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. Aezel

    Oh no, don't worry. I take Jesus for exactly what he really is: imaginary.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:20 am |
    • ybs

      the truth burst lots of people's imagination!

      December 24, 2010 at 3:41 am |
  2. Andrew D

    Simply put, his will not mine through the wisdom of his spirit in me not the lusting of the rust and dust, being understanding and not always trying to be understood, allowing everyone to be where there at, for everyones salvation is there own

    December 24, 2010 at 2:18 am |
  3. Justme

    This is refreshing to read. I hope more churches start to follow. I know there are plenty out there doing the same with getting coverage, but there are many more that don't practice what they preach. Perhaps if more churches followed Jesus's teachings then religious organizations would be seen differently than they currently are.

    Why do those who don't believe in God feel compelled to come and write that it's all a fairy tale and God doesn't exist? I highly doubt that you are going to change the minds of those that believe and seriously how does it hurt you or bother if someone does believe? If you don't believe then why click on the article to read it? If you don't read the article, then you won't have to read posts from those that do. It won't be "pushed down your throat" as some of you claim.

    I don't expect everyone to believe the same as I do. I also don't try and convince them to join my side, especially on a message board. I don't go to articles about atheists and try to convert them. (Although I'm sure there are those that do.) I respect everyone's right to their own beliefs about God. I just wish others would also be respectful of those that believe different than they do. As much as some atheists want it all to go away, it's never going to happen. There are always going to those of us that believe in God-no matter what. To me and many others, it doesn't make us more or less intelligent than atheists, nor does it make us better than an atheist. It just makes us different.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  4. Humma Kavula

    The great white handkerchief is coming, brothers and sisters.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  5. ubershaman

    What's to rebel against? The beauty of democracy is you can pick the dream that you want to have. Or are you rebelling against other people not accepting your version of the dream?

    December 24, 2010 at 1:58 am |
  6. GianCarlo

    How refreshing to hear a christian behaving and doing what Jesus was really about when on earth. He is right, most christian faiths are created according to how they want to live. It would be nice if the Pat Robertsons' and that other young man who preaches that Jesus wants us to be rich, would follow this mans road to a true Christianity. Instead of spreading hate against gays, these other christian faiths should take note of this young man. If these faiths would put that strong effort that they put in spreading their hate, and put into helping the poor, the needy, the hungry, what a joy it would be.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:46 am |
  7. Marco Budgyk

    All of Mr. Platt's argument would be fine - if there was a God. But there ain't.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:45 am |
    • Andrew D

      Give yourself a break , and get out of your own.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:22 am |
    • ybs

      You are right on, Marco.

      December 24, 2010 at 3:39 am |
  8. doug

    The Geographical Meaning of Earth Seas in Genesis 1:10

    I would say the biblical authers definatly knew the earth was round it wasnt until later that the earth was thought to be flat

    Job 26:7
    He stretches out the north over empty space;
    He hangs the earth on nothing

    Isaiah 40:22
    It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
    And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
    Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
    The word translated “circle” here is the Hebrew word chuwg which is also translated “circuit,” or “compass” (depending on the context). That is, it indicates something spherical, rounded, or arched—not something that is flat or square.

    The book of Isaiah was written sometime between 740 and 680 BC. This is at least 300 years before Aristotle suggested that the earth might be a sphere in this book On the Heavens.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:37 am |
    • ybs

      Your analysis lacks the depth, relative to David Johnson's! See his post.

      December 24, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  9. jaysunstar

    It sounds like this church totally misunderstood the original meaning of the "American Dream" as well as what Jesus wants for his Christian brothers. I think modern Christianity and the 'twisted' version of the American dream clash. The original American dream was NOT about materialism. It evolved into that.

    The very fact that this middle class family was able to give up so much of their wealth in order to practice their religious values is EXACTLY the American dream.

    “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.”

    This SOUNDS to me exactly what this family has done. AND let me remind others that it is BECAUSE of the American dream, that this family has been able to help others who are less fortunate.

    They need to see it for what it is and get off their high horses and misplaced sense of self-rightiousness.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  10. MJS

    Usury. What is God's law in regards to usury?

    Jesus raised his fists once. You decide if it was a good reason – if you understand why he did.

    Ancient civilizations understood an un-backed paper currency was fundamentally flawed – scripture is full of examples. How long till people on the planet understand again what it means to be paid in full and not in servitude to another man who sees himself as a god – or – will the people on the planet ever learn?

    December 24, 2010 at 1:26 am |
  11. ddub


    I'm not following your argument. Tom says that God cannot be both omnipotent and wholly good. And you're saying that he can be both, and is – it's just that he doesn't actually do anything about it? You say "his grace allows humanity to continue the way it is going." Isn't it more reasonable to conclude that God doesn't exist than that he does but is on break?

    Fine line between grace and laziness!

    December 24, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  12. reallynow

    how can anyone with a phd believe in the supernatural things in the christian bible? Its a 2000 year old sham invented by some very intelligent men to control the less educated. Its also a story lifted directly from ancient egyptian/african mythos – which was invented by a group of very intelligent men to control people. Religion is the basis of a vast majority of the worlds suffering and mankind will be far better off when it is eradicated. STOP indoctrinating your children with this foolish tripe!

    December 24, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  13. damnyank

    adoption is a sneaky way to pull a child away from his roots, culture, and religion.

    tell me, if your family were to adopt a jewish, buddist, or muslim child would the family respect the culture he/she came from and let him/her explore their heritage? or would they brainwash them into christianity?

    December 24, 2010 at 1:23 am |
  14. Steveorevo

    In some countries, like Singapore. Such morals transcend religion. While its nice to hear that you pin these values to your religion, Singapore puts their 'Singaporian Dream' or family ahead of their religious beliefs. Probably the reason it is the one place where Christians, Buddists, Hindus and Muslims all get along. No one religion takes credit for it. The well being, and 99% literacy in what was once a disgusting third world county owes their own prosperity to themselves while respecting everyone's idea of a moral, dead Palestinian.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:22 am |
    • ybs

      @Steveorevo Wow, educate me! Three questions... (one by one as CNN has filtering on)

      1. ~15% of pop are non religious! Who are/were Singapore leaders that have/had no religious affiliation?

      December 24, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • ybs

      @Steveorevo Wow, educate me! (3 of 3 – two questions passed the filter, but not 3 questions!)

      Still, I want to be able to spit when I run! 🙂

      December 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • ybs

      @Steveorevo Wow, educate me! (question #2)

      2. Buddhism is the largest group. Do they have in-your-face things like, "In Buddha we trust" crap there?

      Still, I want to be able to spit when I run! 🙂

      December 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • ybs

      @Steveorevo Wow, educate me! (question #3)

      3. How gays are treated and what are the reasons behind these treatments?

      Still, I want to be able to spit when I run! 🙂

      December 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  15. AtheismRevolution No.2

    The Russian Revolution was about making the government the caretaker of the people because no one should be unequal or work to be self-reliant. The government stepped in where it was perceived that the churches were failing. The United States is on track for the same kind of governance by an atheistic elite.
    The Russians were able to silence the churches but they could not silence the silence of God.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:19 am |
  16. Grant

    Wow, I'm impressed. It isn't often that I hear of Christians acting like that for real. I hear lots talk about it, but little else.

    It's a wonderful thing this church is doing. They have my humble respect for it.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:18 am |
  17. Plan

    What I don't get is that it seems like what this church did was the American Dream. They wanted to be huge philanthropists and they did it successfully and are receiving the recognition for that work. That is, by the very definition given, the American Dream.

    I guess they just wanted to say, "Rebel against the American Dream" to get more people to read about it because the same tired, "let's not be selfish materialists and be more interested in helping others" approach just isn't as interesting anymore.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:11 am |
  18. Christina

    All of my life I have seen people assume that if a person is poor than they must deserve to be. It infuriated me and disappointed me. I then realized that by judging their judgements, I was no better. I choose to know God selfishly and get my fill first. I now tell people about who He is, not what He can do for them. THAT doctrine is circulating well on it's own. This honest update is a happy person relaying the joy, love, and peace that truly experiencing and living for God provide. God bless your church and every soul that gets to know who God truly is for themselves.
    God bless America and help us all reach a level of comprehension that puts regular logic to shame! God's logic is what we should strive for.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:11 am |
    • Josh Rabatin

      Words of wisdom, thank You.

      I haven't a church for Mine is not of this earth, the scriptures in which I believe beyond My heart are however
      and that is what I call hope.

      Thank You again.

      – Josh Rabatin

      December 24, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  19. muhrvis

    OK, so Jesus stood for a lot of good things... I have a question, why does a believer need David Platt?

    December 24, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  20. obama

    This is all crap they don't help anybody until they convert to Christianity this is all bullshi7 there main agenda is convert those poor people to Christianity or they want to steal there kids so that they can brain wash them and preach there religion....

    December 24, 2010 at 1:01 am |
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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.