The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“Taking back your faith from the American Dream…”

posted by jmcgee

In the New York Times, David Brooks has taken aim at “the prosperity gospel,” and fires a few well-aimed shots:

In the coming years of slow growth, people are bound to establish new norms and seek noneconomic ways to find meaning. One of the interesting figures in this recalibration effort is David Platt.

Platt earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At age 26, he was hired to lead a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala., and became known as the youngest megachurch leader in America.

Platt grew uneasy with the role he had fallen into and wrote about it in a recent book called “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” It encapsulates many of the themes that have been floating around 20-something evangelical circles the past several years.

Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.”

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Him do it. This perception evolved into the notion that we have two interdependent callings: to build in this world and prepare for the next.

The tension between good and plenty, God and mammon, became the central tension in American life, propelling ferocious energies and explaining why the U.S. is at once so religious and so materialist. Americans are moral materialists, spiritualists working on matter.

Platt is in the tradition of those who don’t believe these two spheres can be reconciled. The material world is too soul-destroying. “The American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the Gospel,” he argues. The American dream emphasizes self-development and personal growth. Our own abilities are our greatest assets.

But the Gospel rejects the focus on self: “God actually delights in exalting our inability.” The American dream emphasizes upward mobility, but “success in the kingdom of God involves moving down, not up.”

Check out the rest.

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Myron Kent

posted September 8, 2010 at 2:30 am

I doubt very seously you’ll understand this but Here Goes:Faith is an Action: Based on Belief: Sustained by Confidence: A,action

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posted September 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

Does this guy pass the Tea Party Test:
Don’t help others if it would bother me in any way!

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posted September 8, 2010 at 12:43 pm

This is all well and good. But, if Rev. Platt is talking to people for whom living as if they made $50,000 a year is a sacrifice, he ain’t talking to most people. He’s certainly not talking to most people who are married and have more than one kid. I wonder how the Catholic schools would react if a family came to them for financial assistance because they gave half their income away so they can no longer afford to pay full tuition. Hmmm…
Having said that, I think much of what he has to say is spot on. Living the Gospel means living the Gospel consciously. What we decide to do with our time, our money and our skills speaks volumes to how committed we are to living the Gospel.

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posted September 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Anyone who goes after the “Mega Churches” of America garners my attention! I’ve yet to see one with a cross, which is why to call them “Christian” is nothing short of a joke or well needed rationalization.
IMO, if God was “testing” us as a country, it was the last presidential election. There is no question America voted mammon, (or at least thought they did), over life. Sadly, many Catholics were among them.
So look where it took us a country; broke and still killing 4000 babies a day via abortion, in addition to a new fight for the destruction of more embryos, and the increased funding of abortions wordwide by American Taxpayers.
Not or until we as a country figure out that only God can save us will there by any hope. I suspect the pain will have to get pretty bad before most get a clue that we are more about “us” and our mammon than our Creator.

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posted September 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Actually I understand the word “abortion” is not mentioned in the Bible and, based on all the miscarriages, if one believes their god is in charge of such things then that god is heavily into abortions, too.

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Deacon Norb

posted September 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

A significant number of independent evangelical congregations who strive to be — and often do become — “mega-churches” follow an over-riding theology known as the “Prosperity Message.”
The theory assumes that if you are loyal to Jesus, He will be loyal to you. If you love Jesus, He will love you. The sign of that love and loyalty is how well your congregation/ church (or even your individual family) does financially. The more money the congregation (or you) are able to raise, the more successful you are. AND the more successful you are, the more you reflect the graciousness of the Lord God. Your prosperity becomes a cosmic sign that you are “saved” and are among the most blessed by God
Now, history has pretty much proven to third-party observers of the American Religious scene that the “prosperity message” is really a license to steal in the name of the Lord.
Recall Jimm and Tammy Faye Bakker’s pyramid scheme at Heritage USA a few miles south of the airport at Charlotte NC ? Or how about the rise and fall of Jimmy Swaggart ? Both were heavy promoters of the “Prosperity Message”and both fell hard.
What I find fascinating from this original post is that — at first — it seemed to say that some evangelical pastor has the guts to say the “prosperity message” is all a sham.

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posted September 8, 2010 at 4:38 pm

First century Jews held to much the same idea as adherents of the prosperity gospel. Not having a well-formed doctrine on life after death, most believed that God rewarded the faithful with material wealth here. Recall, for instance, the Book of Job, where Job was understood to be a righteous man when he was wealthy. When he lost everything, it was only natural to conclude that he had somehow offended God.
This makes the disciples’ reaction to Jesus understandable when He told them that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. (NB: never mind the idea that a gate into Jerusalem called “the needle’s eye” was a tight squeeze for camels and this is what Jesus was talking about; no such gate existed) The rich were regarded as the righteous, those who had found favor with God. This was why God had rewarded them with wealth. The disciples’ reaction, then, was the same as our would be had Jesus told us that Mother Teresa has a one in a million chance of getting into heaven. “Lord,” they exclaimed, “then who can be saved?”
Jesus’ answer was as true for them as it is for us: “For man, it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.” So, it isn’t being rich, or poor, or righteous or clever or what have you. Salvation is by the grace of God. Nothing more. Nothing less. For God, all things are possible; even that we might be saved.
As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There will be many surprises in heaven. And the biggest surprise is that you and I will be there!”

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posted September 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

My, how clever of you! Why didn’t I ever think of that? Well, you’ve certainly convinced me that there is no god! Or that abortion is a moral good. Of which were trying to convince us?
Am I being inhospitable to a non-Catholic guest on this Catholic blog? Oh, alright, I’ll stop.
You should know, though, that Catholic doctrine isn’t based only on Scripture, so the fact that the word “abortion” isn’t in the Bible is irrelevant. So, you can put that stone back in your bag.
That God is “heavily into abortions”, as you put it, is clear. God is heavily into every death. In fact, one of the claims Jesus made to divinity was when he healed a man on the Sabbath and declared that “the Father works on the Sabbath, and so do I.” The Jews understood that God worked on the Sabbath because people were born on the Sabbath and people died on the Sabbath. So, by claiming the right to work on the Sabbath, Jesus was claiming the authority to do God’s work: life and death. That is, He was claiming to be God.
Are you scandalized that God is in the business of death? You shouldn’t be. He’s God. That’s the point, of course. God is God. You are not. I am not. Life and death are God’s work. Not yours. Not mine. Not anyone’s but God’s. So, if a miscarriage takes place by God’s design, though we know not why or pretend to understand, we allow that God’s will is supreme and His ways are not our ways (just as He said). We have His promise that, when all is said and done, we will understand. But, for us to claim authority over innocent life, to decide by our poor faculties that this one may live and this one must die … Well, that’s trying to be God. As Pope said (Alexander Pope, not Pope Alexander): “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

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posted September 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Bob what you say makes sense to a believing Catholic I’m sure but I think there are a lot of people, including some Catholics, to whom it doesn’t make sense.
We prescribe death fairly often. Criminals are executed. War is waged. Triage is performed. These happen when there’s a need to do them (or people in power are convinced there is).
Well women and families have needs, too, and sometimes those include the need to not be pregnant at this time. It takes a male power structure, I think, to ignore the needs of the women and families in order to meet only the imagined needs of the blastocysts, zygotes, embryos and fetuses (bzef’s for convenience). Roe vs. Wade was a remarkably well-designed attempt to balance those needs. I would urge y’all to support it.
But of course you owe your allegiance to an old never-married man in a palace in a tiny country in Rome rather than to your fellow citizens, and to an institution whose most successful endeavor over the last decades has been hiding child abusers and offering them new opportunities in new communities.

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posted September 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Again, you prove yourself too clever by half. I hadn’t heard the old “Catholics have a divided loyalty” smear in some time. I thought that one had died a thousands deaths when good ol’ JFK sold his soul in Houston back in ’60. Guess not. Let’s just say, once again, that this is America. I have the right to form my conscience according to whatever lights I decide, and then to vote my conscience without hounds like yourself insisting that my motives are somehow less than pure by your nativist standards.
Yes, of course, the sex scandal. Too good to resist, I suppose. In actual fact, possibly the most successful endeavor of the Catholic Church in recent decades has been to reduce the number of new abuse victims from hundreds back in the sixties and seventies to less than two per year over the last decade. Had any other institution accomplished such a feat, you and others would be singing its praises and demanding that other institutions copy its methods. But, since it’s the Catholic Church we’re talking about, I suppose that’s just asking too much. After all, it’s not really about protecting the children, is it? BTW, if it’s the abuse of children you’re concerned about, I certainly hope you don’t have any kids in public schools. They’re still all about passing the trash.
We prescribe death too often, in my mind. There is no need to execute criminals in this country. Triage doesn’t belong on the list, since it’s a method of determining who can be saved and who can’t be saved, and reserving resources to those who can be, which is hardly the same as prescribing death. War may be necessary in defense of self or of the defenseless, but even these are subject to justice. But, who are these people in power of whom you speak? This is the United States. We’re a representative democracy. You vote for these people, just as I do. The people in power be you, sir (or madam, as the case may be). The bottom line is, the only justification for taking life, whether by execution, war or self-defense, is the defense of life and justice. This is why the Church condemns indiscriminate killing, or the purposeful targeting of innocents in war, and why the Church condemns the executing criminals, even those who have committed heinous crimes, when there are other means to protect society.
So, what life or justice are we protecting by direct abortion, the willful killing of innocent human life? Oh, but these are only blastocysts, zygotes, embryos and fetuses. Who cares about these lives? Are they even human? Why, they’re so different from us, they can’t possibly count for anything or matter to anyone. Well, I can’t say I haven’t heard that argument before. You’re nothing if not unoriginal, madam (or sir, as the case may be).
Roe v. Wade was a remarkably transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable: the willful, killing of innocent human life. I wouldn’t be too comfortable supporting such attempts. Humans have a long history of justifying the killing of those they intend to kill, anyway. Who’s to say you won’t find your own head on that block? Who will speak for you?

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posted September 8, 2010 at 11:53 pm

My friends and family would speak for me. Some of those whose lives I’ve affected would, I think, speak for me. Those who depend on me would probably speak for me. Those I interact with might speak for me.
Funny thing is, bzefs don’t have any of those interactions. But the important thing is that they are, in fact, less than people. Some are so much less than people they are incomparable, some are closer to being people. And Roe v. Wade recognizes those differences and lets states protect the later term bzefs more than the earlier term bzefs.
The “life or justice” protected by needed abortions are the lives of the women and families, the real people, who have decided that they can’t handle a pregnancy at this time. You apparently don’t consider such things important but it’s not for you (or me) to judge.
And regarding the abuse. If it’s been cut down that’s good. But if we’ve learned anything it is that what you hear about is not necessarily what’s happening. It’s going to take decades of actual openness before the wise observer will trust the hierarchy.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

The American Dream has been different things at different times in American History. For most of American History the Dream was the right to worship (or not worship) as one chose. The greed has always been there. In the Devil and Daniel Webster, Attorney Webster says to the Devil he is a “foreign prince”. Devil responds, “When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there! When the first slave ship rounded the Cape, I was there! I am as American as you!”

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posted September 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

“The important thing is that they are, in fact, less than people.”
Well, there you have it in a nutshell. You declare this as a fact, yet it’s really a statement of faith. You don’t believe they’re people, so you believe they’re expendable. Again, I can’t say I’ve not heard that argument before. It’s what I call the “abortion mentality”: the quickest and easiest and cheapest way to get rid of people with whom we have a conflict is to define them as non-persons so we don’t have to feel too bad about killing them.
We wanted the land, so we decided that the natives were somehow less than people. We needed cheap labor, so we decided the African was more comparable to a dancing bear than a person. We don’t want to bother with the murderer, and we want revenge besides, so we call them monsters.
That’s what we do in war, too, isn’t it? We didn’t fight the Germans and Japanese in WWII. No, we fought the Krauts and Nips. We didn’t fight the Vietnamese in Vietnam, we fought the Gooks. De-humanizing the one we intend to kill is always the first step in making it easier to kill them.
I’m sure all of their families and friends spoke for them, too.
So, where is this evidence that the one in the womb is not a person? You declare it a fact, so it ought to be able to be proved pretty easily. Mind you, you’ll have to come up with something other than biology, physiology, or human development, since all of those point to the one in the womb as human life. Or do you make a distinction between human life and personhood? Well, there’s an ominous legal and philosophical fiction. After all, if those people in power to whom you make reference decide that, legally, you are not a person, I doubt the combined voices of your family and friends will stop your being killed. Ask the mothers of the executed how effective were their pleas for mercy.
This is what the issue comes down to, when all is said and done. Who is the one in the womb? There are plenty of women and families who can’t “handle” raising one year olds. I see them all the time in the hospital where I work. But, I don’t hear anyone justifying killing toddlers in order to spare the lives of and provide justice for these women. Not yet, anyway. We don’t talk about killing these children, but of helping their mothers. Yes, we too often fail. Which only means we have to try harder and be willing, as a society, to make the sacrifices necessary so that no one is lost to the dredges of misery and poverty. If we’re willing to help the mother of the toddler, and not kill her baby, we must be willing to help the mother of the fetus, and not kill her baby. But, what we’ve decided, as a society, is that killing is the answer. Why? Three reasons: quick, easy, cheap.
There must be a foundational understanding in the human conscience that the willful destruction of innocent human life is wrong. If that isn’t there, then there’s nothing to protect any of us from the vagaries of those in power who decide that anyone, including you and me, are less than people and, therefore, expendable.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 10:14 am

Yada yada yada Bob. I’d like to say I expected more of you, but after your first post or so I didn’t. The bright line between those you fantasize I want to murder and the bzefs which some women and families have decided to do away with is, those actual people were all born. If you closed your mouth and opened your mind you could realize that. Now goodbye.

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Bishop J. Dennis Moore

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:19 am

Sounds like this David Brooks Guy got his credentials from out of a cracker jax box. And what Ding Bat or Ding bats would put a ding bat like that over a 4,300 Church Bishop J. Dennis Moore

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posted September 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

If people knew the Christ of Christians, they would accept Him. Instead, they see the Christians of Christ and reject Him.
You’ll be surprised at how many who are currently puffed up with their own self importance will find themselves on the “goat” side when Jesus sorts them all out.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

One challenge with BobRN’s comments is that the Native Americans didn’t keep much written historical record, so the point is lost that before we invaded them, they’d invaded someone to get to where they were when we invaded. The tradition of invade-and-conquer is not American; it’s human and will continue long after America is gone. I’m sure the Nips and Krauts had choice names for us. This trend to make us into the bad guys is tiring. We do need to clean up our credit card usage and a few choice things, but we’re not evil gremlins put on earth to horrify the rest of civilzation. Let’s keep a balance.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

If you can’t come up with a good argument to counter my points, for pete’s sake, just say so. They’re very good points, I know, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed. And being sardonic and dismissive just makes you look pathetic.
You offer no rational grounds for dismissing the personhood of the one in the womb. You offer none because you have none. Your only grounds is that you don’t want to recognize his or her personhood because it gets in the way of your feeling okay about killing them.
Just don’t be surprised if one of those people in power decides to someday use the same grounds to feel okay about killing you. The precedent is there.
Now run along and feel superior to the fanatic pro-lifer!
Yes, of course, de-humanizing others in order to feel better about killing them is universal, not limited to Americans. I really hadn’t thought that that point needed to be made. I used American examples because, well, I’m American. I know our history. We’re all the bad guys. That being said, I doubt “They started it!” or “They did it, too!” will work well as a defense when we have to explain ourselves to the Good Guy.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

If I do as the Bible tells me and do everything to the glory of God and I become blessed with wealth, knowledge and what ever else that hard work gets me I should feel ashamed and and feel like my salvation is endangered . Poppy cock
According to what I got out of this article is that I should settle for half of what I could do for myself, live like a hippy in a commune for the good of others and forget myself. My self the the person who is responsible for my salvation and will answer to God for not trying my best and letting Him work His best through me.
A wise woman once said the more money I make the more people I can help.
and a wise man said that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children

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posted September 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I find it humorous that the only people that have problems with Christian prosperity are those that have a lot of money. They want us to be poor, destitute, powerless, voiceless. Properous Christians make them nervous because we can change the political landscape with the influence that comes by wealth.
The Word of God is rife with the promise of wealth that comes by faith used in a Godly manner. I don’t want wealth for myself, I want wealth for those that I can help with it. Too many people want the government to do what the church was meant to do. It doesn’t take one ounce of faith to be poor. Therefore a poor church is a faithless church that abdicates its responsibilities to a godless government that could care less about people.
I don’t hear anyone complaining about Muslim prosperity. Money through oil profits that allows them to buy their piece of the American Dream. So to those spiritual babies that think ‘tolerance’ and faithlessness is the way to God’s blessing: Quit your sniveling and stand up for something! I believe God and I won’t apologize or feel guilty about what he has given me.

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