Nov 27, 2005

the american dream and the gospel

This question was asked in a comments section of another post:

    "The American dream and the gospel, are they mutually exclusive?"

I wanted to devote a bit of time to this because I have some very strong tensions in my spirit over this question. That said, here is a bit of random spewing...

  • The American Dream is devoted to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • The Gospel is devoted to eternal life, community, and the pursuit of Christ-likeness.

  • The American Dream is about a family of four living in a house with a white picket fence.
  • The Gospel is about a family of one-more (and one-more after that) living in a transparent structure with endless bridges being built.

  • The American Dream is about the accumulation of toys, the promotion of self, and consuming the next great opportunity to feel good.
  • The Gospel is about the distribution of resources, the restoration of others. and being consumed by the next great opportunity to do good.

  • The American dream is about what-comes-around-goes-around.
  • The Gospel is about what-should-go-around-must-first-come-around-in-me.

  • The American dream is about the American flag.
  • The Gospel is about the whole world.

  • The American dream is founded in biblical values... and somehow lost its way.
  • The Gospel is founded in biblical values... and somehow follows the way of Jesus.

The problem is that we have accepted within the church a combination of the two. I believe that because it is so hard to live life with intangible goals (i.e. a "growing love" for God and others) that we have drifted to measuring things by tangibles instead. For instance, the idea that "bigger is better" and that "more attendance means more success" is one way this shows up. Or in conversations to the effect of, "If numbers are down, you're doing something wrong; if numbers are up, you're doing something right."

So if success equal large numbers, I guess Jesus occasionally.... failed?

    After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:66-67)
Or maybe sometimes we GROW when we shrink.

Maybe in order to e-x-p-a-n-d we need to be )))pruned(((.

The weird thing is that the church can actually become weakened when we focus on expansion and adding more to the establishment. Perhaps truly healthy numerical growth happens when we're less concerned with doing things perfectly (and without "failure") and more concerned with taking risks to communicate the Gospel regardless of personal confidence or skill... when we're comfortable with taking chances on things that haven't been perfectly calculated in the naive hope of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Maybe when we let God do the God thing (and take care of the outcome) as we do the people thing (and take care of responding to needs) we will actually live the kind of dependance that we teach about... maybe there's something to that.

Because of the American dream infiltrating the church, we so often believe that the better the building, the better the ministry. Maybe if we could get more people to wear a t-shirt with a Christian slogan on it instead of a Green Day logo we will have done our part. Perhaps if we coax more consumers to watch The Chronicles of Narnia in lieu of Harry Potter we will finally see the second coming of Jesus.

I know this sounds somewhat ridiculous... but on an unconscious level I wonder how true it actually is. I mean, have you been to a Christian bookstore lately?

I believe that many people are not living the dream God has for them to become who they really are. We wear a Christian mask while pursuing the American dream, maybe so we can feel justified in getting the next toy. I wonder if we actually think that as we covet a shinier car we can feel better about the fact that there are a bunch of Jesus fish logos plastered on its rear end.

Many of us treat Christianity as a part of our lives instead of the core of our lives. As a result, being a Christian becomes something we do instead of defining who we are. Much like the fourth of July can bring out a patriotic spirit in an American, so can attending a church service make us feel like we're on track with God... because we said the Lord's Prayer or raised our hands during a song?

Unfortunately, Christian leaders propogate this by focusing on the width of an organization instead of the depth of the people - measuring the height of attendance instead of the weight of spiritual maturity. If the congregation get a sense that at the end of the day the leaders were more concerned with the fact that they had a "successful service" because people showed up, the people will get the hint that maybe this is all that matters in Christianity. Just listen to the language - when people ask, "How did the service go?" and the numbers are the first thing to be reported... um, "Houston, we have a problem."

Ironically, I believe that deep down we see through this... we know Christianity is impossible and is not about us trying to live it out but about letting Jesus live in us and through us. Yet it's so much easier to live a half-dead, mediocre life in the suburbs where we tithe 10% (and get our tax receipt for it at the end of the year) than it to live a fully-dead-yet-alive, chaotic journey following the (alleged) madman that is Jesus Christ. At your core you will either serve your country or your God... your Caesar or your Christ... your American flag or your Christian flag.

So, yeah... I think they are mutually exclusive. We will occasionally reflect our culture as we pursue Jesus, but that's a lot different that occasionally reflecting Jesus as we pursue our culture.

    Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:17)


Tanner Ridge said...

The Declaration Of Independance says "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness". The Bill of Rights changed it to "life, liberty and property". Hmmmmm is property and happiness related??? Check out this link and be sure to read the heading "Property-Guarantee Eclipses Happiness-Pursuit."

The Cubicle Reverend said...

What is really sad is a lot of churches are now hiring pastors based on their marketing skills and not their preaching or leadership abilities.

Sean said...

Thanks Tone for your thoughts. I am writing a grad paper on a book called God's Missionary People and was writing why I thought more churches aren't sold out, missional, and find themselves in decline (quality & quantity). My conclusion was, because leaders (me too) aren't missional, insipiring, or willing to pay the price to be sold out for the gospel--alone--"love the one and hate the other (money)" like Jesus said; it's what Tozer (The Pursuit of God) described as the "God and" syndrome, not God alone, always God and something else. I appreciate your honest response.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I do not think it really matters to be missional. What matters most is how is our personal and prayer life with God through Jesus Christ. As our hearts are reformed to the likeness of God we are more likely to live our lives for him by loving and serving others. ie. faith and works.

Tony Myles said...

The pursuit of property, eh? Interesting....

As far as missional goes, perhaps the issue, then, is how you define it. For in an odd way, by living your faith out loud you are being both missional and attractional... best of both worlds.

Sean said...

Maybe you could elaborate on what you mean by missional. Although I agree that our personal prayer and devotion life is the "gas in the engine," to what end are we fueling up for? Maybe you are emphasizing one side of the coin over the other?
The pursuit

Tony Myles said...

What I mean by missional is the idea many churches have of pursuing the lost in their community by entering their world... and what I mean by attractional is the whole idea of churches who insist on building up a Sunday service and saying "come to me." When we live out a love for God and others in a legitimate way, I think we not only enter the world of others but also invite them into the real world of God.

Sean said...

I would agree with that. What does the reverend think?

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I for the most part do agree with what you are saying. But I think we are trying way too hard and we are basing these ideas off of what others think it means to practice these things and not off of scripture. At least, that is what I have gathered puttering around the blogosphere and from reading recent works on this subject. Most of their ideas are based off of the works of other writers first and off of the canon of scripture second, if at all.

Also, I hear this term relevance bantered about like crazy. We have to be relevent (sp?). I'm not so sure that is the case. If we look at Christ's reaction to the world and the worlds reactions to Him it wasn't about relevance. The love he shared was excessive, irresponsible, and given to the wrong types of people. The very ones who aren't relevant, but it was genuine and real. Much like you see in the parable of the banquet.

Tony Myles said...

I agree... I think the term "relevant" has become irrelevant.


you can't ignore that the Incarnation in itself is a form of relevance. Jesus became like us...


we could become like Him.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

Oooh, good call Pastor Tony. I never considered that relevant has become irrelevant. Might I go further to ascert that by the churches attempt to be relevant was where it began to lose its meaning?

Tony Myles said...

I agree - if you have to call yourself (or something) relevant... it probably isn't.

Sean said...

To the Jew I become a Jew, to the Gentile I become a Gentile. I become all things to all people, so that by all means some may be saved (It isn't word for word, but you know what I'm quoting). Relevance has always been important. However, I don't think relevance has anything to do with selling out to the culture. Churches lose the meaning because of syncretism-Tozer's "God and", popularity, attendance, money, esteem, american gospel dream-not relevance. Sadly, these things are justified by "we're only trying to be relevant, how am I supposed to reach those with SUV's if I don't have one?" Relevance needs to have a strong counter balance though-mission?-why do we do what we do. Tone-loc is very relevant (blog, sunglasses), while communicating the gospel fairly well ;-).

Tony Myles said...

Thanks, bro... it's all cuz of my "Funky Cold Medina" that I consume out of "new wineskins."