The American Dream is Dangerous

I heard this morning that the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world. How did this happen? Amazingly to most of us, the Torah anticipated just such a scenario:

[T]he author [of Deuteronomy] was writing to well-to-do landowners. He was concerned that they remember from whence they came and on whom they needed to rely. He treated their economic prosperity as a threat to their required humility before God. He sought to counter this tendency to self-sufficiency by reminding them of their past slavery; and of their dependence on God for a bountiful harvest. He limited their ambitions by emphasizing the need for sabbath rest, and sabbath years. The requirement to rejoice and hold feasts also served to restrict their utilitarianism. He believed that they themselves were not ultimately responsible for their prosperity, and that they would be in the position of the widow, fatherless and alien if tragedy befell them.[1]

Something about the way I’m wired means that everywhere I look I see the consequences of bad theology. To me it’s like looking at heat under infrared, the connections are so glaring and direct. America was settled on the basis of a dangerous and diabolic theology called Manifest Destiny (more on that in another post), and when the impetus of that cooled a new twist was thrown into our lives during the 1950s. Having driven men to misinterpret the Torah, the Adversary now drove them to ignore it. Loosed from our moorings, without an eternal standard of morality, we lost any ability to accurately recognize injustice, and lost the benefit of the practical life instruction God had included for His people.

These days, gratitude is a thing of the past; I see more athletes pound their own chest after a great play than point a finger toward heaven. I hear even pastors talk about how they were a “champion for Jesus” and you can be one too, if you’ll just pull yourself up by your own boot straps and take the initiative like they did.

Today overwhelming percentages even of the well-to-do can be described as fatherless, and waves and waves of people feel lost and alien in their own culture. We have lost our way and substituted the American Dream for the biblical prescriptions; often by reinterpreting biblical language to support our misguided priorities.


[1]Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 106.

9 thoughts on “The American Dream is Dangerous

  1. Thought you would be interested that I’m studying the Pentatuch at school for the next 5 weeks. Torah Story is the pprescribed reading.

  2. Speaking of the consequences of bad theology – what’s your view of Rob Bell nowadays?

  3. That while I wouldn’t say things like he says them, he is asking questions that need to be asked. I don’t necessarily agree with where he tends to land on every issue, but he is not the heretic that so many are accusing him of being.

    However, he doesn’t do himself any favors in that department by being intentionally provocative. On the other hand, while he is alienating entire portions of the established church, he is being heard by entire portions of our population that can’t hear the established church. So God is definitely using Rob.

    I like what Eugene Peterson had to say:

    “Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister. We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God. And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight. I think that’s bad family manners.

    I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

    I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement. I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him. He may not be right. But he’s doing something worth doing. There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal. We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way. …

    Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ. Everything has to be interpreted through Christ. Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness. The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees. But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment. There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.”

  4. And I would add this on the topic of Rob Bell and his detractors. Is Rob Bell right on everything? Of course not. Is John Piper right on everything? Of course not.

    But if I ask myself, who understands the entire story of the Bible more accurately, John Piper or Rob Bell? Rob Bell wins; both in terms of understanding and in terms of Christ-like behavior in this last debacle.

  5. By the way, just so there isn’t a misunderstanding, I don’t know who John Piper is or anything about “this last debacle”. Just curious about your thoughts on Rob Bell.

  6. OK Nate, I would strongly disagree with you on the John Piper comment – one of my favorites. Hope you understand.

    As far as Rob Bell, remember – the right question is the easy part. A biblically insightful answer is a much different animal. This is where Rob Bell (and the emergent church) falls far short.
    While I don’t necessarily have the answer to the American Churches shortcomings, I don’t want to start a movement of people in it’s criticism with my opinion as their source.
    We need help, not opinion and cynicism.

  7. Hey, Jack; I understand. In fact, I love Piper as well…although I have sort of a love-hate relationship with the guy because he is SO good on some things that I find it difficult to comprehend how he could possibly miss it so egregiously on others.  It’s kind of a “too whom much is given…” kind of thing…because Piper’s been given so much insight, I have difficulty “forgiving” the other areas….; it’s also a because he’s been given such an enormous platform, I hold him to a higher standard than I might otherwise kind of thing. However, when it comes to telling the whole story of Scripture, Piper is missing some big things here, and N.T. Wright has taken him to school on this (don’t get me wrong, I take issue with some of Wright’s conclusions as well) , but Piper just can’t see past his theological heroes on the topic. Which is ironic for such a biblicist, to say the least. As a result, Piper tells a mostly true story of Scripture, but not a complete story of Scripture. (That would take an entire thesis to unpack…which I’m working on…sorry, but it’s going to be a while). Short hand version: is the crux of the Gospel more accurately described by “Sin and Redemption” or “Covenant and Blessing” ?  Answer: while “Sin and Redemption” is most emphatically true, it leaves part of the fuller story out. As for Rob Bell, people keep comparing him to the Emergent Church…which reveals that they’re not actually listening to Rob. I agree with you on a movement of criticism being a negative thing…and ultimately not often helpful (especially over the long haul), but that doesn’t describe Rob Bell (although it often describes accurately the emergent folks). “We need help, not opinion and cynicism”  Amen to that!

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