doing, much like Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in his work The Cost of Discipleship (1939). Thus David Platt reflects a new generation that is trying to revive the approach of Bonhoeffer to challenge the salvation doctrine of faith alone. But he knows he cannot use blunt words, so he tries to get the reader to focus on the words of Jesus, trust Jesus, and then actually listen to Jesus on salvation. He essentially ignores Paul's contrary teachings, just like Bonhoeffer did a generation ago.
I wish Platt well, but I simply do not see how this strategy of ignoring the elephant in the room can continue to be used over and over again, when it has failed repeatedly in the past. Thus, I project that Platt will fail to change the mainstream. Perhaps that's not that important. If any souls are saved, that's what counts. Regardless Platt is a further confirmation of what we teach on this website about the doctrines of Jesus on salvation.
So here are excerpts from this work, chapter one, that highlight the message. I urge everyone to buy this work. These excerpts from just the beginning of the book should give you enough reason to purchase this work. If you would like to see a 3.5 minute video by Platt where he makes the claim that we have drained the "lifeblood out of Christianity" with this teaching that the confession of the sinner's prayer saves you, here is the You Tube "Follow Me" by David Platt.
Chapter One: Follow Me
The initial call to Christ is an inevitable call to die. Such a call has been clear since the beginning of Christianity. Four fishermen stood by the seashore in the first century when Jesus approached them. "Follow me," he said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19. With that, Jesus beckoned these men to leave behind their professions, possessions, dreams, ambitions, family, friends, safety, and security. He bid them to abandon everything. "If anyone is going to follow me, he must deny himself," Jesus would say repeatedly.… According to Scripture and tradition, these four fishermen paid a steep price for following Jesus. Peter was crucified upside down, Andrew was crucified in Greece, James was beheaded, and John was exiled.
Yet they believed it was worth the cost. In Jesus, these men found something worth losing everything for. In Christ they encounter love that surpasses comprehension, a satisfaction that superseded circumstances, and a purpose that transcended every other possible pursuit in this world. They eagerly, willingly, and gladly lost their lives in order to know, follow, and proclaim him.
Two thousand years later, I wonder how far we have wandered from this path. Somewhere along the way, and amid varying cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimized Jesus summons to total abandonment. Churches are filled with supposed Christians who seem content to have casual association with Christ while giving nominal adherence to Christianity. Scores of men, women and children have been told that becoming a follower of Jesus simply involves acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words. But this is not true. Disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, John… show us that the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it's a summons to lose our lives.
Why, then, would we think that becoming a Christian means anything less for us? And why would we not want to die to ourselves in order to live in Christ? Yes, there is a cost that accompanies stepping out of casual, comfortable, cultural Christianity but it is worth it. More aptly put, he is worth it. Jesus is worthy of far more than intellectual belief, and there is so much more to following him than monotonous spirituality. There is indescribable joy to be found, deep satisfaction to be felt, and eternal purpose to be fulfilled in dying to ourselves and living for him.
That's why I've written this book. In a previous book, Radical, I sought to expose values and ideas that are common in our culture (and in the church) antithetical to the gospel. My aim was to consider the thoughts and things of this world that we must let go of in order to follow Jesus.
My goal in considering these questions is not to correct anyone who has ever used certain words, but simply to uncover potential dangers hiding behind popular clichés.… But in a day when the basics of becoming and being a Christian are so maligned by the culture and misunderstood in the church, I do know that there is more to Jesus than the routine religion we are tempted to settle for at every turn.
Platt then discusses the typical sinner's prayer. In his illustration, one man leads another to say a prayer after me which is: "Dear Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, and I know Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I ask you to come into my heart and to save me from my sin."
Platt then puts this sinner's prayer under examination. The man who led a friend of Platt's in such a prayer then reassured the new 'believer': "Son, you are saved from your sins, and you don't ever have to worry about hell again." Platt then comments in the next section on what this means.
Surely what that man told my friend in church was not true. Surely this is not what it means to respond to Jesus' invitation to follow him. Yet this story represents the deception that has spread like wildfire across the contemporary Christian landscape.
Should it alarm us that the Bible never mentions such a prayer? Should it concern us that nowhere in Scripture is anyone ever told to "ask Jesus into their hearts" or to "invite Christ into their life"? If this is exactly what multitudes of professing Christians have been encouraged to do, and they've been assured that as long as they said certain words, recited a particular prayer, raised their hand, checked the box, signed the card, or walked an aisle, they are Christians and their salvation is eternally secure.
It's not true. With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We've replaced challenging words from Christ with trite phrases in the church. We've taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so it tastes better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are Christians when biblically they are not.
"I NEVER KNEW YOU"
Is that possible? Is it possible for you or me to profess to be a Christian and yet not know Christ? Absolutely. And according to Jesus, it's actually probable.
Do you remember his words near the conclusion of his most famous sermon? Surrounded by people who are actually referred to as disciples, Jesus said,
Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" Matthew 7:21-23.
These are some of the most frightening words in all the Bible. As a pastor, I stay awake some nights haunted by the thought that many people sitting in church on Sunday will be surprised one day to stand before Jesus and hear him say to them, "I never knew you; away from me!"
We are all prone to spiritual deception – every single one of us. When Jesus says these words in Matthew 7, he is not talking about atheists, agnostics, pagans, and heretics. He's talking about good, religious people – men and women associated with Jesus who think that their eternity is safe and will one day be shocked to find that it is not. Though they profess belief in Jesus and even gave all kinds of work in his name, they never truly knew him.
Such deception was possible among first century Christians and is probable in 21st century churches.
Platt then gives an example of Jordan, a college student in his church. Jordan explained to him how she relied upon her profession of the sinner's prayer to guarantee his eternal destiny. So Platt says listen to Jordan's story, which he quotes at length as follows:
I prayed to ask Jesus into my heart at the age of five. This prayer temporarily served as a get out of hell free card while I continued to walk in sin. I looked better than all the other students in my youth group, so this served to validate my faith. If this validation was not enough, my parents, pastors, and friends told me I was a "Christian" ... because I prayed that prayer and I look nice on the outside, so they knew for sure I was "in."
… It was obvious that the prayer I prayed before was probably not going to cut it. So what did I do? I did what anybody would do who is not yet willing to admit their total brokenness and depravity before a holy God: I "rededicated" my life to Christ (a term that was not coined in Scripture, I assure you).
Yet I was still dead in my sin and not repentant.
Later Platt says that Jordan "underwent a massive transformation in her life from knowing about Jesus to living in Jesus. She went from working for Jesus in an attempt to earn God's favor to walking with Jesus out of the overflow of faith."
Platt then says he believes Jordan's story reflects a pandemic problem across contemporary Christianity. He states: "masses of men, women, and children around the world like… Jordan are sitting comfortably under the banner of Christianity but never counted the cost of following Christ."
Platt then goes into a new subject as follows:
THE HARD ROAD
This is why Jesus's words in Matthew 7 are so critical for us to hear. He exposes our dangerous tendency to gravitate toward that which is easy and popular. Hear his warning: "enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are a few." Matthew 7:13-14. In other words, there is a broad religious road that is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing that's required of you is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don't have to worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-righteousness or self indulgence, will be tolerated along the way.
But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down the hard road, and the word Jesus uses for "hard" is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation, and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and it's hated by many.
Platt then discusses that Peter, just after making what Jesus says is a correct profession of faith in him as "the Christ, the son of the living God," Jesus had to rebuke Peter for missing the costs associated with his profession. Platt explains:
Like many people today, Peter wanted a Christ without a cross and a Savior without any suffering. So Jesus looked at Peter and the other disciples and said, "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Matthew 16:16, 24-25.
Platt then after discussing this among other passages comments as follows:
In each of these passages in the book of Matthew, the call to die is clear. The road that leads to life is risky, lonely, and costly in this world, and few are willing to pay the price. Following Jesus involves losing your life – and finding new life in him.
Platt then resurrects an old text by a famous theologian called Oswald Chambers. In Chambers' well-known devotional entitled My Utmost for His Highest Platt found an amazing nugget that supports his point. He quotes Chambers as saying:
Suppose God tells you to do something that is an enormous test of your common sense, totally going against it. What will you do? Will you hold back?… Again and again he will come right up to what Jesus wants, but every time you will turn back at the true point of testing, until you are determined to abandon yourself to God in total surrender… Jesus Christ demands the same unrestrained, adventurous spirit of those who have placed their trust in him… If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark. In the spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense, and leap by faith into what he says. Once you obey, you will merely find that what he says is as solidly consistent as common sense.
By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ's statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when he brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis – only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, entry for May 30, accessed at www.utmost.org.)
Platt, R point 7-11% of kindle ebook.
My final comment
I pray that Platt is successful. He has correctly analyzed that modern preaching has deadened the spirituality of people who want to believe in Christ, but are given a false path of faith alone -- a costless salvation when Jesus told us it was crucial that we count the costs of following him in order to be saved.