According to David Platt, we live in a culture with values in deep conflict with the gospel. What does it mean to live out the Christian faith in such a world? In this interview about his book Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age, Sean interviews Dr. Platt about how Christians can lovingly and truthfully approach some of the toughest issues today including poverty, sex trafficking, and abortion through the lens of the gospel.
More About Our Guest
Dr. David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C., and he is the founder and president of Radical Inc., a global ministry that serves churches in accomplishing the mission of Christ. David previously served as the president of the International Mission Board, and he has authored several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, and Counter Culture. Along with his wife and kids, he lives in the Washington D.C. metro area.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology Biola university. Today we have a return guest who I'm excited to hear from again, Pastor David Platt, author of, Radical, a New York Times bestselling book to discuss another book you've written that especially grabbed my attention, because it covers a number of areas that I teach at Talbot. Your book is called, Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age.
Sean McDowell: Pastor Platt, thanks for coming back to the program.
David Platt: It's good to be back.
Sean McDowell: So let's jump into this book. And I have a question you often hear people describe our culture as say increasingly secular, or post-Christian. But in the subtitle it's anti-Christian. Now I know titles, a lot of thought goes into this. And sometimes publishers make that decision. But tell me the choice to do that. Because I could imagine some people saying the concern would be is it could create an us versus them mentality with culture. I know that's what you don't want to do. So tell me why you would describe our culture is being anti-Christian.
David Platt: I would just say, I guess I'm thinking here, and part of this is fresh in my mind, just preaching through 1 Corinthians right now in the church where I pastor. But 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, there is a wisdom in this world and there's a wisdom in God's word. And they are pretty polar opposite. I mean the wisdom of the cross looks like foolishness to the world. And so it's not just kind of different, it's antithetical to one another.
David Platt: So that's not to say by any means that there is not by God's common grace, so many things in our culture that are actually good by God's common grace. That we unite together in a sense with nonbelievers, or people from all kinds of different backgrounds and beliefs. But when it comes to the core of the gospel, it is antithetical to the wisdom of the world. And I would say there's a sense in which that's always been the case from the 1st Century to the 21st century. So in that sense it's like nothing new.
David Platt: At the same time, I think the ways that our culture amidst a rapidly shifting moral landscape that we live in today, particularly in the US, we are facing all kinds of particular challenges that just expose that reality. That I would argue is it's been there anyway, but is coming to the surface, I would say in rapidly shifting ways that we as the church need to wisely respond to with good gospel conviction and compassion.
Sean McDowell: So in many ways that title is meant to draw out this supposed American gospel that we often [inaudible 00:00:02:55], no, no, no. There's something about the gospel in direct opposition to a lot of ideas in American beyond.
David Platt: Because that's part of what, in this book I try to address all kinds of different issues, but at the core just say we need to realize like the greatest, the most offensive stance that Christians have is not dealing with this or that on sexuality, or this or that issue. It's the gospel. The gospel is ultimately in a 1 Corinthians 9 kind of a sense, it's an offense to our pride before God, our sinfulness. And so we've got to realize that going into it. And then that's going to then affect the way we view all kinds of other issues.
Sean McDowell: Now I noticed the way you kind of frame this book is through the lens of the gospel. So the gospel and culture, gospel and poverty, gospel and abortion, sex, slavery, marriage, on and on and on. That's the lens through which you frame it. But this book is also not just about the gospel in terms of salvation, it's about social issues and social action. There's a ton of debate about this and loaded words like social justice. I'm curious if you could connect the dots, how does the gospel inform how we should think about and act on these various social issues that you address in the book?
David Platt: Yeah, so that's the big thrust of this book. It's my attempt to say, "Okay, here's the gospel." So when I'm using that term right now, I'm using, okay, this good news that we were all created by God. We've all sinned against God, rebelled against God. God has come to us in the person of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection that make possible reconciliation to God through repentance and faith, into a redemption, relationship with God that lasts forever. And then all that that entails. Now you have a new heart, you have a new life, you have a new mindset, you have new desires, you have new affections, you have the way you think about relationships. So this gospel transforms everything about you.
David Platt: So then that gospel then transforms the way you think about sexuality. So that gospel transforms the way you think about the poor and transfers away. Now you are spirit filled, you're believing in Jesus, reconciled to relationship with God, experiencing his life. That changes everything about how you live.
David Platt: So the aim of this book then is to then unpack, okay, so how do these, even these trues about who God is, who Jesus is, what it means to trust in him, what it means to have faith in him, what it means to live a life of repentance, how does that affect the way we... So it's my attempt to then apply all those core truths of the gospel to these pressing social issues around that.
Sean McDowell: So is it fair enough or maybe too simplistic to say the gospel is our standing before God in terms of our salvation. When we've been saved, we are compelled to go seek justice in these various areas for the unborn, those caught in slavery, racial reconciliation. It's a response to the gospel, but not the essence of the gospel itself? Is that fair?
David Platt: Yes. Because the last thing I want to do is dilute the gospel, where it just kind of becomes everything. And it really kind of misses to the heart of what I think the Bible teaches about the gospel. But the way you put it, like compels us. Yes. And that's part of what I kind of start the book with was just saying, "Okay, we don't have the option of living out the implications of the gospel that Christ centered life when it comes to poverty in the world, when it comes to abortion in the world. We can't be selective and choose which ones of these issues we're going to apply the truths of scripture to, and our changed lives to, which ones are we not. These are issues around us that we need to make sure to, yes, live for justice, and live for God's glory.
David Platt: And even, you and I know as soon as we start using some of these terms, there's all kinds of loaded meaning here and there. But I think in a Micah 6:8 kind of way, like, yes. We want to do justice. We want to love kindness and mercy, and walk humbly with God in a world of sexual confusion, in a world of a refugee crisis, in a world where billions of people are poor. How does our faith in Christ affect the way we live? We've got to think through those issues.
Sean McDowell: Every worldview has basically creation, fall, and redemption. How we got here, what went wrong in the world, and how we fixed it. I'm curious what you think sin would be considered as in our kind of modern day Western culture. And let me frame this to give you a chance to think about it.
Sean McDowell: So on page five you cite Dawkins, who just talks about how basically there really is no right and wrong, it's just a self machine. And then he turns around and condemns other behaviors being immoral. He can't live out this naturalistic worldview. And you rightly criticized relativism. But in my experience, no one is really a relativist, because people condemn sexual trafficking, people condemn hypocrisy. So people have a moral standard, but it's not really relativism or the biblical moral standard. What do you think sin would be viewed through the eyes of our contemporary culture, you think?
David Platt: I think it... And so where my mind is going even just right now is Romans 1, like given over to a depraved monitor and not to be done approving things that are detestable. So it's basically defining for ourselves what we think is right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful. Whatever language we might use that the world might use in different people from different perspectives might use. But it's definitely it's subjective personally, it is focused on how something affects me or others. So what's missing?
David Platt: So what's missing and all of that is the God-centered reality of sin. What sin is, is ultimately offense against God. And even when it's an offense against someone else, that's under the banner of offense against God. And in a Psalm 51 kind of way, adultery and murder that King David was guilty of, "against you, you only have I sinned." I was just reading this the other day. It's not that there wasn't sin against others in that. But that injustice in the world is ultimately injustice against God. And God is the one who defines, right, wrong, helpful, unhelpful, whatever those terms might be.
David Platt: And so for the world, that's what's missing, the God-centeredness of an understanding of sin, if we would even call something sin.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that makes sense. I think in one sense then it's really nothing new because that's also Genesis 3, Romans 1, just a little bit of a different flavor.
David Platt: I'm going to redefine right and wrong according to what I think. That is the core of Genesis 3. We are the arbiters of what's right and wrong, good or evil, as opposed to letting God be the arbiter of that. And yeah, all of sin goes back to that.
Sean McDowell: Well said. I think that's right. So let's dive into some of the issues in particular that you discuss here. And you start off by addressing poverty by recognizing how rich we are in comparison to the world and in world history. Put in a perspective what that means for say you're a typical American, or even somebody in the West today compared to world history.
David Platt: I mean the reality is that if we have clean water, sufficient food, clothes, education opportunities, transportation opportunities, shelter, even just thinking about basics. I think when we think about being rich, we always think in relative terms. "Okay, so I'm not rich because that person's rich." So just to realize, I think we need to realize when most people in the world picture rich, it's us. And not just in the world today, but in the history of the world. So I share just different quotes. Just talk about, I mean by all standards we are some of the richest people that ever walked planet earth.
David Platt: And the aim there is not to say, okay, we need to feel guilty for that or that in and of itself is like wrong in some way. It's just realization. Wow, we have been given much grace. So what do we do with this? How do we see ourselves in right perspective and then live accordingly.
Sean McDowell: So one of the issues you discuss related to this question is poverty. So why does God care so deeply about the poor?
David Platt: So many different reasons come to my mind. I was just reading Psalm 68 the other day. Where it just talked about his greatness, his majesty as the defender of the poor. Even Psalm 70 now, I was thinking about reading this morning. "He makes haste to help the poor and the needy." So okay, why does he do that? Why does he show his greatness, particularly on behalf of the poor?
David Platt: I think all throughout scripture we see certainly an acknowledgement of need, a humility before God among the poor that's oftentimes missing among the rich. I think we definitely see in scripture the reality that just the tables will be turned, in so many different ways. What looks prosperous in this world is actually not going to be prosperous in eternity or vice versa. I just think it's an awesome reality that our God shows his greatness by going to those who are fatherless, those who are the widows, those who are the oppressed, those who are the enslaved. I mean you just think about the whole Old Testament narrative. This was God's people in Egypt and that he was defending, bringing out. And so from cover to cover in scripture, we see that kind of thing.
Sean McDowell: That's a great way to put it. I think in John 17 when it talks about God fully revealing himself, and his glory is made known in the cross. Yes, God is all the great omnis. But there's this kind of humility built into God's character that just naturally cares for the poor, and the broken, disenfranchised, and the marginalized.
Sean McDowell: And you talk about this in the book a little bit. But you say, "Guilt motivates us to change briefly about the poor." My question is what changes somebody in more long term to care about the poor? What brings lasting change to care about those that God cares about just because of who he is?
David Platt: Yes. So, it's not a guilt, grace. That would be the contrast I would immediately go to. So it's not okay, I feel bad, therefore I need to do something. Like that, I think we all know even practically that just doesn't last. How do you keep that going? You feel worse and worse and worse and worse. Like just practically, it doesn't play. But grace.
David Platt: So to realize, okay, I've been given much. And I've not been given much just for me. This is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. I've been given much so that I might pour myself out for others. God has supplied for me for the good of others. So I think about there's so many issues that start coming to my mind. But think about adoption or care for orphans. Like why do that? Because we feel bad for them? Well, yes. I mean there's certainly, it's sympathy. But not like guilty because we have a family or this or that. But we know.
David Platt: So now I would just go like back to God's grace in the gospel. We were sinners against God. God pursued us, adopted us as his children. So we are overwhelmed by that kind of grace, and his rescue of us bringing us into his family, that it just makes sense for us to go to children who need a family and bring them into our home. Like it just makes sense. It's grace that just drives that. And so that's one issue when it comes to the poor.
David Platt: I don't know why I've been born into a place where I've never had to worry about a meal. Like that's just grace from God. I had nothing to do with where I was born. Why was I born into a place where starving is a reality? So that's just grace. So I can't explain why I've been given that grace, but I do know I've been given that grace for a reason, and that's to pour out that grace on others in a Psalm 67 kind of way. "God be gracious to us. Bless us. Cause your face to shine upon us, so that your ways may be known on an earth, your saving power known among the nations." This grace wasn't intended to stop with me. It really is intended to spread through me.
Sean McDowell: I love that that frames your book. Because I was reading a book recently on some of the inequalities in the world by someone who's not a Christian. They said the result to inequalities is action. Go. Work. Make a change. And I paused and I read that. And I thought here is a works based theology. What you're saying is no, it starts with being broken, understanding God's grace. Then we can reach out as agents of grace and love and make a difference in all of these areas in which there is injustice.
Sean McDowell: And it strikes me when we don't start with the grace you're talking about, then we Christians are going to be the loud, judgemental ones that do more damage than good. Is that kind of the heart of what you're getting to in the book?
David Platt: It's totally the heart. Even as we're talking about that right now I'm just thinking about God's grace and the fact that you and I are having this conversation, right? That we're in a place where we're able to have, that we're having conversations about how we can give to those who are in need. Like that's grace. Like what did we do to earn this, deserve that? Like nothing. That's grace from God.
David Platt: So to be in a situation where we get to be agents, I think is the way you termed it, of grace and other people's lives where we get to love, care for, be a picture of God's love and care for others in need. I just want to live in that. I want to step fully into that. And so yes, in this book, it's just trying to call people to say, so let's do that. In a world where sex trafficking is an issue, where poverty, where orphans and widows are in need, and babies were being aborted, and refugees are being driven from their homes, we have so many opportunities by God's grace to be a reflection of his grace to others. Let's step into that fully.
Sean McDowell: I love that you talk about issues like say homosexuality and abortion, which are pressing today. But you talk about sex trafficking, you also talk about poverty. So not just the typical issues that we would expect Christians necessarily to talk about. You know those considered issues on the left and on the right through the lens of the gospel.
Sean McDowell: When you get to the issue of abortion, you dub it in the title a modern Holocaust. Now I know that was intentional. But I'm curious, how do you balance such a strong condemnation and comparison of that without shaming women, which I know is not your intention, who have had abortions or even men who have contributed to this? So why such a strong term? It's not that I disagree with you. I want to hear from you why you describe it in such stark terms and yet balance that with a grace you want to show to people who've had an abortion or contributed to it in some fashion.
David Platt: That's such a good question because I just think immediately about people in the church I'm pastoring right now, women and men who have walked alongside just in all kinds of ways who yes, have abortion in their past. I think this is one of the pastorally, one of the most challenging issues. It's always there when talking about sin and its affects, its consequences. But to really balance both those.
David Platt: So and looking toward the future and the present, like anyone who is considering an abortion, I want to plead to not do this to this baby. Like to see what the Bible says about abortion, what God says about abortion, to see the seriousness of it. And in a way that encourages people like don't, don't do this. And so to do that strongly, to acknowledge we're talking about millions upon millions of lives. And so that's where using terminology like a modern Holocaust I think is appropriate for us to see the seriousness and severity of this.
David Platt: At the same time to then I want to, yes, on the other side of my mouth, just speak to those who have had abortions, or supported abortions, or performed abortions, and realize the series of it now. But this is not like a scarlet A. This is Romans 8:1, "There's no condemnation for those who are in Christ." That he heals, he restores, he redeems. I just think about so many stories, even people are coming to my mind right now, women who I know who have had abortions and have walked through just a healing process of confession, and forgiveness, and a restoration. And are now like working for children in all kinds of ways. And not like in and effort to try to overcome what they did in the past. But just because their hearts have been so affected by the gospel and the grace of Christ.
David Platt: And so I want to love, and care for, and lead the church that I pastor to care for all the women who I know in our church have had abortions. So to do both those. But yeah, I don't want to minimize the seriousness of this issue. It really is millions of lives.
Sean McDowell: Well I love your heartbeat on this, because you and I speak on a lot of similar subjects. And there's such a movement today to soften sin, and make things relativistic. And I appreciate in the book I'm reading it going, "Wow, he is bold." But it's not with an ounce of pride. It's with clarity, and the gravity of sin. Which in some ways helps us understand the beauty of grace in contrast. And I think you really try to keep the two of those together, well.
David Platt: I would just add there I think on this issue or any other issue, in our efforts sometimes to minimize the seriousness of sin, we inevitably end up minimizing the beauty of the gospel. So let's not think in our efforts to magnify grace that that means we need to minimize sin. Actually the cross is so beautiful because sin is so bad. The cross is so wonderful because sin is so horrible, and its consequences are so deadly. It makes the cross all the greater. So let's go like extreme in both directions, extreme about the seriousness of sin and extreme about the wonder of grace.
Sean McDowell: And in some ways it goes without saying, but all these issues you walk through, whether it's on racism or whether it's on poverty, there is sin just as grave on all of these. And you spell that out.
David Platt: And that's part of part the whole, like I thought, "Okay, can I write a book like on each one of these issues?" But it's like, no, let's put it all together to show that the same framework, gospel framework so to speak, applies to how we think about all these issues. And we can't pick and choose which issues we're going to apply gospel framework to and which ones were not.
Sean McDowell: So you have a chapter on sex trafficking and you draw a connection that I've often drawn when I speak on this. Is the connection between sex trafficking and the production of pornography. Can you explain what that connection is? But also as you spell out in the book, there's this profound irony between people who are against sex trafficking but then turn around and say, "Well, pornography, it's a free expression. And it's good. And you shouldn't condemn it in any fashion." So what's that connection and why is there irony behind this?
David Platt: Yeah, try to show the link between the fact that much pornography is developed out of essentially sex trafficking, sex slavery. And even the worldview behind sex trafficking or sex slavery, that just sees women as an object to be used, abused, whatever. And so to see, okay, that's one producing pornographic material. Two, that's kind of the essence of pornography, too. And so then to show just the clear inconsistency then, if we have movements where whatever age people, but a lot of students for example saying, "Yeah, we're all against trafficking." But then the overwhelming majority of at least male students are indulging in pornography. This is clearly we're not making the connection with the fact that we are against using and abusing women on one hand, and we are actually using and abusing women at the same time on the other hand. So we've got to just have our eyes open to that clear inconsistency.
David Platt: So then by God's grace to battle on both fronts. Like to war against, and hesitate to use too much war language, but against sex trafficking and against pornography. And to see the gospel compels us to do both.
Sean McDowell: I love that. And you frequently in the book point out these cultural tensions. And I think reveal the hollowness of the wider cultural ethic. Just Sunday I was driving my family church and right in front of us this huge bus came across with a picture of a girl with down syndrome. And it was kind of celebrating her like, isn't this beautiful and diversity? I turned to my kids, I said, "You know what, they're celebrating this. In America 90% of kids that are diagnosed with down syndrome are aborted."
Sean McDowell: How can our culture praise one and then condemn it in another? It's inconsistency when it's convenient. And I think you consistently call out, not just non-Christians, but Christians, to be consistent with our ethic.
David Platt: That's the challenge. So let's make sure we're not doing that in the church. Let's make sure, yes, we're not saying, and in so many different ways. So yes, the trafficking thing, but even to say we value life like with abortion. Okay, then how does that play out in other ways we are valuing life? Valuing moms with unwanted pregnancies for that matter. How are we valuing children who their parents did not have abortion, but they were given up for adoption. Like how are we valuing life across the board? Because if we're not careful we can just kind of take the easy route, and say "Yeah I'm for this or for that." But then, with just a position over here, but then not personally give our life to showing the fruit of the gospel, and God's grace and love and hard circumstances over here. That you're not going to be applauded as much for but the gospel still compels us to do.
Sean McDowell: I have one last question for you. I was just with a group of high school students, we were doing a mission trip to Berkeley. And I had a chance to speak to, I don't know, 300, 400 college students there. May believers and nonbelievers. And I took questions at the end. And one of the questions a girl said, "What is a Christian ethic on homosexuality and why would Christians have an issue with this if nobody gets harmed?"
Sean McDowell: And obviously there's a lot of assumptions in this question, and a certain ethic that's approaching it. I'm curious in a setting like that with a lot of nonbelievers, how you would address a topic as just kind of divisive as that is, how would you respond to a question like that?
David Platt: I'd say, ":et me introduce my friend Sean McDowell. He's going to share this with you." Seriously, that is one thing that would go through my mind. Another thing, but if you weren't there and it was all on me, I would say, I just think I, at that point, I want to think through, I don't know how much time I have, but I want to come back to the core. Like what is good? And good as it relates to God. So I'm coming back now to just core gospel truths about who God is, and his goodness the way he's created us. And so the question is, can we trust God with our lives, with our bodies?
David Platt: And I think, sort to go to harm, think about a word that she used. Like what is harmful? Well, I'm operating from a worldview that says what is most helpful is to trust the God who created you and your body and what he says is best for you. And not what you or anybody else thinks is best for you. But actually to trust the one who made you. And so that's going to be what's most helpful. So then let's go, what does God say?
David Platt: But it's that starting point, it's that core that I just think is so critical. My mind just goes to Romans 1. It all starts when our hearts are turned away from God. That leads to just disordered thinking, it leads to disordered desires. But the core issue, if we just talk about those desires or those thoughts, it's like we're putting bandaids on broken limbs. Like their core issue is, do we believe there is a good God that we can trust with our lives? And the essence of the gospel is we don't, and we need to be saved from that. And so to go into the gospel from there.
Sean McDowell: By the way, you nailed it. That was a better answer than I gave. So next time I'm there-
David Platt: That was not a better answer than what you gave them.
Sean McDowell: And you know what I appreciate, I think there's a certain ethic somebody says, right and wrong is about harm or not harming. And you're kind of affirming that by saying, "Yeah, we don't want to harm other people. But there's a bigger picture going on here, a spiritual kind of harm in ways we're not thinking about. And if there's a God who made us, then there's a way he wants us to live. And we only experience freedom and goodness when we are in relationship with him." So framing that answer through the gospel is the way you address a number of these other issues, talking about refugees, and ethnicity, and marriage, and orphans and widows through that lens of the gospel. So I appreciate you answering it that way.
Sean McDowell: Thanks for writing the book, Counter Culture. I just want to personally say, not that you need to hear this from me, but thank you for speaking truth boldly, even if that comes at a cost. But doing it with a heart of compassion, of a heart of love for believers, and for the lost. Keep doing it. That's what we want to do at Biola, and thanks for modeling that.
Sean McDowell: I want to encourage our readers to pick up a copy of Counter Culture by David Platt. Thanks for coming on the show again.
David Platt: Thanks, man.
Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically conversations on faith and culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, David Platt, and to find more episodes, go to Biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's Biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks for listening, and remember, think biblically about everything.