Review of Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask by David Platt

David Platt. Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask. Radical, Inc., 2020. 125 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-7349522-3-0. $4.99.

Introduction:

I figured the best time to share a critical book review of David Platt’s new book, Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask, should be on Election Day. My purpose for publishing this review is twofold: 1) to provide a summary for you, the reader of Platt’s content–because you don’t have time to read it before you vote, and 2) to give a critical analysis of it’s content. Therefore, I have divided this critical book review into headings so that you can choose which parts of the critique you would like to read depending on your circumstances.

Summary

Platt begins his book with this problem in mind, “We are swimming in toxic political waters that are poisoning the unity Jesus desires for his church, and we are polluting the glory Jesus deserves through us in the world” (p.11). While America is in political turmoil, Platt observes political descension among Christ’s bride. His hope in publishing this book by Radical is, “to fuel deeper affection for Christ while fostering healthier conversations among Christians as we participate in a presidential election” (p. 12). Platt’s book has three purposes for Christians during this Election Day: 1) to recognize the only hope Christians have is in Christ, 2) to foster open discussion among God’s family, and 3) to plead for unity in the gospel.

To argue for this thesis, he poses 7 questions for Christians to consider on November 3, 2020. The questions and answers are as follows:

  1. Does God Call Me To Vote?
    • Answer: “Based on the biblical commands above [Government’s role, Christian’s role in government, justice, prayer, love God, neighbor love, and stewardship], and the unique grace that God has given us as followers of Jesus and ‘governing’ citizens in a representative democracy, it seems we have a responsibility before God and one another to steward our vote for the sake of good, God-glorifying governance” (p. 26).
      • Platt does address “convictional inaction, which is basically a conscious and deliberate refusal to support any political candidate, organization, or party” (p. 27). Convictional inaction is what John Piper argued in his article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin: Pondering the Implications of the 2020 Election.” Platt rightly states, and is something we should all consider before condemning Piper’s stance, that it is possible for a Christian to exercise convictional inaction as a form of stewardship. That author’s “aim…is to say that followers of Jesus will ‘steward their vote’ in different ways” (p. 27). Although, not recommended by Platt as a primary option (p. 27-28), we should not condemn those who chose not to vote (p. 27).
  2. Who Has My Heart?
    • Answer Part I: “First and foremost, we do not put complete trust in any political candidate or party” (p.37). Answer Part II: “Our [a believers] allegiance definitively belongs to God and his gospel, not our government” (p. 38).
  3. What Does My Neighbor Need?
    • Answer: “Vote in a way that demonstrates supreme love for God and selfless love for others” (p. 57). More on this in the “Critical Analysis” section.
  4. What Is The Christian Position?
    • Answer: “Throughout his Word, God speaks clearly and directly on some issues. But there are other issues that are less clear and not as direct. Knowing the difference between these two is critically important in determining how we should use the word ‘Christian’ in politics” (p. 64).
      • Platt’s overall answer is to illustrate that some political issues are non-negotiable because God’s Word specifically speaks to certain political issues (i.e. gender, marriage, and abortion on p.65). However, there are some political areas that the Bible does not specifically address that are open to debate and discussion among fellow believers. His point is to convey that Christians should develop two categories: essential issues and negotiable issues. When discussion politics, a Christian would do well to label issues correctly to engage with others in a Christ-like and civil manner. Plus, Platt explains how believers should chose their words with precision and clarity (as one of my professors likes to say) when talking about politics.
  5. How Do I Weigh The Issues?
    • Answer: “Consider two factors that Christians might use to weigh political options: biblical clarity and practical consequences” (p. 81, emphasis original).
      • The answer to this question was one of the highlights of Platt’s work. In fact, this will be the framework by which he will answer question 7. The Christian, Platt argues, thinks about issues from two sides of the same coin. First, if I may put it in my own form of questioning, “What does the Bible teach?” and second, “What vote will produce the most probable outcome to benefit society from a Christian worldview?”
  6. Am I Eager To Maintain Unity In The Church?
    • Answer: “We have a unique opportunity to show that there’s another way. To show that the church of Jesus Christ is a distinct and otherworldly community that transcends political party and preference” (p. 103).
      • In this chapter, the reader sees Platt’s pastoral heart shine through the words on the page. Pastor David desires and hopes, which is part of the reason he wrote the book, for the church to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Paul implies in this text that unity can ebb and flow in God’s bride. Therefore, Platt desires that the church in America should fight to remain unified in Christ, in the gospel, not in our votes.
  7. So How Do I Vote?
    • Answer: Platt provides a “practical tool” to voting “by focusing on both biblical clarity and practical consequences” (p. 107, emphasis added). The answer to question 7 is a grid that employs the content of question 5. He provides a helpful diagram and some examples for the reader to use before they vote.
      • This answer is where we see Platt’s influence in preaching coming to the forefront of his writing. He is a preacher, and as such, he provides his readers with an application of what he has just taught. In other words, many readers will be shocked that Platt does not use this grid to get you to vote for a particular candidate or party, but rather he provides a method for coming to your own prayerful conclusions as a believer who decides to steward a vote.

Critical Analysis

As I have written before, scholarship is not for the faint of heart (see A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness). We subject our writing and thought to the world for both positive and constructive criticism. Therefore, I would like to provide a short analysis of Platt’s Before You Vote.

First, Platt handles this subject with theological acumen and pastoral care. Contrary to many who see a political book published by a pastor as an endorsement message, this book is not an endorsement of any candidate or party. Let me say that one more time. Platt does not endorse any political candidate or party. The book is more of a guide to navigating the political climate as Christians approach Election Day. The content reminds believers of the hope the gospel brings to our souls, the ability to vote with neighbor love in mind, and for Christians to just think more biblically about Election Day and the days after November 3, 2020 (p. 12).

Second, the author provides the reader with some practical advise on how to prayerfully decide how they will vote in an upcoming election. In other words, he doesn’t tell you how to vote, but gives you a guide or “grid,” as he calls it, to help you make a biblically informed decision before you cast your ballot (see pp. 105-21). His method is centered around the categories of biblical clarity and practical consequences (p. 81). This grid is helpful to think through and make an informed decision about who you will vote for in elections. In fact, whether one agrees with the grid or not, the point that can be taken away from Platt’s tool is to think before you vote. Know the platforms. Think about the issues. Think about loving your neighbor. Study the Bible. Ask God for wisdom. Ensure your vote is cast with a motive to honor God as his representatives on earth.

Third, while Platt does a great job explaining how one should vote with the biblical command of “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39), he should have expounded on what neighbor love is. I think he alludes to it with the idea of justice being rooted in God’s character (p. 22), but he misses an opportunity to educate his readers about how neighbor love must be grounded in God’s character as displayed in God’s law. Jesus concludes his teaching on love of God and love of neighbor by stating, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Jesus instructs his disciples that love of God and love of neighbor are connected to the commandments. Therefore, the way I love my neighbor is by loving them the way God commands me to love them in the moral law. Additionally, when I vote, I show my love for neighbor by voting towards issues that will restrain sin and promote biblical principles.

Fourth, I was uncomfortable with Platt’s use of the phrase practical consequences. Platt defines this “factor” as “evaluating the potential consequences of the political decisions we make, including the effects of those decisions in our communities, our country, and the world” (p. 81). My concern with this phrase is that is promotes a form of utilitarianism. He seems to argue that we make a voting decision based on the consequences, and the perceived consequences makes us morally right in our vote. Humans are unable to predict the future because we are finite, and human beings cannot base a decision on the perceived outcomes of an agent’s action. To rectify this close companionship with utilitarianism, Platt might have been on more stable grounds using the phrase “biblical wisdom.”

Fifth, in the introduction and in question 6, it seems that Platt was trying to defend praying for President Trump at the end of one of his worship gatherings in June of 2019. Many voices chimed in on his decision, and from multiple points of view–both critically and complimentary. Platt’s book used that event as a starting point to develop his position that Christians ought to show gentleness, kindness, and familial love to one another in this political climate. In which, I wholeheartedly agree. My critique is to point out that the event with President Trump took away from the overall argument he was attempting to make about Christian unity and grace. The point of his book was for Christians to be united around the gospel, remind them of their hope in Christ, and foster open, honest, and Christ honoring conversations during this election season. The President Trump situation that took place over a year ago seemed to cloud his overall argument and take the readers mind off of the content he was trying to communicate.

Overall, this book is well worth the $4.99 on Kindle or in paperback. I fear that the content was to specific to the 2020 election. Thus, the influence this book could have in the future might be lost in years to come. I hope that is not the case because the content is relevant to not only 2020’s election, but also every election after this November 3, 2020. Therefore, I highly recommend you read through Platt’s content even after Election Day comes to an end because I believe the call to unity, the hope we have in Christ, and living in biblical community with all believers will still be essential in the days, months, and years after Election Day 2020 (see p. 12).

Favorite Quotes:

  1. “There is only one leader who is worthy of our hearts, including our trust, allegiance, and hope. He is the Son of Man in whom there is salvation, and his name is Jesus” (p. 24). I wish Platt would have put an exclamation point after that last sentence. It gives me goosebumps every time I read it.
  2. By all means, let’s strive to take political positions that are informed by gospel foundations. But let’s refrain from using language that unnecessarily, unhelpfully, or unbiblically ties the gospel to a political calculation” (p. 72).
  3. “According to God, we stop and listen to each other in love” (p. 99).
  4. “When you hold your ballot in your hand, pause and thank Jesus for his loving leadership of your life and his sovereign lordship over this election. Then, as you check that box, offer this simple and sincere prayer: ‘Lord, may your kingdom come'” (p. 121).

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Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne: A Must Read for Church Leaders

Larry Osborne. Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. 221 pp. Paperback. ISBN 9780310324545. $16.99.

A few months ago, I was sitting down with one of my pastor coaches, and he mentioned that I needed to read Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne. For the record, I know this book is a bit on the older side for a book review, but I was fighting in Afghanistan as a Marine Officer when this book was published. The book maybe older in date, but the contents within this book are still applicable and relevant for any church leader today. This book review will summarize the contents of the book, make a few generic comments, and offer my recommendation. 

Osborne’s stated purpose for writing this work reads, “When faced with differing agendas and clashing perspectives that every team must work through, sticky teams know how to deal with the issues at hand and still come out united in purpose and vision, with a genuine camaraderie undamaged by strong differences” (p. 19). In order to substantiate this thesis, Osborne divides his book into four parts with part one being the foundation for the other three. 

Osborne begins with his essential concept of unity as the foundation for his work. He defines unity with three components: 1) doctrinal unity, 2) respect and friendship, and 3) philosophical unity (p. 28). Without these factors, our teams will quickly become disgruntled and ineffective. I highly recommend that you take your time reading the first two chapters of this book because if you miss this foundation, you will be unable to effectively implement the other three parts. Therefore–and I think Osborne would agree with me–unity of a team seems to be the main theme for which the rest of this book builds upon in the other three parts. 

Parts two, three, and four are the pragmatics associated with his ideological concept of unity. To put it another way, unity as the main thrust of his argument can be accomplished, maintained, and protected when we identify our own church organizational charts (Part 1), our ability to align everyone on our team (Part 2), and clearly communicate to our teams and people (Part 3). These parts will help you put meat on the bones of his unity concept. 

Osborne’s book will hopefully encourage you and get you to think about how to create unity on your leadership team. The versatility of this book should be highly noted. It does not matter if you are elder lead, deacon run (although this might be problematic biblically), staff lead, or board led, the contents presented in this book will help you think through and build unity with your leaders. The versatility of this book is probably the reason I was recommended to read it by my pastoral coach nine years after it was published. 

Additionally, Osborne discusses some “hot topic” issues for church leadership. My staff and I have had some great discussions talking about the concepts presented by the author. How do you handle staff salaries? How do you prioritize the various aspects of ministry? How do you know what organizations to support and what organizations to pass on when they ask for donations? What information about church members should a church leader know and not know? Osborne will let you know his position on each question, but he will not push his agenda on his readers. He will present his position and let you and your leaders determine how you will proceed with the information he presents. 

To some who are overly pragmatic, this might be a disappointing reality about the contents presented. Some pastors and leaders just want a “how to” manual for building leaders and teams. This book will not deliver on those expectations (the book is not meant to do that, by the way). You or your leadership team will have to decide how you will adopt these concepts in your current church setting. So, while some may see this as disappointing, I find it highly satisfying as a young church leader. Of course, Osborne gives some principles to use in dealing with fierce church battles, aligning staff, and making changes, but the tone of his writing is more recommendation rather than forceful intrusion on your leadership context and style. To me, this reflection is another strength. 

Therefore, I highly recommend that you get your hands on this book in the near future. If you have read it in the past, pick it up and read it again. This book is like mining for gold. The work is hard, but in the end you will be glad you got the shiny golden nugget. Osborne’s Sticky Teams will be a work I come back to on a yearly basis.

Amazon has this book available for $14.75

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Jeremy Bell

Chan’s Letters to the Church Reviewed

Francis Chan. Letters to the Church. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2018. 219 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0830776580. $16.99.

Francis Chan shocked the evangelical world when he stepped away from Cornerstone, a megachurch platform, and moved with his family to Asia. The shock was that Chan stepped away willingly not because of some moral failure or internal scandal. He walked away from the church he planted in 1994 because of a stirring in his soul. Out of the wake of this life-changing move, Chan has written this book to “point out areas where the Church is lacking” (p. 211). When Chan talks about pointing out the flaws of the Church, he primarily focuses his work on the church in America.

Chan’s book was written with a tone of complete humility. He does not want to condemn the church in America because he loves the church (p. 22). However, he loves the Bride of Christ with such passion that he desires to help point out some of the ways the church might be displeasing God from the Scriptures. Chan desires for any of his writings to be checked by the Word of God (p. 24). In other words, the author desires to bring to light issues while maintaining a posture of humility. His humility becomes more prominent by his own admittance that he contributed to some of the issues he points out in his book (p. 44).

The author begins by providing a theology of the church from Scripture. His main emphasis is on the church as sacred. As sacred, the Bride of Christ requires that all members are to be “devoted” (p. 55). The motif of devotion really drives the rest of his understanding of the church as a place of worship, but also as a family. The family dynamic of the church seems to be Chan’s emphasis in his newer model. The family dynamic he proposes is one of both love, unity, and service.

Chan concludes his book with a note to pastors, a theology of suffering, an empowerment of children and youth, and his model for church out of his reflections. Chan concludes with his “afterword” on killing pride from a posture of complete humility. Throughout the book a reader can sense the pain and the love for the church and the people within the church as he speaks this exhortation.

I admire Chan’s humility in this work. I think the church should always been in a posture of reformation or change (p. 190). Chan seeks to change the consumer mindset that has intruded into the Bride of Christ in America. He does present some problems that he has observed, and he provides a solution through his own model of ministry for those problems. We must not be resistant to change as the church because we are always changing to become more like Christ and more like the Scripture we hold as both innerant and authoritative. Chan doesn’t propose a one-size fits all model for the church, but a way to think about how to be a more biblical church in America.

While this book does well in presenting some of the problems within the church, I want my readers to be aware of two concerns I have with the content. First, sometimes Chan’s writing can be more experiential rather than biblical. I don’t want to downplay his theology because I think his view of the church is correct. However, he does posit his arguments for the church through many of his experiences overseas. His experiences seem to indicate that the persecuted church is better off than the church in America because of our freedoms. He creates this “fear of missing out” in America with his experiences. The Bride of Christ-no matter where it is located-has problems that are in need of change. We all must be cautious of elevating experience with special revelation-even unintentionally. The Bible explains and helps us understand our experiences and feelings.

Second, Chan concludes with what his new model of ministry looks like in the present. I think we must be careful to heed Chan’s warning that this is the way he is working at doing church, but he would not claim this as the ONLY way to do church. My concern is that some reading may scrap the whole church in America to do their own church design like Chan. Chan can do this because I think he is strong theologically, but I fear that others might launch this same model with a minimal understanding of theological clarity or accuracy leading to heresy. Some may be able to reform in new ways, but others might have to think through solutions to Chan’s observations in other methods for established churches. My question is, “Can we reform without abandoning ship?” I think we can by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit.

Nevertheless, this book is worth you to read. I would recommend it to any believer who wants to think more biblically about the church and the issues that are plaguing the church in America. May we prayerfully search the Lord, his Word, and be guided by the Spirit to change the consumerist mindset within God’s bride. May we become more unified in our congregations to reach more people in our communities and across the globe. I encourage you to read Chan’s work with an open mind and heart. Reform is needed, but the Scriptures are our standard for any reform.

Amazon has this book available for $13.72