"When humans should have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch." CS Lewis
From Biblical Recorder
Today, we want to leave you with a challenge. Well, at the minimum, you can read about my challenge. I believe that some in the evangelical church in America have gotten the Bible mixed up with the American definition of success. This definition of success includes lots of money, lots of toys and lots of fame and a chronic sense of entitlement. If anyone steps on the toes of Mr. Success, who is in pursuit of the dream, they are to be crushed. Said smooshing can take the form of dressing down a waitress who doesn’t bring our eggs fast enough or giving a lowly church member a well deserved swat when he gets out of line.
Many in the church define success in a decidedly unbiblical fashion. For example:
- My church has 5,000 members.
- My pastor is in demand all over the world. Do you know how many books he has written?
- My pastor lives next door to Chuck Norris.
- We just built a $120 million dollar addition to our church.
- You wouldn’t believe the important people who come to our church.
Digression alert: I laughed recently when I was told the Rainn Wilson of The Office (who doesn’t know Dwight Shrutte III?) attends Rick Warren's church-a sure sign of success as I have ever heard! You Tube video example to follow for the uninitiated.
Many people have expressed their dismay of the direction of the American church on this blog and others. However, I am here to offer a glimmer of hope. There are people jumping out of the status quo and challenging the socks off of self satisfied American Christians.
Years ago, there was a book called Blinded by Might written by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. You can read about it at this link. They had a simple basic premise. They believed that many in the church equate success by the election of conservatives at the ballot box. However, the greatest successes of the church have occurred in service to others, often under hostile governments. That is why the world admires a Mother Theresa over a Jerry Falwell. Mother Theresa dedicated her life in service to others and had only two changes of clothing. She was out to give; not get.
Our world is tired of rich and smug Christians who point their fingers at the sins of the world while implying that Christians are somehow better than others. Meantime they look at our fancy houses and cars and realize that few of us represent the sacrifice of the Savior who chose to be born into poverty. In other words, they accuse us of not following the example of Jesus. They might have a point.
The Christian community has welcomed, into its midst, the prosperity Gospel which has replaced Jesus who lived a modest life. These charlatans have even redefined the Savior, stating He was wealthy. It is a travesty that Joel Osteen and Ed Young Jr are the new faces of the evangelical faith. No wonder America is bored with us. We look like any other self-serving politician or CEO.
But there is a glimmer of hope. A few courageous pastors are stepping up and putting their money where their mouth is. And it is attracting the attention of the world. You may read our last post called David Platt and Francis Chan: Two Calivnistas I Could Grow to Love at this link.
Recently, David Brooks, writing for the New York Times, features David Platt and his redefinition of the issue of wealth. In a column entitled The Gospel of Wealth, 9/6/10, Brroks makes the following observations. There are many, many pastors and church members who need to open their ears. Here is a link to the story.
Brooks remembers the last couple of decades as a time for conspicuous, big wealth which has succumbed to the current economic reality. Interestingly he sees Platt as offering a new paradigm not only for the church but for America.
“Platt earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At age 26, he was hired to lead a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala., and became known as the youngest megachurch leader in America. Platt grew uneasy with the role he had fallen into and wrote about it in a recent book called “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.”
Minichurch not Megachurch
In this book, Brooks sees Platt taking on the megachurch with its excesses.
“Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.
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.”
In a PBS interview,link here, we read:
“The pastor calculates that Christian churches in the US spend $10 billion a year on buildings and own property valued at $230 billion. He says too many churches are acting like big corporations, but Brook Hills is now constantly looking for ways trim its budget.”
In the same interview, Platt says “The reality is when Jesus got to the end of his time on earth there were only 120 people who had actually stuck around and done what he told them to do in Acts chapter 1. I mean, that’s not a megachurch, that’s a mini-church.”
God’s Dream Is Not the American Dream
In the article by Brooks, he says,“When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Him do it. This perception evolved into the notion that we have two interdependent callings: to build in this world and prepare for the next.
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.”
During the same interview at PBS Platt says “I don’t in any way want to come across as anti-America. At the same time there are some ideals and values that are at the core of the American dream that are really contrary, even antithetical to the gospel that Jesus preached, and then the American dream obviously leads us sometimes in pursuits of money and possessions and pleasures in this world.”
The Kingdom of God Should Emphasize Downward Mobility
David Brooks goes on to quote Platt:
“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.”
Keep $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 Strikes a Chord in the Heart of America
Although I disagree that the SBC has jumped on the bandwagon, it is interesting to note Brooks’ perspective.
“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.I doubt that we’re about to see a surge of iPod shakers. Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity. But the country is clearly redefining what sort of lifestyle is socially and morally acceptable and what is not. People like Platt are central to that process.”
It’s a Gospel of Adversity not Prosperity
Continuing with the interview at PBS , we read the following response to the prosperity gospel
“ What troubled him was the material comfort of his congregation and the multimillion-dollar megachurch they worship in. This was not the picture he had of the humble ministry of Christ.
PLATT: This idea that if you believe God, have enough faith, that he will give you health or wealth or prosperity, I don’t think, first of all, that it is a gospel at all. It’s not the good news that Jesus preached. More than health and wealth, Jesus I think gives us a picture more of a homeless and wounded gospel, and even the New Testament church is not a picture of prosperity theology. It’s a picture of adversity theology, persecution, struggles, poverty, helping one another out.”
Platt Implores People to Give It Up
In the beginning, Platt lost a number of members. However, his church is now back up to its original membership of about 4300.
In the PBS interview we read:
“ One of the sacrifices Pastor Platt challenges members to make is to go serve in places where there is vast physical and spiritual need—places like India and Africa. Over 250 members have moved to Third World countries to serve for three months, a year, or more to evangelize and to lend a hand. It was places like these that deeply influenced Platt’s theology.
PLATT: I remember one moment even locking eyes with this five-, six-year-old girl who was standing in her front yard, but it was basically a pile of trash and with a little blue tarp for a home, and I remember thinking my life is created for something much more than just a nice, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream.
SEVERSON: Some members choose places closer to home, like Chuck and Margaret Clark and their three children. They sold their large home in a well-heeled Birmingham suburb and moved to the inner city, though not without trepidation.
MARGARET CLARK: I had probably two primary concerns, and one was giving up my earthly comforts, and then secondly was just the fear for my children. We were aware of the drugs and the alcohol and the sexual promiscuity downtown, and it was just causing me a great deal of fear.
PLATT: Sitting here in the office one day with a very wealthy man in our faith family. He comes in and he says, “Pastor, I think you are crazy for saying some of the things you are saying.” And I said, “Okay,” and he said, “But the reality is you’re only saying what Jesus said,” and so he begins to share about how he is selling his home and cars, and with tears in his eyes this man looks at me and says, “I want my life to count.”
At the blog called Muddling Toward Maturity, link here, we learn about his book called:
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.
In this book, Platt has advice for those who are just beginning to “radicalize” their lives.
“The first of is five point plan is to read through the Bible in one year. Most Bible read through plans involve reading no more than three chapters a day, about 15 minutes.
Step 2 is to pray for the world. He refers to a website which directs the participant to pray for different parts of the world organized so that you can pray for a different part of the world every day.
Step 3 is to give some money away to poor people.
Step 4 is to go on a one week short-term mission trip.
Step 5 is to be involved in a local church congregation.
Platt is challenging the church in America. Some in the church do not like it. They like their comfortable lives and their fancy churches. They make charges of this as being the “New Legalism” or the “New Monasticism.” Methinks they dost protest too much. I, for one, have decided to take him up on his challenge. TWW offers a read through the Bible in a year plan at the bottom of each post. I am also planning on beginning to volunteer with seriously handicapped children. TWW will also look into praying for the world and see if we can link to such a site from our blog.
I think that Joel Osteen, Ed Young Jr., and others have a lot to learn from this pastor who calls all of us to live a life of sacrifice for our Lord.
We leave you with a humorous video from the ever intriguing Dwight Shrutte III. Due to copyright considerations, we were unable to embed the video. You will need to travel to this link which takes you directly to the video on You Tube. So, for a laugh, go see "Dwight Shuns Andy."