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December 23rd, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My take: Why my church rebelled against the American Dream

Editor’s Note: David Platt, Ph.D., is the author of the New York Times bestseller Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream and is senior pastor of the 4,000-member Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.

By David Platt, Special to CNN

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.

Like many other large American churches, we had a multimillion-dollar campus and plans to make it even larger to house programs that would cater to our own desires. But then we started looking at the world we live in.

It’s a world where 26,000 children die every day of starvation or a preventable disease. A world where billions live in situations of such grinding poverty that an American middle-class neighborhood looks like Beverly Hills by comparison. A world where more than a billion people have never even heard the name Jesus. So we asked ourselves, “What are we spending our time and money on that is less important than meeting these needs?” And that’s when things started to change.

First we gave away our entire surplus fund - $500,000 - through partnerships with churches in India, where 41 percent of the world’s poor live. Then we trimmed another $1.5 million from our budget and used the savings to build wells, improve education, provide medical care and share the gospel in impoverished places around the world. Literally hundreds of church members have gone overseas temporarily or permanently to serve in such places.

And it’s not just distant needs we’re trying to meet. It’s also needs near at hand.

One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?”

The woman I was talking to laughed.

I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”

She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”

When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my country and I couldn’t be more grateful for its hard-won freedoms. The challenge before we American Christians, as I see it, is to use the freedoms, resources, and opportunities at our disposal while making sure not to embrace values and assumptions that contradict what God has said in the Bible.

I believe God has a dream for people today. It’s just not the same as the American Dream.

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.

Indeed, the gospel compels us to live for the glory of God in a world of urgent spiritual and physical need, and this is a dream worth giving our lives to pursue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Platt.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (556 Responses)
  1. Johnny

    It's funny how an idea so trite and old as this one can suddenly seem so revolutionary to some people.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
    • Josh Rabatin

      Sometimes good things take time, like the mind for instance everything in it's own time I'm sure.

      Thank You.

      – Josh Rabatin

      December 24, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  2. BellaItaly

    My husband was adopted and brought here from another country. His folks were older and he was about 4 yrs old. They raised him fine. But he didn't feel close to his adopted parents. He said his dad told him to speak only american and forget the country he came from. His parents never got involved in the things he enjoyed. His parents were hunters and liked to fish and they did it everyday when his dad retired. He got to hate it. His parents would go all day. He finally stopped going with them. I remember when he got his college degree he brought it over to show his parents and I was surprised they didn't get excited. He was hurt. Years later I asked her why did she bother to adopt him. My husband never knew that his dad wanted her to adopt a baby girl. In the end right before his dad died he seemed to appreciate him. You know kids can sense when they really are wanted. He never felt that. He found his natural mother who turned out to be a nightmare and we never contacted her again. He loved my own mother because she came from another country and they could relate. Don't get me wrong he appreciated what his parents did for him and he was there for both of them when they died. His love for my mother was stronger than his own parents.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
    • Homeschool Mom in AZ

      Parents of international adoptees (I am one-my youngest daughter is from S. Korea) are now required to take parenting classes where they listen to adult adoptees. We are required to teach our children about their birth countries and heritage because that's what most want. We have camps, several activities a year, and cultural events with the Korean immigrant and adoptee communities. Children can also attend Korean Schools here. We are given book lists for children's Korean literature too. She's as much a red-blooded American as the rest of us, be she needs to know about her heritage too.

      I'm sorry you husband's thoughts and feelings were not respected.

      There is an annual convention for adult adoptees from Korea called "The Gathering" where they can discuss issues related to their adoption experiences. Maybe there's something similar for adoptees from your husband's birth country.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:15 am |
    • ybs

      These are heartfelt stories. Thanks for sharing & happy holidays.

      December 24, 2010 at 3:01 am |
  3. Sonja

    David Johnson–thank you for your cheerful posts! Cheers! Other random thoughts... in Sunday school when I was 6, they used to have us read a passage about how god wanted to be worshipped from tents, not permanent structures, and I shyly said, but we were in a church, and they told me things are different now. Moses got to hear god, but 'things are different now'. I'm especially distressed by the person who wonders why his hard earned money and possessions should be enjoyed by anyone but himself. That's a legitimate philosophy, but it was not the philosophy I read of Jesus. So now, I do all the good I can do for my family, do all the good I can do for others without lessening the good I can do for my family, and I enjoy life and laugh a lot (even sing, dance badly, and drink wine). It's not at all Biblical, but it works for me.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
    • ybs

      Cheers to that Sonja & Happy Holidays!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:57 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Sonja

      I think it is great you are happy and are doing good works.

      Consider, that you can do these good works without a god. Many atheists do. I do.

      I am a progressive liberal. I believe in ent_itlement programs for the children, the poor and the elderly. I also believe those that can work, should.

      Anyway, believing in a sky daddy is unhealthy. It is like Linus with his blanket. Kick the habit if you can.

      Love and Prayers!

      December 24, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  4. steama

    Today is a brighter day dear lord! Your loyal servant, Pat Robertson, is now Pro Pot!

    Will his flock follow?

    December 23, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • ybs

      another evidence of moral relativity & PR backpedaling!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  5. Ted

    God is imaginary, but what these people are doing is real. Awesome job! Sorry that the entire article was couched in religion, when religion is not necessary to do what was done here. And any pastor who purports to know what Jesus wants really has no idea of the history of his own religion.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
    • ybs

      Right. Religion makes this story more sensational and detracts us from the essential. These posts only confirmed it! 😦

      December 24, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  6. Daniel

    Interesting, so many here are instantly condemning the church for them potentially evangelizing the impoverished people whom they are helping. But at the end of the day, they're telling them about a religion that moved them to help the sick, love their neighbor, feed the hungry and provide shelter to homeless children...I'm guessing there's worse things they could teach these folks about...just sayin.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • hal9thou

      No, Daniel, at the end of the day they are telling them about a religion that believes you must submit to Jesus Christ and be "born again" or face eternal damnation in hell. Nice.

      December 24, 2010 at 6:31 am |
  7. Texdude

    Thank God that I am a Pagan and except everything and everyone for who they are and what paths that they choose to take in life. Life is great and I do thank One God for giving me the chance to live and see people of every walk of life.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  8. musings

    News flash to all Christians and would-be evangelicals: Just heard that Haiti may have 1/2 million cases of cholera. That's the same number who died in the earthquake which set off all the problems. The UN sent in relief workers, but the Haitians believe that some of them came unwittingly with the bacteria of cholera in their guts. The lack of sanitary facilities spread what came in from Asia. Sooo – how does one deal with suffering on such a scale? Aid workers have few means to deal with the crisis.

    If you think about, this mighty country which had no trouble bombing Iraq in a mighty shock and awe, could not relieve New Orleans for days, partly because Louisiana's National Guard was in Iraq. I saw the convoys of National Guardsmen coming down through Massachusetts from Vermont (lots of French nametags on their shirts too, because many were of French Canadian origin and may have been able to speak a bit of Creole)... Would it help to send our National Guard to help in Haiti now? Would they stand for it? But haven't we cut ourselves off from trustworthiness by invading other countries? Shouldn't our country have a new birth of true helpfulness to people in crisis? That might even change us from within.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  9. Hally

    I am also an adopted child, as was my younger brother. My older brother was a biological son to my parents. I never, ever noticed a difference in the way they raised us. We were all given the same values and rules to live by. The difference was in the way we internalized the rules and moral codes. My older brother was very military in the way he conducted himself. He had rules, and he stuck by them – nothing wrong with that. I was the more creative one who didn't necessarily fight with my parents, but I was very different from them psychologically. I was miserable as a teen who, trying to find myself, realized that I was very different from my family in terms of temperment and beliefs. My younger brother was a handful. He was dyslexic, and had a hard time in school, and was had a very difficult time socially when he was young. In the end, we were all very different, but not so different as birth siblings. We took a long time to drift back together, but we did. It is NOT just about biology, it is also about the parents who raised you – the connectors if you will. It is a life lesson – that parents love no matter who you are, no matter your birth, no matter your station in life –parents' love is unconditional.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
    • ybs

      I don't give a hoot about religion but this is a nice story. Thanks for sharing & happy holidays!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  10. me

    Christianity is unconceivable in the American society. We pretend to be Christians, but we truly have one God: money.

    Jesus was very clear, he said to the rich man: "If you want to get into the kingdom of heaven, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor and follow me."

    Compared to the rest of the world, we are all rich in America, so that commandment is for us. "Sell everything you have, give the money to Haiti, and follow Jesus."

    There is nobody in America who follows that direct Jesus's order, therefore there are no Christians in America

    December 23, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
  11. There are no gods!

    It does not matter how different you think your church is, or how many special things you do for the less fortunate, the fact of the matter is that god does not exist and jesus is a fable who never existed invented by people. Your bible like all the other bibles of other religions is just a collection of stories and your faith a collection of values but in no way reflective of truth in our world. There are no gods, jesus never existed. The things you are doing are nice, but the necessity you feel in doing them is misplaced. The wonderful things you are doing should be done because they need to be done, not because you misguided faith in a god that isnt really there. There are no gods.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • steama

      BULLSEYE! You nailed it buddy!

      December 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • von Stemwede

      I believe it was Pliny the Younger who pointed out that Jesus' birth was registered in the temple in Jerusalem, which was still in existence in his lifetime. You may not believe Jesus was the son of God, but to state that he never existed is sheer nonsense and demonstrates intellectual laziness. You have declared that he does not exist merely because you wish to believe that you are right and have obviously never invested any honest scholarship in the matter.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:19 am |
    • There are no gods!

      @ von Stemwede Intellectual laziness should be pointed at those like your self that take every word they read as evidence of the truth. There are artifacts left over from civilizations long before the appearance of so called jesus, yet no artifacts of jesus himself. Why is that? Oh yeah, because he died then came back then ascended to heaven blah blah blah. Even the shroud of Turin has been shown as a phony as it was dated to the 13 century. But because some person wrote a name and a date in a book I am supposed to believe that this person not only existed but was the son of so called god? Where is even a shred of evidence? No where, there fore I question the existence unlike you who are content in believing what has been written and refuses to even question. Is it out of fear? I wonder.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:04 am |
    • ybs

      go easy on von Stemwede!

      But why waste time with mental midgets! 🙂

      December 24, 2010 at 2:43 am |
    • Skyymann

      You are correct Sir! There are no gods, there is one God. All of these comments show just how far this country has fallen. I pray the Lord shows all of you the light before it is too late..................

      December 24, 2010 at 7:59 am |
    • Josh Rabatin

      That is just as easy as saying opinions don't exist.

      Yet only My humble opinion.

      Thank You.

      – Josh Rabatin

      December 24, 2010 at 9:54 am |
    • David Johnson

      You said: "I believe it was Pliny the Younger who pointed out that Jesus' birth was registered in the temple in Jerusalem, which was still in existence in his lifetime"

      I did some research. I can't find any reference to what you claim. Can you offer a reference source?

      There was a letter written by Pliny to his superior:

      Source – Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

      The value of the Pliny letter as "evidence" of Christ's existence is worthless, as it makes no mention of "Jesus of Nazareth," nor does it refer to any event in his purported life. There is not even a clue in it that such a man existed. As Taylor remarks, "We have the name of Christ, and nothing else but the name, where the name of Apollo or Bacchus would have filled up the sense quite as well." Taylor then casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter as a whole, recounting the work of German critics, who "have maintained that this celebrated letter is another instance to be added to the long list of Christian forgeries..." One of these German luminaries, Dr. Semler of Leipsic provided "nine arguments against its authenticity..." He also notes that the Pliny epistle is quite similar to that allegedly written by "Tiberianus, Governor of Syria" to Trajan, which has been universally denounced as a forgery.

      Pliny was not even born until 62 CE. Obviously, anything he could have written about Jesus was here say.

      There are no secular writings about Jesus, that are not in dispute, either for being later insertions or here say.

      There were no eyewitness accounts of Jesus. The first gospel was not written until about 65 CE. Jesus died in about 30 CE.
      Hmmm...

      I think Jesus probably did exist. But one has to wonder why god didn't leave tons of irrefutable evidence, if He was the Messiah and the Son of God. Maybe, 'cause he wasn't. LOL

      Cheers!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @von Stemwede

      You said: "I believe it was Pliny the Younger who pointed out that Jesus' birth was registered in the temple in Jerusalem, which was still in existence in his lifetime"

      I did some research. I can't find any reference to what you claim. Can you offer a reference source?

      There was a letter written by Pliny to his superior:

      Source – Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

      The value of the Pliny letter as "evidence" of Christ's existence is worthless, as it makes no mention of "Jesus of Nazareth," nor does it refer to any event in his purported life. There is not even a clue in it that such a man existed. As Taylor remarks, "We have the name of Christ, and nothing else but the name, where the name of Apollo or Bacchus would have filled up the sense quite as well." Taylor then casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter as a whole, recounting the work of German critics, who "have maintained that this celebrated letter is another instance to be added to the long list of Christian forgeries..." One of these German luminaries, Dr. Semler of Leipsic provided "nine arguments against its authenticity..." He also notes that the Pliny epistle is quite similar to that allegedly written by "Tiberianus, Governor of Syria" to Trajan, which has been universally denounced as a forgery.

      Pliny was not even born until 62 CE. Obviously, anything he could have written about Jesus was here say.

      There are no secular writings about Jesus, that are not in dispute, either for being later insertions or here say.

      There were no eyewitness accounts of Jesus. The first gospel was not written until about 65 CE. Jesus died in about 30 CE.
      Hmmm...

      I think Jesus probably did exist. But one has to wonder why god didn't leave tons of irrefutable evidence, if He was the Messiah and the Son of God. Maybe, 'cause he wasn't. LOL

      Cheers!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  12. Sutton

    I am an agnostic living in Birmingham, AL not far from this church (my disclaimer). Many of these comments really bother me... who cares what the reasons behind this charity are? Who cares if they are being preachy? This is an amazing act of charity!! If every organized group of people did the same thing just one out of ten years, there would be no hungry mouths to feed, no foster children, and a much better environment for the world to live in.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • ybs

      Right. Today, you don't have to care much as an agnostic. People don't care much until the get discriminated, and it wasn't long ago, was it?

      December 24, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  13. Sneyhaw

    Eehhh, Mormons have been preaching stuff like this from the beginning – live with less – serve others – give everything you can to help out your neighbors/the world – donate your money, etc... Nothing new here folks, just somebody else "catching on" that this is the way humankind SHOULD

    December 23, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
    • ybs

      why did they stop practicing polygamy? I like that part most!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:25 am |
    • Something

      "Mormons have been preaching stuff like this from the beginning..."

      Sure - a noble endeavor; it's just the magical, supernatural hokum that accompanies it that is objectionable.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @ybs

      You said: "why did they stop practicing polygamy? I like that part most!"

      You're right. I have no problem with polygamy as long as they aren't marrying babies.

      My own harem...hmmm...

      The thought of being able to pick from several women each night, is sort of a delightful fantasy. But, we won't tell my wife, now will we? LOL

      Cheers, Man!

      December 26, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  14. LouAz

    History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there. George Santayana

    December 23, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  15. conoclast

    Wow! I admittedly started reading the article with an atheist's raised eyebrow but have come away with real respect for Mr. Platt; this is how my-brother's-keeper is done, folks! I'll read his book!

    December 23, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  16. Kristina

    @David all I have to say is thank God your mom said yes! Maybe you should look at it from that point of view. Just think if she would of said nope I'm having an abortion, guess this coversation would never of taken place then.

    Merry CHRISTmas

    December 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • ybs

      The good thing is... the probabilities (regarding DJ) would never be zero!

      BTW, your post is filled with the sincerity of a true Christian! Quite commendable! 🙂

      Happy Holidays!

      December 24, 2010 at 2:24 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Kristina

      You said: "all I have to say is thank God your mom said yes! Maybe you should look at it from that point of view. Just think if she would of said nope I'm having an abortion, guess this coversation would never of taken place then."

      There were rumors (family tales, mostly) that I was the product of a virgin birth. I don't put a lot of stock in it...

      Thank you for caring.

      Woman's body, woman's choice!

      December 24, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  17. Hezbolla

    @David Johnson, you are an angry man.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • ybs

      Hezbolla, you are a w a n k e r!!! 🙂

      December 24, 2010 at 4:04 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Hezbolla

      You said: "David Johnson, you are an angry man."

      No, I'm not. I am a freethinker. I form my opinions on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and not by authority, tradition, or any dogma.

      Love and Prayers!

      December 24, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  18. Homeschool Mom in AZ

    I would caution other believers in the "let's take in the kids" mentality. Adoption is a permanent relationship exactly the same as giving birth to a child. I've done both. ONLY couples who want to adopt because they want to be parents should be adopting.

    Our adopted child is our child the same as our biological children-she's not a political statement. She's not a charity case. She's not a ministry opportunity. We knew there was another child in our future and we went and found her because she was meant to be with us. That came from our hearts and minds-not from a shift in ministry focus. She was born in S. Korea.

    Foster parenting is NOT for everyone. Some people are clearly called to do it and others are not. This is for people who want to grow their families and are willing to fall in love with a child they will likely have to give back. We were certified foster parents as we considered which route to take for adoption. I interviewed a dozen other certified foster parents. Giving the child back was the norm-not the exception. All but two of them had children with serious mental or psychological issues-they don't remove children from their biological parents for nothing. Drug and alcohol exposure in utero can do real damage to brains that love doesn't fix. Love doesn't mend broken bones. Loves doesn't cure cancer. Love doesn't fix brain damage.

    I interviewed a developmental pediatrician at a child behavioral health center with experience with foster children and adoptees from here and abroad, my ped with experience with adopted children and foster kids, a dozen foster parents, a pediatric dentist with experience with international adoptees, read two books by attachment therapists who deal with all types of adopted children from domestic fost-adopt to international adoptees around the world, and read research online. I suggest anyone else considering adoption of any kind do the same.

    We have had a great experience with our now 5 year old daughter, but transitioning adopted children from foster care here or abroad and orphanages will mean facing challenges that do not happen with biological children. Traumatized children need far more than children in normal situations. It's been very good, but it was very hard for the first several years. Fortunately our agency was very up front and helpful. Things are now perfectly normal.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  19. Sean

    this article was inspirational

    December 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  20. Loretta

    Once you say, "What I believe..." you have lost credibility.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • von Stemwede

      Why? You have no beliefs? None at all? You have never said "I believe...." Nonsense. It is you who lacks credibilty.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:12 am |
    • David Johnson

      @von Stemwede

      You said: "You have no beliefs? None at all? You have never said "I believe...." Nonsense. It is you who lacks credibilty."

      I have beliefs. My beliefs are based on evidence and the scientific method. My beliefs are not faith based. Belief in god is based on faith. No evidence required.

      Belief in a god or religious dogma, is not supported by logic, reason, evidence or science.

      Instead, people are just supposed to have faith. People, on any other matter, would consider this absurd. Fairies in my shoe? I better be able to produce the little buggers!

      Faith can be used to defend anything. It does not lead you to reality. In fact, it does the opposite.

      Belief without evidence is worthless.

      Love and Prayers!

      December 24, 2010 at 10:37 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.