Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

David Platt is a senior pastor and the author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and has written a short piece for CNN on his church’s attempts to break out of the shell of American Evangelicalism and live the gospel as he and his constituents feel it was meant to be lived. Here’s the skinny:

We American Christians have a way of taking the Jesus of the Bible and twisting him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable with.

A nice middle-class American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts.

A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who for that matter wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings comfort and prosperity to us as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream.

But lately I’ve begun to have hope that the situation is changing.

The 20th-century historian who coined the term “American Dream,” James Truslow Adams, defined it as “a dream… in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are.”

But many of us are realizing that Jesus has different priorities. Instead of congratulating us on our self-fulfillment, he confronts us with our inability to accomplish anything of value apart from God. Instead of wanting us to be recognized by others, he beckons us to die to ourselves and seek above all the glory of God.

In my own faith family, the Church at Brook Hills, we have tried to get out from under the American Dream mindset and start living and serving differently.

Read the article for some of the ways he and his congregation have lived out their position. I think it’s a thought provoking piece, but the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph sat wrong with me (although I agree with the subsequent sentences):

I believe God is saying to us that real success is found in radical sacrifice. That ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of him. That the purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. That meaning is found in community, not individualism. That joy is found in generosity, not materialism. And that Jesus is a reward worth risking everything for.

Modernism is beginning to taper off to the degree that we more fully recognize our cultural conditioning and that individualism shouldn’t be prioritized to the detriment of communal interests, and I think that’s good, but I find the notion that “real success is found in radical sacrifice”  to be slinging the pendulum a bit too far. The 160 families that offered to provide foster care had to have the means to be able to provide for the children, otherwise they’re causing more problems than they’re solving. That’s not necessarily a “radical sacrifice.” Don’t get me wrong, that’s a significant sacrifice—and I think they’re exemplifying Christian behavior—but that sacrifice is not radical.

I don’t think this author wants to promote religious radicalism, I think he just wants Christians to extend their Christianity beyond America’s cultural strictures. They’re blessing the lives of others with the resources that they have, and I think that’s a great goal.  What are your thoughts?



4 responses to “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

  • Kate

    I almost wonder if his term “radical sacrifice” was made having in mind what the typical modern American Christian is, i.e. the transition that would need to occur after a proverbial “Come to Jesus” meeting (as my mother always called it) would indeed be a true complete relinquishment of their former lives, thought processes and commitments for one of the doctrinally correct nature….

    I’m persuaded to think that just from the nature of the rest of the paragraph that followed, however I can certainly see where others would see the phrase “radical sacrifice” and take it to an unintented “nth” degree…the kind that makes you lightly bang your head against a wall or desk and moan “No, no, no….”

  • Jeremy

    I just think it’s incredibly ironic that were it not for the American dream his publisher (which is owned by Random House) never would have printed his book.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Exactly. His church and the members have the resources to help because of the ideology they’re trying to move beyond. I think it’s fine to try to avoid being restricted by those principles, but I don’t think it’s consistent to denigrate them in the process.

      • Jeremy

        Indeed, it would be an interesting headline to read tomorrow:

        “Multonomah Publishers abandons American dream; David Platt’s book goes out of print.”

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