The Radical Experiment
My freshman year of college, I read a book by David Platt titled Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. The premise of the book is that American Christians can be easily distracted by the American Dream, forgetting what Jesus described as the life of a disciple.
It was a compelling read, helping a (suburban) Christian such as myself recognize the blind spots of my faith and some of the idols I had begun to worship in my life (security, wealth, etc.).
In the final chapter of the book, Platt suggests a one-year experiment called “The Radical Experiment.” Now, I had read this book once prior in high school, but I have this great (read: bad) habit of ignoring calls to action in books. For better and for worse, I typically read all that a book has to say and then move on immediately to the next one, mostly forgetting how the previous book wanted me to respond.
Fortunately, I was feeling a bit bold this go around. I figured I had nothing to lose, and what can I say, I was drawn by Platt’s pitch: “I guarantee that if you complete this experiment, you will possess an insatiable desire to spend the rest of your life in radical abandonment to Christ for his glory in all the world” (184). Wow, who wouldn’t want that?
Here’s the experiment. It has five components, five dares to live out over one year:
-Pray for the entire world
-Read through the entire Bible
-Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
-Spend at least a week sharing the gospel outside your local context/city
-Grow as a committed, active, devoted member of a local church
That middle component– to sacrifice your money for a specific purpose– is undoubtedly the most intimidating of the five for many of us. Here’s how Platt describes this challenge:
“What if you took the next year and set a cap on your lifestyle? What if you sought for the next year to minimize luxuries in your life? … The key word here, again, is sacrifice. The challenge is not just to give away excess stuff that you really don’t need anyway. That’s not sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving away what it hurts to give. Sacrifice is not giving according to your ability; it’s giving beyond your ability” (194-195).
The challenge is to figure out the minimum amount of money it takes for you to live for a year– no luxuries, no excess– and then to commit to giving away every dollar above that. You make $50,000 a year, but can live off $30,000? Great, instead of financing your ever growing book addiction (you, not me, of course) or eating out five days a week or spending money to go out on vacation or to pad your retirement fund, sacrifice it all.
He goes on to provide a couple of parameters: focus your money on the gospel and the church, give to a specific need, and give strategically. Despite the parameters, he leaves a lot of freedom for practice. There isn’t a list of what counts as a luxury or necessity– you have to prayerfully figure out those things for yourself.
Now, remember: I was an 18-year-old freshman in college when I decided I would give this experiment a shot. I was barely making any money, and my parents were graciously funding virtually all expenses I had, so I had to alter the dare a bit to fit my situation.
At the time, all the money I made was either going toward my savings or toward whatever luxury I wanted. I decided I’d sacrifice the majority of my money, and keep a little less than half to build up my savings.
So, apart from a couple of exceptions defined at the outset of the experiment, I spent a year not spending any excess money. No eating out, nothing.
Admittedly, it was tough. I got mostly used to it after a few months, but it was still a challenge for me to constantly give away money I was working for when I knew there were hundreds of things I would’ve rather spent it on.
But, as you can guess, it was an incredible experience for my generosity.
A friend of mine was in the process of adopting a child and I was able to contribute to their fund.
My church network was fundraising for its next plant and I was able to help fund the ministry that Banner Church in Jacksonville, Alabama is currently doing.
Globally, different needs arose and I was able to assist in small bits, connecting me to the universal church’s mission internationally.
I finished the experiment in December 2019, and I’ll admit I am nowhere near this level of sacrifice with my finances currently, almost three years removed. But I am undoubtedly more generous than I would’ve been otherwise. Here are the biggest lessons I learned as I reflect on that year:
-Sacrificial generosity helps you understand and experience Christ’s sacrificial generosity toward you more strongly.
-Depriving yourself of some earthly possessions/experiences/luxuries does not reduce your quality of life the way you’re tempted to believe.
-It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
-Needs and wants are very different, but unfortunately we have a bad habit of blurring the line between the two.
My Radical Experiment, intimidating as it was, turned out to be the most pivotal year for my faith to that point. I’d never grown so much in a year, and I’d say my faith is still experiencing the benefits of that time to this day. Much of it had to do with the other four components, but the financial component undoubtedly played its part.
Having shared my experience, I’ll finish with a warning. This experiment is not a way to earn God’s love. It’s not to be done to boost pride. It’s a way to, as Platt explains, test the claims of Jesus in a practical way.
I was hesitant to share this story because my goal is not for you to read this and have me look good or for you to feel like you have to try this experiment. I decided to because I cannot deny its impact on my life. Read the book. Pray. Talk to me, if you’d like. Consider how you can live out the Gospel through your stewardship.
At the end of the day, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. Nothing else is worth it.