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. Sven Thorensen-Sudquist

    The egotism of the author is really astounding.

    December 24, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Reallythough

    If the Bible is just a book with no meaning , then so is every book that any atheist ever read to formulate his or her own opinion about life. Practicing what your read is called the expression of religion. Therefore atheism IS a religion. You don't have to believe in God but logically you cannot deny His existence either if everything you learned came from ...a book. You say your experience has also taught you? Good. Experience teaches believers as well. You can't have the double-standard be in your favor. Now that this argument is dead.... again.... get out there and do some good and love people because we both agree that tearing down someone's belief system by force never accomplishes anything good at all.

    December 24, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  3. Reallythough

    Good and evil are absolutely relative. Right up to the time something evil happens to you or your family. Now it's everybody's problem. You complain about evangelizing yet that is how some learn to give. You don't realize that complaining about the message along with giving food also puts religion in front of the need. Who do you think will give to you first when YOU are in need? What kind of person complains about people who do good anyway? For whatever reason? THAT in itself is the very reason I can't be an atheist.

    December 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  4. EM

    I agree with what Dr. Platt is saying, don't get me wrong.

    But I can't help but sense that what he is promoting is some type of church-sponsored communism.

    December 24, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  5. MiRF

    Not much of a philosopher, but what about the economic spin on this? Nietzsche's "God is Dead", and "The Last Man" start to nag at my memory. We've worked so hard in the U.S. to afford ourselves opportunity to do what? Live propsperously, be able to question religion and morality, choose what we do with our excess... within our country there is an imbalance of resources, man to man, but as a whole nation we are economically poised–or at least we borrow enough money to think we are–to have the extra breathing room to argue about what it all means, and attempt to influence those less "fortunate" around the world. Not just economically... politically, militarily. Then throw in the wrench of also acting militarily to defend the home state (and its aforementioned economic advantage)

    Do we find much arguing about religion and philosophy in the third world? Back in the day, seems the winning tribe assimilated and painted over the losing tribe with their beliefs. Fast forward to now, and many charitable people and groups, faith-based or not, seem to transmit a message along with their charity. May not be the case all the time, but things become gray when there is enough wealth to define your own societal rules.

    There is no way to keep religion completely out of the arguments–yet–but God may indeed be on a very diluted path towards "dying" in the more deleveloped world, at least the non-Muslim west. Social democracy and the abundance of resources are not only leading to progressive advancements, but social darwinism as well. An individual with excess residing in a society with excess has, or still has, a choice on what to do with his/her resources. Ultimately it boils down to survival of that individual, their family, their community, nation, or a stranger in some other land... whatever that individual deems most important. He/she has that freedom because they live in an environment that allows the breathing room to choose

    December 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  6. Zhor

    It seems to me, David, that as an atheist you still believe that humans are morally responsible for doing the right thing. That's fine. What I'd like to know is how, if you put God in the picture, suddenly everything bad that happens is God's fault. If we have responsibility without the existence of God, nothing stops us from having responsibility with the existence of God. There's no logical disconnect here.

    Don't blame God for the bad things people do.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  7. Carlo griseta

    I'm dreaming with you and am confident of the changes coming our way in the body of Christ...

    December 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Josh Rabatin

      I believe You are My friend.

      December 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  8. robyn collins

    as per usual. well said. and you are used again to point out things i'm certain god wants pointed out to us.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  9. Philly In The House

    @David Johnson,

    As I already said, you and many other people have certainly proven the verse Psalms 14:1. So let me get this straight, because you quoted 1 person that agrees with your philosophy that means that I'm not truthful? Wow, you really are pretentious, you're not in the slight open minded. I really could care less if you believe me or not, your belief still doesn't discredit at all what happened. trust me, you're the idiot in regards to what I have seen with my own 2 eyes.

    As far as experiences with Allah, and other religions, hey I know people that experienced many things as well. But those people can't say they've experienced the power of the Holy Spirit like myself and billions of others have for centuries. Again, just because you have not had that experience doesn't mean that it's false. Forget what anyone else tells you, WHAT HAVE YOU experienced for yourself, not what you heard?

    I can go on my own personal experience. And if you don't believe, oh well, you can never say that no one told you so. You'll be held accountable. Of course anyone that doesn't believe in GOD falls under Proverbs Chapter 1&2. Read it, of course I know it probably won't do you any good anyway.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  10. WOW

    David J: You seem to be a very educated person. Not sure where you missed the boat. Hope you jump on before its to late. Good luck! Cheers to you too!

    December 24, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  11. susan

    I no longer call myself a Christian. Too many who do live values that I cannot abide and that, to me, have nothing to do with what Christ taught.
    I, too, have tried to live my life following the teachings of Christ, to the point of giving away my own comforts to help those in need. It has been a difficult, wonderful, fulfilling life.
    I applaud the pastor of this church. Hopefully, his sharing will impact on other churches.
    I only hope that his followers don't think it is important to spread the name of Jesus, so that it is said over and over in empty nauseum. Instead, spread Christ's teaching of love, compassion, healing, forgiveness and living for all, not the self.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • mrcomment


      Joh 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
      Without Jesus's name good works are nice but will not introduce someone to the only path to eternal life.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  12. mrcomment

    Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Everyone is an individual and makes decisions each day. We cannot know all of the things that influnced him to do what he did. He does not know them either. Only God knows all things. All we know is that while you breathe their is hope that you can turn to the love that God offers and become the kind of person that he designed you to be. We are all broken (spiritually) from birth and have an unfulfilled need to fix it. People take different directions to fill those needs. Some are more disasterous than others. Pray that he will find the right path while there is time.

    December 24, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  13. Josh Rabatin

    This article alone is questioning our maker and Your own beliefs of the true god...opinions are by all means neccessary for their different point
    of view from the mind of each individual which is always acceptable to corruption and or (Comfortably lazy) to allow a full census by the people.

    One flag We should all be united under, his flag.

    for those of You who ask who He is...You needn't but look into a mirror.

    – When I said this article is is questioning our maker and Your own beliefs of the true god I was not fully awake and approached My first comment with haste and did not intend to confuse, for anyone who read what I wrote earlier I humbly apologize.

    I completely agree with the giving heart of that community.

    Thank You.

    – Josh Rabatin

    December 24, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  14. Chyna

    Aaaahhhh the American Dream. To live in a country where folks of all opinions can freely express themselves. I've enjoyed this banter. Mý 3 ýear old on santa claús: if you believe in him he is real. If you don't he is not. From the mouth of babes. God loves a sacrificial offering and honors it. Aþ the end of the day it's about LOVE.

    December 24, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  15. Edmund Jaja

    All religions are cults. Believe in love and believe in yourself.

    December 24, 2010 at 10:14 am |

    ****I think this article was beautiful and really captures what each American's mind set should be. Our society seems to be twirling into some uncontrollable whirewind, there are no more limts in society no accountability, people just don't care about their concience anymore. It is just a mad race to accomplish material things, and prove to the world that we are settled and well -off in life and therefore successfull. People..if the one's around you judge you by how much material value or how much prosperity you have then you should distance yourselves from them and live life your own way with your family and people like you. Before you know it there will be more and more people seeing the right way to lead their life, and will have peace inside of them. Just because you don't have the best of everything does not make you a loser, just look at the people that judge you as losers who will never have peace or love even in Heavan. Even though I am not Christian, I am a muslim our basic beleifs about religion and how one should conduct their lives are similar. Be giving, be thankful to God, be kind, and helpful and God will return upon you many things to be thankful for.

    December 24, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  17. Mallam Sawyerr

    God bless u for this article...it is a thing of joy to see people have a new revelation of what true christianity is and of who a true christian is...

    December 24, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  18. Jasmine

    What an inspiration Rev Platt! May God continue to bless you and the congregation at your church.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  19. Ken Clark

    I wonder how many of us who are Christians in America are really willing to live a Radical faith? If even half of us were willing to make that step of faith we could, as the first century believers did, turn this world upside down!

    December 24, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  20. Amazed

    I love the article and the blog is so interesting. What I see is that we try to explain our world from our perspective. I would say for for those who doubt that Jesus is who He said He is at least research it and come after your beliefs by spending time listening to His words. As billions celebrate the Savior of the world tomorrow I would just say to those that don't believe open your mind past yourself and the so many lies of the world's culture.
    Jesus said: John 3:16-21
    6 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

    December 24, 2010 at 9:20 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.