Over-sized mansions, super-sized French fries, and sport utility vehicles. These are the marks of contemporary America, and we're proud of them. After all, these are the tangible products of the "American dream," a concept that promotes ingenuity and hard work as the means to financial abundance. We are a people who believe in certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of opulence. Wouldn't questioning the validity of such things be, well, un-American?
Actually, a new generation of American faithful is questioning whether such things are inconsistent with the Christian Gospel. The way of Jesus, they say, is focused on others rather than self, on generosity not wealth. While the American dream exalts personal promotion, the Christian Gospel emphasizes downward mobility. We become the greatest when we become the least.
Proponents of this paradigm highlight Jesus' teaching that it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter God's kingdom (Mark 10:25), and that a poor person is in a better position to receive the Gospel (Luke 6:24-25). Jesus did, after all, make clear that God and money are at odds, and we much choose which we'll serve (Matthew 6:24). Such may be a shocking revelation for some American Christians trying to clinch both.
A prominent voice leading this charge is David Platt, a Southern Baptist minister who became "the youngest megachurch pastor in America" at age 26. His new job bred in him uneasiness in light of what he sees as the New Testament message, and inspired his New York Times bestselling book, ]
"When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible," Platt writes. "Instead, we may be worshiping ourselves."
Platt's arguments aren't new. Ron Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity released decades ago and is now in its fifth edition. The new monastic movement, led by figures like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, has also gained momentum in recent years. What's significant about Platt's perspective is that it is coming from a solidly conservative voice in the evangelical mainstream and has released in the midst of a financial crisis that's spurring a recalibration of economic norms.
"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," writes David Brooks of QIdeas.org