Radical vs. American Dream

David Platt’s book, Radical, begs the question of how to be Christian in America or perhaps in other words, how to be American in Christ.

I think this might be the most difficult thing to Christians and church leaders to reconcile. Can we separate the call of Christ and the incredibly strong pull of the American Dream?

A thought came to me the other day that following Jesus has brought me to the brink – it brought into light all my inadequacies, weaknesses, fears of failure, disappointing people, compromising my kids’ future, all of it. I am at times, seized with terror about what it means to be a Christian, not just believe in Jesus and his work on the cross, but in the daily mundane decisions to submit my life to him. What kind of bed should I buy? Where should I live? What school should I go to? How much do we give? How much do we save? Where do the kids go to school? And on and on we go about trying to be faithful. And it’s not easy. In some ways, these are some of the more difficult questions of discipleship.

But the other night I saw on TV, the Winter X Games where young men and women defied gravity and overcame a totally different set of fears snowboarding and skiing doing stunts and tricks that clearly required a hardshell helmet.

Then it occurred to me that the American Dream often encourages people to overcome their fears for things that don’t matter. To perform a front flip in a snowmobile – something that had never been done in history – I concede must be incredibly difficult, but in light of the neighborhood, of this week even means very little. That we would run away from the intimacy in our marriages in favor of meeting sales quotas for a heavily taxed salary to pay for a house that is entirely too big for a family that can’t weather the storm but would save our face in a board meeting. Most of our lives are still stuck in what Thoreau called “quiet desperation.” We escape into addictions, hobbies, distractions, and even extreme lifestyles all the while refusing to face our greatest fears – knowing ourselves. No helmet required.

Platt is quick to point out that even most churches waste a lot of their resources, preoccupations, and time into activities that have nothing to do with the pursuit of the Christ-like life. Which means, if I might be so bold, that we cannot even reconcile the paradox of being Christian in America today. I walk around with a firm sense of my hypocrisy realizing that I can’t be radical without this awareness. Reconciliation begins when you have a sense of the cost of complacency and are willing to do the hard work of investing time in the ordinary fears of the everyday.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

3 responses to “Radical vs. American Dream

  • Ruth Arnold

    I really enjoyed this book and felt as though David articulated a great challenge to American Christians to look at our lives in a different way. I hope as David continues in his own journey to engage with the poor that he will continue to look into best practices for healthy and productive engagement. He has a great platform and a great voice. I would love to see his message be one that leads to the most effective ministry possible!

    • David Park

      thanks for the comment, ruth. my suspicions about the book are true then, eh? (i’m only halfway through). i think it’s a very interesting tack to call first world churches to take notes from the third world, but not pay attention to the barriers of economics. i hope he gets to the realization that you mention. there needs to be productive engagement. as always, i love the way you think.

  • Ruth Arnold

    As I continued to read I had this insatiable urge to send him a copy of “When Helping Hurts”. I heartily appreciate his desire to help but most of his approaches aren’t very productive in accomplishing the goals he has. 🙂 I’m sure if he sticks around very long with this, someone will get him that book as well as other great resources.

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