RICHMOND, Va. – With the national political conventions over, the frenzy of a seemingly never-ending presidential campaign shifts into even higher gear as Election Day approaches.
Only two more months of 24/7 political ads – at least for those of us living in battleground states. I can’t wait.
I don’t mean to sound cynical. I’m thankful. Democracy is messy and often dirty, but it sure beats the alternatives. And I’m proud that my kids – I mean, the young adults I still claim as dependents on my tax return – will both be voting for the first time. It’s an interesting election season for them to begin full participation in the privilege of democratic decision-making as citizens. Sure, politicians across the spectrum are delivering lots of low blows and half-truths, as usual. But amid the mudslinging, they’re debating key issues such as the proper role of government, how best to serve the public in difficult economic times and America’s role in the world.
They also are jousting over who is the better custodian of “the American dream.” Speakers mentioned America’s “dream” or “story” more than 150 times at the Republican and Democratic conventions, according to the Associated Press. It’s a timely topic, as fears increase that Americans now entering adulthood will comprise the first generation to experience less prosperity over the course of their working lives than their parents did.
What is “the American dream,” anyway? Everyone has his or her own spin on it. My pastor reminded me that the term itself was coined in 1931 by historian and author James Truslow Adams (1878-1949). Adams described it as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. … It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
The second part of that description, written as the nation was descending into severe economic depression, is instructive. Adams saw the dream as more than just “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” (one of the promises of the 1928 presidential election) – or two garages with luxury SUVs attached to every McMansion, which has typified the dream for some folks in more recent years. Rather, Adams dreamed of a society where every member could freely go as far as his or her striving could take them, unfettered by an oppressive state or the old class system of Europe.
Many people, particularly the immigrants entering America every day, still dream that dream. Noble as it may seem, however, it’s not enough. And as prophetic voices such as David Platt have reminded us, it inevitably conflicts with God’s dream. God did not create us primarily to chase self-realization, prosperity or even “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence. He created us to love Him and to glorify Him among the nations.
“Radical obedience to Christ is not easy. … It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And He is more than enough for us,” Platt wrote in his 2010 book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
If believers continue to opt for the typical American version of Christianity rather than the biblical one, Platt warned, the price will be “high for people who don’t know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the gospel remain in the dark.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. And for a new breed of Christ followers responding to the timeless biblical vision – as opposed to a limited American one – it isn’t that way. Their dream: to proclaim the kingdom of God to their own generation.
Despite the aging of the populations of many developed nations, the world population “quietly hit a tipping point in 2010: Over 50 percent of the people around the globe are now under the age of 25,” reported Mindy Belz in WORLD magazine earlier this year. They’re increasingly part of an “emerging global youth culture in which youth around the world have more in common with each other than they do with the adults in their own culture.”
They’re looking for more than jobs, material things or even freedom. They’re looking for God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/.)