David Platt. Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015. 288 pp. $19.99.
Rarely does a book convict my heart to the point that my emotions overflow in tears. Rarely do I find a book that causes me to experience a range of emotions stretching from anger and frustration to sympathy and sorrow. Many books convict me. Very few books break me. Counter Culture is one of those books.
The best way to describe Counter Culture is to say that it is a rarity. Counter Culture is a rare combination of cultural awareness, Christian conviction, and gospel hope as it addresses the most pressing and controversial issues in Western society.
Author and president of the International Mission Board (IMB) David Platt has developed a reputation for writing heart-wrenching and highly convicting books. Radical was a shot at the heart of the American Dream, and Follow Me was a dagger at the heart of nominal Christianity. In his third major work, Platt sheds light on the most serious issues in America and the world while showing Christians how to live and act in a way that counters culture while improving culture. He does all of this within a gospel-centered framework.
Platt takes a radical approach to social issues in Counter Culture. Instead of abandoning biblical conviction, like other young evangelical leaders have done, he relies on biblical conviction to address social issues. Platt inspires Christians and leads younger evangelicals like me to weep in conviction not because he leaves biblical orthodoxy, but because he unapologetically presents Jesus as the Bible presents him. And while Christian leaders, evangelicals in particular, are accused (often rightly) of harping on certain cultural issues while ignoring others.
Platt leaves no room for such criticisms. In the introduction, he discusses the trend of younger evangelicals standing up against poverty and global slavery. He writes, “What is problematic, however, is when these same evangelicals stay silent in conversations about more culturally controversial issues like abortion or so-called same-sex marriage” (xiii-xiv). He continues by establishing the primary premise for the entire book, namely, that within each issue addressed is an underlying issue we all have with God. He writes,
“What is the main issue in our culture today is not poverty or sex trafficking or homosexuality or abortion? What if the main issue is God? And what might happen if we made him our focus instead? In a world marked by sex slavery and sexual immorality, the abandonment of children and the murder of children, racism and persecution, the needs of the poor and the neglect of the widow, how would we act if we fixed our gaze on the holiness, love, goodness, truth, justice, authority, and mercy of God revealed in the gospel?” (xiv-xv).
Counter Culture begins with the premise that a gospel-centered worldview will inevitably counter the culture in which Christians live. In fact, Platt states the goal of the book in similar terms. “The goal of this book is not information about the gospel and social issues; it is application of the gospel to social issues” (20). What makes Counter Culture a rare gem is that rather than compromising the gospel for social issues or compromising relevance with self-righteous communication, Platt addresses social issues with a gospel mindset. In each chapter, he takes the truth of the gospel and applies it to the issue at hand. He basically asks, “How does a biblical worldview answer the difficult and controversial problem at hand?”
Another thing that makes Counter Culture a rarity is the amount of topics addressed in a compact book. Platt addresses nearly every pressing and controversial issue in the world today. However, the book is not overly long. This typically sets up as a light and insignificant attempt to combine bring brevity to complex issues. However, Platt is atypical in his approach, as he deeply and profoundly probes each issue while making it accessible to a wide audience.
What Platt shows in Counter Culture is that when it comes to issues like racism, abortion, sex trafficking, and same-sex marriage, the sole standard for living and engaging is the gospel. Living a life that is a reflection of God’s glory in person of Christ is living counter to culture. Addressing social injustices and moral controversies must be a personal commitment to the gospel. This book is not a call to community social activism. It is a call to gospel transformation, which changes the way we not only see each of these issues, but the way we live in light of them. For example, Platt writes,
“No matter how many red Xs we write on our hands to end slavery, as long as these same hands are clicking on pornographic websites and scrolling through sexual pictures and videos, we are frauds to the core” (124).
Basically, Counter Culture is a call to believe the gospel. Platt is clear that his “hope is that we would believe the gospel of Christ and that our believe would move us to engage our culture” (22). This is where the rubber hits the road. Virtually every Christian can agree that we should stand against the social injustices of sex trafficking, poverty, and racism. But what about other issues that more directly require conviction that contradicts the culture? What about same-sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion and the fight for religious liberty? While we all will struggle with different issues, and while we cannot focus all of our energies on all of these issues, Platt writes we must be consistent in our trajectory toward them and the culture.
“What must be consistent for all of us, however, is that we pray, give, and go as he leads, and as we do, that we proclaim the gospel with conviction, compassion, and courage” (253).
Despite all that has been mentioned, I feel the most significant and compelling aspect of Counter Culture is what the book is not made of. This book is not a polemic against “the world.” In the past, those in the “radical religious right” would condemn the world for their views on homosexuality, abortion, sex, etc. However, in the process they would self-righteously overlook their own failures. This is not the case in Counter Culture. Humility drips from every page of the book. Platt confesses his own failures, particularly his silence on the atrocity of abortion (57-58). Instead of pointing his finger at those who ignore these social issues, he stands with his readers before the face of God ready to repent and respond to each injustice and issue presented.
While Platt boldly speaks prophetic biblical truth into the most pressing cultural issues of our day, he soberly helps his readers see with him that the greatest atrocity in the world is not same-sex marriage, abortion, sex trafficking, racism, poverty, or persecution. The greatest atrocity in the world is the presence of unreached people groups. Platt says,
“We have settled into a status quo where we’re content to sit idly by while literally billions of people die without ever hearing the gospel. Surely this is the greatest social injustice in the entire world, over and above all the other issues we have considered” (247).
Will a book suddenly wake Christians up to the massive social injustices in the world? If at all possible, Counter Culture will affect this awakening. But will a book like this mobilize Christians to actively stand against injustice and cultural rebellion against God with biblical conviction for the sake of the glory of God in the gospel and the joy of billions of people? Maybe. But it also has the possibility to overwhelm readers.
While soaked with the grace of God in the gospel and filled with admission of personal failure to stand with “conviction, compassion, and courage,” much like Radical, it has the potential to be burdensome. Personally, I left the book realizing my failures in so many of these areas. The question, “Where can I begin to help?” is the first rock of a load unbearable. However, Platt reassures that we are not alone and that we underestimate the possibilities with God.
“Some will say that these problems are complex, and one person, family, or church can’t really make much of a difference. In many respects, this is true, and each of these issues is extremely complicated. But don’t underestimate what God will do in and through one person, one family, or one church for the spread of his gospel and the sake of his glory in our culture. So do these things with the unshakable conviction that God has put you in this culture at this time for a reason” (254).
Christians today are tempted to either compromise their convictions or cower behind them. Counter Culture is a rare book that calls Christians to face cultural issues with gospel-centered, Christ-like, compassionate conviction for the sake of God’s glory in our culture. Readers will leave the book with repentance and resolve to stand firmly to counter culture whatever the cost.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.