9/30/14

Why the "American Dream" Should STILL Matter to Young Evangelicals!

A few months ago, the Gospel Coalition released an editorial that went viral in the evangelical world entitled, "5 Observations about Younger Southern Baptists." The observations they published were as follows:

1. Younger Southern Baptists have chastened expectations regarding political engagement.
2. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be Reformed-ish.
3. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be theologically conservative without holding to certain cultural distinctives.
4. Younger Southern Baptists are all over the spectrum when it comes to eschatology.
5. Younger Southern Baptists are focused more on local church ministry and less on Convention meetings.

Going to a very large conservative Southern Baptist Seminary I can testify to the accuracy of these observations. In fact, my suspicion is that these observations may in fact apply to young evangelicals as a whole to an extent. Some of the qualities mentioned are good, all "can" be good if rightly applied, but some I see as dangerous. I need to temper my comments with this before I continue: I do believe personally that the SBC is going in an excellent direction in most areas, and I would not want to go to any other seminary than the one I'm at now (biblical eldership, a focus on God's sovereignty, a renewed interest in repentance, etc. are all amazing steps in the right direction!). It is however, my opinion that as a whole, young evangelicals have been affected by a subversive hyper-Calvinism that threatens to undermine the whole enterprise. What do I mean by this?

David Platt, who was just elected to the International Mission Board (who I love, and everyone should read Radical!), made this statement in an interview on Christianpost.com:
I believe that the gospel and the American Dream have fundamentally different starting points. The American Dream begins with self, exalts self, says you are inherently good and you have in you what it takes to be successful so do all you can, work with everything you have to make much of yourself.
Now you may be wondering, what does this have to do with hyper-Calvinism? David Platt is a Calvinist, like a lot of the young popular preachers affecting young evangelicals (i.e. John Piper, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Paul Washer, etc. etc.) I don't believe any these men are hyper-Calvinists, but there does exist an attitude, especially in the younger guys such as Platt that, if wrongly understood, can lead to an apathy.

[That's what hyper-Calvinism is by the way: the idea that God will do his will regardless of our efforts, therefore we should not attempt to participate in things like prayer/missions/etc. It's a kind of fatalism. Typically, when this term is being defined the story of William Carey comes up as he goes before his church to float his idea for missions in India. An older man tells Carey to "Sit down!" because "When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid!" This encounter prompted Carey, a Calvinist, to write An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens-(You almost don't need to read the book with a title that long!). In effect, Carey argues that God in His power and sovereignty ordains people like you and I to carry out His tasks. God isn't just concerned with what happens, but how it happens, and with whom it happens!]

Ok, back to the hyper-Calvinism of today's young evangelicals! So, young evangelicals are pretty pumped about missions (just recall to your mind how many of your friends who are evangelical have gone on a short term mission! I know...it's pretty amazing, and cool!). Young evangelicals are also pumped about the local church, as a whole. Praise God! Young evangelicals think God can use them to do just about anything but. . . change America, or more specifically, change America's political system. I had a prominent preacher tell me a few years ago that there was no difference between mopping floors and being elected to public office (and he wasn't referring to how God sees them both as acts of worship, he was referring to how they are both equally as effective). I had a young man tell me this exact statement when I told him I might want to be a lawyer and defend the church. "God will defend his church." Sound familiar huh?!

So what does the Platt quote have to do with anything? Am I going after David Platt? No I'm not going after David Platt. I absolutely love David Platt and his teaching and agree with everything I've heard him say. So what am I doing then? I'm using Platt's quote as an example of something much bigger. In fact, Platt probably got his quote from similar statements made by John Piper in "Don't Waste Your Life," one of my favorite books. There is a general disinterest and disengagement in politics among young evangelicals. There is also a hatred for what's called the "American Dream." My opinion is this: the two are related. Let me further explain.

The American Dream, defined the way that Platt and Piper define it is horrible. If it's all about self, power, and money, I don't want any of it and neither should you. Casting Crowns had a song a few years back called "American Dream" that spoke of the futility of living life for "stuff." It's hip these days to hate commercialism, and by extension hate the "conservative politics" (i.e. Republican party, tea party, etc.) that seek to defend the "American Dream." This may be a backlash against the concerns of the parents of young evangelicals. They saw their parents get so involved in trying to be the "moral majority," and "take America back," and "vote the 'liberals' out," that they felt the Gospel was lost. Now in an overreaction to display the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, those things are becoming devalued. My ethics professor told me that even important issues like abortion are being left behind by young evangelicals in favor of "preaching the Gospel," as if the two were mutually exclusive. Young evangelicals want to distance themselves from the "right-wing," or those who "defend the American dream," for the simple purpose that they see it as baggage attached to what they really love: the Gospel. You have to admire the motivation here! But I contend, this is a grave error. Esau sold his birthright for at least something he could eat. Some young evangelicals are selling their Christian heritage for something they will never get, the approval of the world. We ought to defend the unborn and get involved politically because of the Gospel!

So where does the American Dream fit in, and why do evangelicals need it. C.T. Studd, one of the greatest mobilizers for missions in history was given an inheritance from his father of 3 million dollars. 1 million was given to George Muller's orphanage. 1 million was given to form Moody Bible Institute. 1 million was given to the China Inland Mission. God used capitalism (the means) to fund Christian education and missions (the ends). The American Dream traditionally defined by political conservatives is not a mode of self-worship, it's a mode of wealth creation based upon the biblical ideas of private property, hard work, and wise stewardship. You cannot understand the parables of Christ without understanding the concept of monetary investment. You cannot read Proverbs without understanding that God cares about how money is used. You cannot read the Old Testament (or the book of Acts for that matter) without realizing that private property is a good thing! All of overseas missions is funded by capitalism. If we define the American Dream a little differently, like I believe it ought to be defined it would go something like this: "The opportunity to pursue God's will in providing for yourself and your family in peace and security". Suddenly, it's not such a bad thing anymore is it? Without the American Dream, there is no foreign missions, feeding the poor, etc.

So to conclude---I'm not bashing anybody. I have had numerous conversations with friends about these issues and It's a concern I've developed. I'm not saying, "You're all wrong!" I'm saying, "Be very careful!" We should hate materialism. But we should love the freedom to have and spend disposable income. That's Gospel-fuel folks! Just because our parents decided to spend all their money on mirrors with which to look at themselves doesn't mean money is the problem. We can spend ours on different things (and I'm speaking "macro" here...my parents didn't do that!). God uses the American Dream. The Bible gives us the American Dream. Young evangelicals should defend the American dream in the political realm if they still care about missions and poverty, while encouraging individual's to spend their money with a Kingdom-focus. For those who are discouraged about the political climate know this, God is the One who raises up kings and destroys kings, but he's also the One that moves in the heart of some and not others. Are you prepared to stop witnessing because God's Spirit is not currently working on an individual's heart? Neither should you stop being involved politically. It is God who ultimately changes anything, not us! I don't even fully understand this mystery, but it's super-awesome that God uses us to accomplish His ends. Wouldn't you agree? Now get out there and share the Gospel. . . and vote!

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