Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Money, Christianity, and the American Dream

America has been and continues to be a land of great opportunity, there is no doubt. From our earliest days as a nation, tens of millions of people came to this country to seek religious freedom, political liberty, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. Even during a time of economic hardship in which we now find ourselves, the United States continues to be a place where people can achieve great things through much hard work and sacrifice.
From the founding of our nation over 200 years ago, Christianity has been a foundational religious force in America. Many of the founding fathers claimed to believe in God and were at the very least professing Deists. Much of our law is steeped in Judeo-Christian principles. Needless to say, for those of us in America that claim to be believers in Christ, we hold to certain belief systems that combine our Christian faith and our national heritage.
Over the last several years, there has been a new generation of American Christians who have now come along, who question the validity of the "Christianized" version of the American Dream. This new generation of Christians has studied the New Testament and the founding of the universal Church, and they now argue the incompatibility of the American Dream and the Christian faith.
The American Dream
While the idea of the "American Dream" has changed over the history of our country, the latest version that we continue to subscribe to was first expressed in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams in his book Epic of America:
The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order 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, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
Adams also wrote:
The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.
Although Adams claims in his 1931 writing that material plenty is not the core of this dream, over the years, the modern day version of the American Dream has evolved into a very materialistic mindset in which we achieve this dream by attaining luxuries such as:
  • a very lucrative job
  • building a successful, wealthy business
  • a really big house with a three-car garage and a white picket fence
  • multiple luxury cars
  • fashionable clothes
  • private school for the kids
  • all the latest toys - boats, RVs, motorcycles, plasma TVs, and so on
  • expensive, world-wide travel
The Problem with the Dream and Christianity

The problem with this latest version of the American Dream is that, in the end, it is truly incompatible with the Christian life. It's not that there's anything necessarily wrong with any of the things listed above, but rather the pursuit or the focus on these things becomes a problem in the life of the believer. A Christian's pursuit should be on growing in a relationship with Christ and investing our time, energy, abilities, and money into growing God's Kingdom while we are alive here on the earth.
Consider the following passages from God's Word and their incompatibility with the current definition of the American Dream:
  • Proverbs 23:4-5 - Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
  • Proverbs 28:6 - Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.
  • Proverbs 28:20 - A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
  • Proverbs 28:25 - A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.
  • Proverbs 30:8b-9 - give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or I may become poor and steal, and to dishonor the name of my God.
  • Ecclesiastes 4:4 - And I saw that all the labor and all achievement spring from a man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
  • Luke 6:24 -"But woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort."
  • Luke 12:20-21 [Parable of the rich farmer] - "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
  • Luke 18:24-25Jesus looked at him [the rich, young ruler] and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
  • 1 Corinthians 4:8a - Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!
  • Philippians 4:11-12 - I [the Apostle Paul] am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
  • 1 Timothy 6:6-8 - But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will content with that.
  • Hebrews 13:5a - Keep your lives free from the the love of money and be content with what you have...
The Response

The Bible verses above serve as a strong contrast to the modern mindset of the American Dream. While the American financial philosophy continues to focus on satisfying selfish desires through materialism, God's economy focuses on:
  • the assertion that we are already wealthy.
  • contentment with what the Lord has blessed us with today.
  • don't wear yourself out trying to get wealthy.
  • trust in the Lord for our needs and wants to be met.
  • demonstrate restraint or self-control.
  • don't covet or be envious of what others have.
  • be rich toward God. Be a giver!
  • In the end, God wants us to pursue a relationship with Him, not money. There is so much more to life than chasing after riches. Whatever we amass for ourselves here on earth, we can't take it with us when we die. Instead of the American Dream, a believer in Jesus Christ should desire Him and lay up treasures in heaven.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21).

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  1. Have you read the book "Radical" by David Platt. It's a great book to address this issue.

  2. Hey, Brian. I'm familiar with the book and I have it on my Amazon wishlist, but I haven't read it, yet. Thanks for the book recommendation!