Not long ago, I was listening to National Public Radio as they were interviewing a pastor about his new book that was sweeping the nation. Having been caught up in the Purpose Driven Life spectacle a few years before, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about this new idea.
That Sunday, I visited Sunday School for the first time and listened as the teacher read from that very same book, or something I suspect was an earlier version. I didn’t really know all that much about the book. It was written by the pastor of a mega-church in a capital city in one of the southern states. The pastor in question wasn’t a stranger to overseas travel, having visited over a dozen countries. Knowing only these two facts, I surmised that he hadn’t ever known what it was like to live from paycheck to paycheck, however there is really no way to know for certain.
He complained that the church had wandered away from the true gospel by pushing the Prosperity gospel and similar doctrines. He proposed that we ought to live within our means, or live far under our means and use the difference to bring glory to God. He believed that the American Dream was keeping Christianity in chains and that the latter needed to be rescued from the former. The problem is that my American Dream might be vastly different from your American Dream.
Now the often used example of an American Dream is this: A house (presumably not in need of repair, with good bones, and well insulated, not too small, a bonus would be with a 2 or three car garage), 2.5 kids (presumably well behaved and adjusted, making contributions to society in meaningful way, without any major life-threatening medical issues and not getting into trouble with the law) a white picket fence (also not falling apart, with that freshly painted look) and possibly an apple pie cooling on the counter top. After all, if you’re Christian, you can’t have a house that isn’t a death-trap because that’s just too extravagant and you’re supposed to be modest.
The pastor asked if you would be willing to live as if you didn’t have a 150,000 yearly income, but as if you actually made 50,000 a year. He pointed out that 100,000 a year could go a lot of places and do a lot of things. Certainly true. It could buy a lot of fish and feed people, but it could also teach a lot of people to fish so that they could feed themselves.
The essence of the American Dream is to live better than the last generation did. One man’s American Dream might be to find a cure for cancer. I don’t see how you have to give up that dream to be a Christian. Materialism is a problem in Christianity, that I don’t deny. It was there in the early days when Ananias and Sapphira decided to skim off of the top of the collection plate, so to speak. So what does the Bible tell rich people to do with their money? Well, there was this one guy who was told to sell his belongings, but what about all the other rich people? Basically, be humble, be generous, be willing to give, be nice to your slaves – which would mean paid servants in today’s vernacular. The Bible doesn’t tell them to free their slaves, sell off their possessions, live in a tent, and give the proceeds to charity. Nor does it tell us to.
The truth is that when it comes to riches, there is nobody richer than the poorest Christian – mostly due to the promises found in the Gospel. When I used to do car washes, who do you think gave the most? The poorer Christian who doesn’t have much to give or the richer Christian who could stand to give away more than they do? It was the poorer Christian who was better at giving, every single time. The thing about giving is that if you give because you’re rich and you need a tax credit doesn’t fix the issue that is in your heart. You could give half of everything you own away and still not fix your heart – only the gospel can do that. Materialism has a strong grip, but God has never let anybody go.