Paul Tripp: the American dream compromises Christian community

Posted: June 16, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Discipleship/Sanctification

I’m excited that the New Calvinists are challenging the American-evangelical synthesis that blesses the assumptions of American life with religious approval.  At the Desiring God blog, Paul Tripp states it about as strongly and as well as it can be said:

I read a book on stress a few years back, and the author made a side comment that I thought was so insightful. He said that the highest value of materialistic western culture is not possessing. It’s actually acquiring.

If you’re a go-getter you never stop. And so the guy who is lavishly successful doesn’t quit, because there are greater levels of success. “My house could be bigger, I could drive better cars, I could have more power, I could have more money.”…

You can’t fit God’s dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It’s a radically different lifestyle. It just won’t squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that’s left over.

And I’m as much seduced by that as anybody. We have sold our four-bedroom house because our kids are gone, and we’ve bought a loft in Chinatown, Philadelphia. And we’re amazed at how simple our life has become. We’re grieving over how we let our life get so complicated.

Last year, for example, I put almost $2,500 worth of gas in my car. This year, I’ve put $159 in the first quarter. It’s because we’re walking places, and that slows our life down, and we’re near the people in our church because we’re within walking distance of the church. And we’ve had so many natural encounters with people because of that.

We’re living in a much smaller place. We got rid of most of our stuff. As we went through it, we laughed about how we just collected stuff. All that stuff has to be maintained. It grabs your heart, it grabs your schedule, it grabs your time. It becomes a source of worry and concern and need to pay.

So we’ve just been confronted with how all of those things that aren’t evil in themselves become the complications of life that keep us away from the kind of community that we need in order to hold on to our identity.

Let me be clear about a couple of things.  First, I’m a beneficiary of the American dream and of the incredible opportunity that America offers to so many of its citizens.  I’m not suggesting a political overhaul that would deny that to others, but rather that we as Christians may want to reevaluate how living a fully American life might compromise the higher priority of living a fully Christian life.  Second, as in so many things, I’m much more in the thinking and talking phase of this than in the acting phase, so I don’t want to pretend that I’ve got it figured out.  I did think that this was worth sharing, though.

I think that the New Calvinism seems to share some of the same concerns that the Emerging church movement does.   The best example of this that I know is Mark Driscoll’s ties to the Emerging leaders early in his career, before they parted ways.  Adherents of both seek a more authentic commitment to God and the Christian life than they find in the American evangelical mainstream.  What’s so exciting about the New Calvinism, in my opinion, is that it addresses the concerns of the Emerging movement in a biblically faithful and confident way, in contrast to some in the Emerging movement’s uncomfortableness with traditional doctrines.  As I’ve said before, I’m watching the New Calvinist movement with great excitement.

If you want to see what I’ve written on the New Calvinist movement, check here for of my posts with this tag.

If you want to see my analysis of the Emerging movement from the perspective of challenging the American-evangelical synthesis, you can see it here.

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