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Book Review

Questioning ‘the American dream’

The book’s title says it all. The author believes that too many US Christians have equated evangelical faith with the ‘American dream’—with debilitating results. He himself is American and pastors a mega-church, but he works hard to fight against the substandard aspects of Christian life and belief that he pinpoints in the book: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream by David Platt (Multnomah Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-60142-222-4).

Leaving aside for a moment his main thesis, I found some of his assumptions wearying, chiefly his frequent insistence that the unevangelised will ‘burn in hell for ever’ in ‘a Christless eternity’, and that the main reason for embracing Christ is to ‘go to heaven when you die’. But I applaud his boldness in daring to question, on biblical grounds, such common notions as:

The author challenges all these notions, and more, then winds up with a practical proposal of five steps to get his readers back on track. It’s radical stuff, but good, and you’ll be challenged, as I myself was, to make some adjustments in both your beliefs and your behaviour.

I like the fact that, as his illustrations show, he himself is actively putting into practice the kind of obedience to Christ that he is advocating. The book is a bit ‘preachy’, but perhaps that’s inevitable in view of the subject-matter. Not a comfortable read, but don’t skip it on those grounds—even if you’re not American!

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers]


I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.  (76)

We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.  (130)

the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.  (213)

The modern-day gospel says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.” Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, “You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.” The former sells books and draws crowds. The latter saves souls. Which is more important?  (435)

Contemporary Christianity sales pitches don’t seem adequate anymore. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Invite Jesus to come into your life. Pray this prayer, sign this card, walk down this aisle, and accept Jesus as your personal Savior. Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seem appropriate.  (490)

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.  (595)

I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God.  (632)

I am frightened by the reality that the church I lead can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent from the picture.  (655)

“God loves me” is not the essence of biblical Christianity. Because if “God loves me” is the message of Christianity, then who is the object of Christianity? God loves me. Me. Christianity’s object is me.  (913)

To disconnect God’s blessing from God’s global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God’s grace.  (924)

We have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.  (946)

At the end of the Son of God’s time on earth, he had staked everything on his relationships with twelve men.  (1151)

Making disciples is not an easy process. It is trying. It is messy It is slow, tedious, even painful at times. It is all these things because it is relational.  (1196)

Whereas disinfecting Christians involves isolating them and teaching them to be good, discipling Christians involves propelling Christians into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others.  (1346)

Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.  (1385)

if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to question just how effective we will be in declaring the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth. More pointedly, if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all.  (1423)

In the dawn of this new phase in redemptive history, no teachers (including Jesus) in the New Testament ever promise material wealth as a reward for obedience.  (1496)

Clearly, God does not command or expect us to meet every need. But the logic that says, “I can’t do everything, so I won’t do anything,” is straight from hell.  (1666)

Many stories are told today of God revealing Christ in dreams and visions around the world to people who have never heard of Jesus. Consequently, many Christians have begun leaning on the hope that God is using other ways to make the gospel known to people who have never heard of Jesus. But we need to remember something. There is not one verse in the book of Acts where the gospel advances to the lost apart from a human agent.  (2012)

John Paton, Jim Elliot, and C. T. Studd all illustrate one fundamental truth: your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward. This is the essence of what Jesus taught in Matthew 10, and I believe it is the key to taking back your faith from the American dream.  (2305)

The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals. We are a global people whose family spans the nations. So first and foremost, I encourage you to be done with church hopping and shopping in a me-centered cultural milieu and to commit your life to a people who need you and whom you need.  (2628)

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