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“We may be worshipping ourselves…”

September 7, 2010

David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times drew my attention to a young American Evangelist leader I’d not heard of: David Platt. And in a new book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, Platt is preaching something you don’t often hear from suburban Evangelical–that the American Dream of abundant wealth is incompatible with the Dream of God, as expressed through the life and ministry and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.”

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream… The tension between good and plenty, God and mammon, [is] the central tension in American life, propelling ferocious energies and explaining why the U.S. is at once so religious and so materialist. Americans are moral materialists, spiritualists working on matter.

Platt is in the tradition of those who don’t believe these two spheres can be reconciled. The material world is too soul-destroying. “The American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the Gospel,” he argues. The American dream emphasizes self-development and personal growth. Our own abilities are our greatest assets.

But the Gospel rejects the focus on self: “God actually delights in exalting our inability.” The American dream emphasizes upward mobility, but “success in the kingdom of God involves moving down, not up.”

Platt calls on readers to cap their lifestyle. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away. Take a year to surrender yourself. Move to Africa or some poverty-stricken part of the world. Evangelize.

Platt’s arguments are old, but they emerge at a postexcess moment, when attitudes toward material life are up for grabs. His book has struck a chord. His renunciation tome is selling like hotcakes. Reviews are warm. Leaders at places like the Southern Baptist Convention are calling on citizens to surrender the American dream…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Betsy Adams permalink
    September 7, 2010 3:37 pm

    If you follow the link, you can download the 1st chapter of the book. Pretty challenging. Now this might make for an interesting book study and discussion.

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