Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The problem with the american dream

In chapter 3 of David Platt's awesome little book, Radical, he talks about why the "American Dream" is so problematic for Christians.

For starters, he gives some background, pointing out that it was James Truslow Adams who is credited with coining the phrase "American Dream" in 1931. He spoke of it as "a dream... in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are."

The rest of the chapter is a response to this, but just let me post what he said right after...
So is there anything wrong with this picture [above quote]? Certainly hard work and high aspirations are not bad, and the freedom to pursue our goals is something we should celebrate. Scripture explicitly comments all these things. But underlying this American dream are a dangerous assumption that, if we are not cautious, we will unknowingly accept and a deadly goal that, if we are not careful, we will ultimately achieve.

The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability. The American dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves, and we are drawn toward such thinking. But the gospel has different priorities. The gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Even more important is the subtly fatal goal we will achieve when we pursue the American dream. As long as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory. To use Adams's words, we will be "recognized by others for what [we] are." This, after all, is the goal of the American dream: to make much of ourselves. But here the gospel and the American dream are clearly and ultimately antithetical to each other. While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.

Well, that's the gist of it. The rest of the chapter goes into more detail. I think this is spot on, but I realize it's hard for many people to take. Because it really does seem to contradict the "American Way"... and it's not that people who uplift that way are bad people - in fact, most of them are very good people - but it's simply not the way of Jesus.

Anyway, I am liking this book. I am trying to think of ways to encourage everyone in my church to read it. Although that might be too radical for many. We'll see.

Peace out; and in.

1 comment:

Jim said...

It goes back farther than 1931, that's for sure. I blame Horatio Alger. :)