I was surprised at how much I disliked this book. What intrigued me was the subtitle, “Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” I do think that the American view of the good life is at odds with the Christian view. But what Platt means by “American Dream” is materialism (Christians are too materialistic? How new an idea is that?), whereas he fully embraces what I consider a much more dangerous aspect of the Dream, namely cultural imperialism.
Platt’s book begins with a look at the Gospels, establishing a truth that has been transformative to me, namely the need to die to self. He even cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer in support:
In [The Cost of Discipleship] he wrote that the first call every Christian experiences is “the call to abandon the attachments of this world.” The theme of the book is summarized in one potent sentence: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Platt characterizes what he considers the conventional “attachments” from which American Christians suffer: materialism, addiction to physical comfort, a need to be entertained, lack of devotion to the Word, lack of concern for the world. He exhorts his readers to loose themselves from these chains—and offers them a new set, a burning desire to “do something great for God.”
Platt tells of believers around the world he considers sufficiently sold out to God, but none of them seem to be afflicted with this desire. They are certainly devoted to living faithful lives, and I expect they are confident God will use their faithfulness to accomplish His purposes. But Platt offers no examples of, say, South Koreans who have set aside their own relatively affluent lifestyles in order to do something great for God in another country.
Which gets to my point about cultural imperialism. There is a peculiarly American faith in the self-evident superiority of our thinking. Whether it be our approach to economics or entertainment or government or spirituality, we figure that those who resist our thinking simply don’t understand—yet. And so we blithely export our ideas in these areas, ignoring how well or badly those ideas have worked for us. We know what’s best, even if we aren’t able to live it.
Platt urges his readers to jettison materialism and center their lives around spreading a truth that—in his own opinion—they understand poorly and are unable to exemplify in their own lives. I’m afraid this only trades one worldly attachment for another; the lust for comfort is replaced by the lust for power.
I wish that people like David Platt who push a vision for the church would at least wait long enough to show us how it has worked out for their own local congregation. But I wish even more they would take to heart something else that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, in Life Together:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first and accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
(I agreed to review this book for Waterbrook Multnomah books, in exchange for which they sent me a free copy.)