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. Hapinstance

    How on earth would one make 30,000 sacrifices and sacrifice 3,000 bulls if one never acquired anything. Somebody had to have them to sacrifice. Foster children are not thee only issue – what about our war veterans that defend the very freedoms that we love arriving at foreclosure and homeless in this country? I'm not supposed to give a damn about them because the situation is worse in India? Even my peers in India will say that they feel they have some level of corruption in their own government. We send our men and women off to war – watch them lose their limbs, arms, put a plate in their head, then get ticked off when they develop a problematic symptom or post traumatic stress disorder – or an assortment of other ills – and you wonder why we have a homeless problem? But yes, thee American Dream does end with the noun "dream" – and I think it is worth noting. It's hard to make sense of the world's 100 largest yachts.

    July 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  2. Caryl

    I always adrmeid these dolls as I was growing up, though never received one. I forgot about them until I saw them at a Hallmark store. By then, my daughter was about to turn ten. With her 10th Birthday we began the tradition of ordering a large round cake and asking that the center be left blank so that we could place the doll in the center. I always line the bottom of the doll with foil and/or plastic. We have some beautiful pictures of her with her doll cake. She will turn 18 in February and I already have her new doll. We really panicked for her 16th birthday when production had stopped and I had to go on the internet to find one (unfortunately, it did not come until the week AFTER her BD).

    November 10, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  3. Weight loss

    I like reading religion.blogs.cnn.com and I conceive this website got some truly useful stuff on it!

    December 14, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  4. Michael Acidri @ Twisted Crown Of Thorns

    The bible is not about The American Dream nor is it about a social program to give a goat to an tribe on Boinga Boinga island (ofcourse which can be a good self righteous sacrifice). The bible and the central message of God in the bible is all about the Gospel. God saving man from His wrath and he does it through Jesus Christ for his own glory lest any man may boast.

    March 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Bob Laperriere

      This rich man went away sad

      July 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  5. Clare

    They certainly have their priorities right! Can I say the same about myself... food for thought. I love that they made a miracle for 150 children who will now have a chance at breaking the cycle of abuse, addiction and abandonment. That's so powerful. Did you know that if just ONE family in every church in America adopted a child from Foster Care there would be no children in Foster Care...

    February 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Jane

      That's great, I think we should adopt and foster more children. But David's idea is that the wife would stay home and take on all that honor! Quite frankly, I don't care if he is popular, he is another religious authoritarian, angry man. They fear sharing power with women because they fear their own lack of self-worth. Hey, let's all live in Saudi Arabia, women just got the right to vote! David would like to have us all living with turbins and bowing to him. Sick theology. Great work David, you managed make Christianity like all other religions: Male dominated. Women get smart, this guy is all about 'CONTROL'

      September 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  6. DavidAFollowerOfChrist

    Check out http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/ifyoucanreadthis.htm

    February 17, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  7. Andy

    Jesus rules!

    January 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Rusty

    David, your belief in God is self-evident, what troubles you is your anger with Him. His existence is not dependent on your belief or mine, it's a fact. You can deny Him but that doesn't change anything. Science is just another religion, nothing more, nothing less. If that is your religion, good from you. Everyone worships something, you appear to worship your own opinion, good for you. The real question is: why are you so angry with God? Cheers, my friend.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • shar

      I agree. David has been indoctrinated (went to one seminary and got 3 degrees) in a fundamentalist theology that expouses a literalist interpretation of the bible. He acts as if he is some prophet speaking for God. I find a lot of what he says is true, however, his take on interpretation of the roles of men and women show an extraordinary lack in language studies, history, and extremely poor exegesis. Just another false prophet with an angry edge.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Upendra

      FOX news really is nhnoitg more than an arm of the Republican party.Greta Van Susteren, Shep Smith, Bob Beckle, Alan Colmes, Liz Chadderdon, Lanny Davis, Susan Estrich and Kirsten Powers are just some of the rightwingers on the FOX news payroll.

      November 10, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  9. Hop Hopkins

    If only more pastors lead like this. The world would indeed be a different place.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  10. Constantly Amazed

    Thank you David Platt, for your newfound vision and work in our world. Keep up the good work, my prayers are with you to remain faithful to the one true God of the universe and to His calling. We live in a world of naysayers and non-believers -as has always been -and God has always been true to HIs word and constant with His love and compassion. I am forever Constantly Amazed.

    December 31, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  11. Aubrey

    The problem stems from celebrity churches and clergy men...

    December 30, 2010 at 3:10 am |
  12. Jim Jacobson

    Platt is simple and brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed the book "Radical" a must read for every Christian.

    December 29, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  13. Scott

    WOW!!! Christians walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. Perhaps goodness and compassion are not so dead in the Christian world as I thought.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  14. RightTurnClyde

    I like this preacher .. can he be cloned? Life is not sterile. When we try to make it sterile we created Ken and Barbie (narcissism). There ARE orphaned kids (there were in colonial times and in biblical times)(Ruth and Naomi - widder ladies). There are difficulties and we can be invigorated to "rise to the occasion" and BECOME BIGGER THAN WE WERE. Growth (through Jesus Christ) . government shrinks us .. makes us smaller and dependent and more inclined to not believe, have no faith, not try .. government is no WAY (Dao?) to live. Jesus IS a away to live and to GROW... to become. There are so few pastors like this one. BUT here is ONE. Perhaps there are others.

    December 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  15. kasia

    The only way world problems will be solved is if the first world can solve their problems first. We keep wasting our time and resources on the third world and what happens, things get worse. Why? Because they have no ability to control their population. If we eliminated poverty, homelessness, ignorance and all other social crimes in the west, I mean eradicated, I mean make them virtually unheard of, then we could solve the problem in the rest of the world. But each time we send money to India or to Sudan or Pakistan to fund religious terrorists who merely kill anyone who has an IQ above 40 we're only making things much much worse.

    December 25, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  16. jdunc

    Dear God, a christian church that follows the beliefs of Jesus! How un-American. George Will will be so disappointed! Next thing you know they will support a national health care program that helps the poor, or ending foreign wars, or a more progressive tax system- sounds like socialism to me! The Sedition Act of 1917 may need to be brought out again! Congratulations on your REAL Christian beliefs- keep up the good work!

    December 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  17. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    Jesus never started a social renewal program, nor did Peter or Paul view the gospel in the light of anti-materialism. People begin to assess virtue by the negative or positive aspirations. On the one hand they pursue all the good things of the world to represent their idea of Christ, and on the other hand starving and pain to show their love for God. Neither are correct being absent of grace. Paul said ‘though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and have not charity, it profits me nothing” For Jesus also said of these, “lord, we did many wonderful works in your name” but the punch line is this, “I never knew you, depart from Me ye workers of iniquity.” When religious people replace the Record of Christ with their own gospel the soul wanders into these variables to find a confirmation of His kingdom in the soul. When what the world values praises the Church then that light is darkness.

    December 25, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • William E Smith

      Amazing! – the one verse that even hints at an anti social viewpoint against the 2800 that declare that the poor and oppressed to be cared for. Its viewpoints like this that have resulted in the sad, sad state of the USA Church today. I hope ideas like yours are kept by God's hand away from those they may harm. Shame on you, God have mercy on us!

      February 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Individualist Christian

      I agree that Platt misinterprets, and is leaving out individualistic actions like the woman who, when rebuked by the apostle's for perfuming Jesus's feet, was corrected by him saying "the poor will always be with us." We should have compassion on each other, but we should also protect our individualism. Platt's article is dangerously imbalanced and poses false dichotomies. Jesus would have no problem with the idea that everyone should, " attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are." There is *nothing* wrong with that dream, unless "attain the fullest stature" becomes corrupted to a perverted measure of what stature is. I really loathe things that urge "sacrifice" as it is so easily manipulated to bring about oppression and even violence. Americans sacrificed to "liberate" Iraq, remember? You can't love thy neighbor as thyself, unless you love yourself. And calls for less individualism are completely out of line. Americans used to be both more individualistic and less isolated. The problem isn't our individualism, its our isolation. If we do not carefully discern on this issue, we could wind up both having painfully fewer rights of individual expression AND just as much isolation. There are far more eloquent and appropriate calls from egotism and materialism than Platt's self-hating and anti-American screed. Egotism is a human problem, not an American one.

      April 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  18. Iqbal khan

    Check this...

    December 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  19. BB

    The author fails to mention that the Gospels were made up in the first place. So Christians began and continue to twist their religion into what they are "comfortable" with...Hello, Mormonism!

    December 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • Happy McLeod

      BB, It saddens me that you live in such ignorance of what the Christian faith is all about. I encourage you to find an advisor locally who can guide you. After you have the facts, decide for yourself what Christianity is. Here's to discovering the truth! Best wishes to you.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Vernon Thiede

      BB you obviously have never studied history. Jesus is an historical figure who not only existed but was murdered for his declaration that he is the Son of God. He rose and appeared to hundreds of his disciples over a period of 40 days creating one of the greatest movements the world has ever known. You will see him too someday and you too will bow before Him.

      April 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
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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.