Is the American Dream right or wrong?

advice header image

Is the American Dream right or wrong?

Mar 08, 2010 |John Thomas
Question

I've been pondering whether the "American Dream" (go to college, get a good job, marry, have kids, retire early) is really something that I should be pursuing as a Christian.

These questions were motivated by re-reading the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 10; Jesus says to "lay up your treasure in heaven" and that "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." I've searched Boundless and found a few articles by Marshall Allen that were excellent ("American Idols I-IV").

But I'm curious, do you have any more articles on the American Dream and advancing the kingdom of God? Are these two things even compatible? Do you know any good resources or books that address this topic? It's something I'd like to study and delve into more.

Answer

The "American Dream" can conjure up a lot of different ideas. It might be better to drop that phrase and talk in terms of heart and motives, because, as Christ said and you made reference to, where your heart is, is what you treasure.

That's helpful in this discussion because the pursuit of marriage or education or a career or even early retirement might not be a bad thing at all. It might be a very good and godly thing. It all depends.

Whenever I have this conversation, and it's one of my favorites, the issue is often presented as if God gives us an either/or option. Either we pursue Him, or we pursue (fill-in-the-blank with spouse, job, education, etc.) because you can't pursue both.

Well, yes and no. God does want us to make it our first priority to pursue Him, His Kingdom and His righteousness ... but marriage, work, parenting, learning and a number of other things are clearly biblical concepts, and in pursuing them we might be pursuing God as well.

To try to capture what was meant negatively by the "American Dream," apologist Francis Schaeffer used the phrase "the pursuit of personal peace and affluence." He argued that once God is removed from the equation, a person is left with only their own self-interest for which to live, and eventually would be willing to attain it at any cost.

If that is what we mean by the "American Dream," then of course we know the answer. The entire testimony of Scripture is opposed to such a lifestyle.

Where this gets tricky is where two people have the same action on the surface but one is right in the center of God's will for his life and the other couldn't be any further away from what God has for him.

Let's take early retirement, since you mentioned it. Let's imagine two guys working their guts out to retire early. Biblical or not? Well, we don't know because we don't have enough information. We have no idea what their motives are.

If one is hoping to retire early in order to free up more time to pursue what he believes God has for him beyond his career, and he is seeking God for direction in that season of life, then we'd probably all agree that his pursuit of early retirement is a glory to God.

If one is hoping to retire early in order to spend the remainder of his life on personal pleasure with no consideration at all about what God would have for him, then we'd likely agree that his "Dream" is in conflict with the heart of God.

So the issue is about motives and priorities and ultimate goals and whether God is in the equation as your Master or something or someone (namely you) else is. If the decisions we are making in life really boil down to moving us toward getting more and bigger "stuff," whether it be cars, houses, vacations, bank accounts or whatever, for our own "personal peace and affluence," then yes, that "Dream" is in direct opposition to Kingdom life.

If, on the other hand, we're making decisions based on what we believe God has for us in various stages and seasons of life, and we're yielding those decisions to the wisdom of Scripture, the discipline of prayer and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, then we're probably pretty close to dreaming the same dream God has for us.

So first, check your motives (about marriage and education and money and career and every major decision), and then allow room for God to take you down both familiar paths that look like the "American Dream" and those that look radically different from it.

The path itself is not the main thing. It's what (or Whom) the path leads to that matters. We will get to the end of that path and discover, for better or worse, what our treasure was — and who our master was — all along.

You might have already read it, but a book I'd recommend along these lines is John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. It's an easy read (but very challenging) and theologically strong.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to editor@boundless.org. Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.

Donate

Like what you see?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, will you consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Boundless right now? We’re a donor-funded ministry, and we rely on friends like you to help keep us going! DONATE NOW »

References
  • .

THE BOUNDLESS BUZZ

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and stay up to date on Boundless news, articles, podcasts and events.