The American Dream in many ways conflicts with the teachings of Jesus, warns an up-and-coming megachurch pastor.
In his new book Radical, Pastor David Platt of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., points out how the gospel and the American Dream have fundamentally different starting points leading to different paths in life.
“The American Dream begins with self. Exalts the self [and] says you are inherently good and you have in you what it takes to be successful,” said Platt in an interview with The Christian Post. “The gospel’s starting point is completely different. The gospel begins with God and the reality that we were created to exalt His name.”
From the different starting points come different definitions of what success, satisfaction, and security in life look like, he said.
But because of blurring between these two ideologies, without knowing it many American Christians have redefined Christianity using the American Dream, the pastor noted.
“A nice, middle-class, American Jesus,” the 31-year-old megachurch pastor writes in his book. “A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. …A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.”
But Platt – who is known as the youngest megachurch pastor, he took over Brook Hills at age 27 – contends that many American Christians are missing the entire point of the gospel.
“Believing in the Jesus in the Bible makes life risky on alot of levels because it is absolute surrender of every decision we make, every dollar we spend, our lives belong to another,” he said. “It is relinquishing control in a culture that prioritizes control and doing what you need to do to advance yourself.”
Throughout the book, Platt weaves passages from the Bible about Jesus’ life and teachings, heart touching stories of Christian martyrs with his analysis of current American Christianity. He shows how missionaries throughout history and believers today in countries hostile to Christianity have abandoned everything to share the gospel.
One such missionary is John Paton (1824-1907), who, against the advice of an elder, left his safe job as a pastor at a Scottish church and moved his family to the New Hebrides, a group of Pacific islands filled at the time with cannibals with no knowledge of the gospel.
Within months of arriving, the 33-year-old missionary’s wife and newborn child died. He dug the graves for them with his bare hands. Yet he persisted in his mission work and years later cannibals across the New Hebrides came to know Christ.
Platt wants American Christians to also be “radical” in their faith, willing to give up everything – money, family, prestige – to spread the gospel in their neighborhood and overseas.
He has already begun the “Radical Experiment” with the thousands of members at his church.
Personally, Platt has sold his house to move into a smaller one so he can give the money to help the poor in Jesus name. He and his wife are also in the process of adopting their third child using funds they had in their savings, believing that was the best use of their money.
The “Radical Experiment” is a challenge where participants pray for the entire world, read the entire Bible, sacrifice their money for a specific purpose, spend time in another context, and commit their life to a multiplying community over the course of a year.
Some of the members of Brook Hills have also sold their homes to give to the poor. Ordinary churchgoers are holding Bible studies in the projects to reach and help the needy living there. And the church has contacted the local Department of Human Resources to find out how many children need a home. The department said it needed 150 families to care for the children in its custody. Within two weeks, 160 families from the church signed up to foster or adopt the children.
Besides the “Radical Experiment,” Brook Hills has also started something call the “Secret Church” where on a Friday night people study the word and pray from 6 p.m. to midnight. The idea is inspired by house church Christians who have to meet secretly to study the Bible. These Christians usually pack into small buildings where they study the Word hours on end devoid of technology and music. The some 1,000 people who attend the “Secret Church” do the same.
“For the sake of more than a billion people today who have yet to even hear the gospel, I want to risk it all,” writes Platt. “For the sake of an increasingly marginalized and relatively ineffective church in our culture, I want to risk it all. For the sake of my life, my family, and the people who surround me, I want to risk it all.”
He states, “[T]he goal of the American dream is to make much of us; the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.”