In this ongoing series of articles I am taking a look at books that have won the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes books that have achieved one million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the ten million mark. Today we turn our attention to the 2010 debut from David Platt.
Radical by David Platt
David Platt (born July 11, 1979) is one of America’s best-known young, evangelical leaders. Known today for his books and his preaching, he was first an academic, earning two undergraduate and three advanced degrees, including a Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Philosophy from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. That same seminary employed him as a dean and assistant professor until, at just 28 years of age, he was called to serve as senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Already a megachurch, it grew steadily under his preaching and leadership until it swelled to nearly 5,000 attendees. In 2014, after 8 years in that position, he announced that he would step down to take up a new position as President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He continues in that role today. He is also a regular speaker at conferences, including the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
Platt’s first book, released May 4, 2010, was Radical, a book about escaping the allure and the doldrums of the American dream. The American dream, one that is shared by all of the western world, calls us to a life of complacency, comfort, and ease. We live in big houses, drive nice cars, and worship in multi-million dollar buildings custom-built around all of our favorite programs. We give away bits of our wealth but rarely enough to impede our comfort. Occasionally we are stirred by images of starving children or by tales of God’s work in foreign lands, but we quickly forget and go on with our lives, growing our portfolios and filling our homes with stuff. “We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel [Jesus] taught.”
It is in this context that Platt proposes something better, something more consistent with Scripture, something downright radical. “Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.” Radical is, then, a call to radical Christian living. It is a call to put aside our complacency to instead embrace and pursue God’s mission in the world. According to the publisher, “David Platt invites you to encounter what Jesus actually said about being his disciple, and then obey what you have heard. He challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated a God-centered gospel to fit our human-centered preferences. With passionate storytelling and convicting biblical analysis, Platt calls into question a host of comfortable notions that are common among Christ’s followers today. Then he proposes a radical response: live the gospel in ways that are true, filled with promise, and ultimately world changing.”
Sales & Lasting Impact
Radical was an immediate success, quickly surging to the New York Times list of bestsellers where it remained for more than a year. By 2011 it had crossed the 500,000 mark and surpassed one million in 2013. All the while rumors circulated that Platt was practicing what he preached by giving away the substantial royalties that come from a bestseller and, indeed, his web site includes this notation: “All of the royalties from David’s published works go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.” Radical indeed.
But, inevitably, Radical received a number of critiques. In most cases these were offered with genuine affirmations of the book’s gospel focus and spiritual value. Kevin DeYoung’s review at The Gospel Coalition is representative. He affirms his friendship with Platt and his enjoyment of the book, then offers 5 critiques “with the book and with some elements of the larger ‘get radical, get crazy Christianity’ that is increasingly popular with younger evangelicals.” The foremost critique is that Platt did not sufficiently ground his call in the gospel. “In a book-length treatment of such an important topic I would have liked to have seen ‘all we need to do in obedience to God’ growing more manifestly out of ‘all God’s done for us.’” In other words, he is concerned that Platt’s call to sanctification does not adequately flow out of the Christian’s existing justification.
The second critique revolves around the concern that radical Christianity cannot be sustained over the entirety of the Christian life. “If the message of Jesus translates into ‘Give more away’ or ‘Sacrifice for the gospel’ or ‘Get more radical’ we will end up with burned out evangelicals. Even when Jesus said his hard sayings (and he said a lot of them) it was not his basic stump speech. His message was repent and believe in the gospel. … We need to find a way to attack the American dream while still allowing for differing vocations and that sort of ordinary Christian life that can plod along for fifty years.” He also expresses concern with the utilitarian ethic that pervades radical living, with an under-developed understanding of poverty and wealth, and with conclusions that are at times overstated. DeYoung’s critiques were gentle but substantial. They were echoed and expanded upon by a number of others, including Michael Horton. On a popular level Radical was a triumph. It currently has 1,436 reviews at Amazon and averages 4.5 stars.
Since the Award
Platt has since written a number of other books including Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God which addressed the thread of individualism in Radical that clashed with the Bible’s emphasis on church communities. Interestingly, and in a testament to the influence of Radical, we saw the publication of a significant number of works that provide an alternate perspective on the Christian life. They have titles such as Ordinary, Normal, Boring, and Mundane and are meant to highlight the reality that most people’s lives look very un-radical. They demonstrate that the New Testament is full of calls for Christians to simply dedicate their lives to working hard at very normal jobs, to serve in their very ordinary churches, and to be content to live in ways that may seem quite bland.
A Personal Perspective
I read Radical a year after it was published and rather enjoyed it. I was encouraged by Platt’s deep and biblical understanding of the gospel. I said “Before I began reading Radical I assumed it was just another of a long list of books that would build upon a shaky theological foundation. I was delighted to find that one of Radical’s great strengths is that it is firmly grounded in the gospel. Platt spends a good bit of time discussing the gospel, the real gospel, and calling the reader to embrace it and live as if it is true. And then, on the basis of that gospel, he calls the reader to do what is radical, to let go of the American dream, a dream that is as alive within the church as it is outside of it. It’s a powerful message that falls on eager ears.”
I saw this book as part of a whole crop of similar works featuring superlative titles calling us toward a life of bigger, higher, greater, and more radical Christian living. I expressed my concern that we first pursue radically Christian character and, from there, that we learn to be content with very obedient but mundane lives. Later I wrote a series of articles on being ordinary—articles that seemed to resonate with many readers.
As Platt has released further works, I have been pleased to see that he clearly heeded many of the critiques of his work. I was equally pleased to see that he has remained every bit as zealous. Such mature zeal is sadly lacking in the church today, but remains a powerful tool in God’s hand.