A while back I responded to a blog post saying that I’d love a copy of a soon-to-be-released book, stating I’d review it on my blog. Well, a few months, one kid, and a lot of sleepless nights later, I’ve finished the book. What motivated me besides the fact that I said I’d do it? I got to read it for my class. It always helps to multitask. 😀 Here’s my submission for class:
Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church by Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, tackles the topic of evangelism, church, consumerism, race, and class in his book “Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class in a Consumer Culture”. He believes that consumerism has commodified evangelism; this sort of Christianity has had horrible effects, particularly in causing division in matters of race and class. Noting the truth in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that “the Sunday hour is the most segregated time during the American week”, Metzgar explores how churches have become clubs or cliques of like-minded and like-looking folks: “The consumer-driven church culture fosters homogeneity and upward mobility, not the transforming harmony and downward mobility of the triune God that is realized in the cross and resurrection” (10). The correct exalting and practice of our Ark of the Covenant (Scripture and the Lord’s Supper) combats the consumeristic practices that have invaded the church. Metzger calls the church to look back at the atoning and reconciling work of Christ for the whole of humanity; as we are consumed by Christ, we see and enact His vision for the world.
I appreciated Metzger’s method towards exploring this topic. He laid an excellent foundation, exploring the roots of fundamentalism and the actions/words of a few folks that have snowballed into the divisions of the church that we have today. “The fundamentalist reconfiguration of the church from a retreating fortress to a political battle camp to a homogeneous unit is a faulty order that plays into this consumer cultural vision of social relations” (33). It made me cringe to think of some of my personal reactions, for example, when thinking about schooling my child: as of late, hearing so many “horror stories”, I want to keep him “safe” at home. But Metzger points out that “While Christian parents must guard against spiritual bravado and sacrificing their children to Molech for the ministry, they must also guard against the perverse spirit of hiding their children from God and sheltering them from the world, by keeping them locked up in the Christian ghetto” (100). My, how those thoughts have seeped into my perception about church: “Oh, I won’t ask them to come to my church – they wouldn’t like it.” “Wouldn’t they be more comfortable with a church population that’s more their age/race/social class/type of personality?”
It took me a bit to get through (probably due to sleep deprivation and constant requests for “Boos Coos, Mama!” (Blue’s Clues)), but Metzger’s chapter on “Reordering the Cosmic Powers” struck me, mostly because I haven’t spent a great deal thinking so deeply about the impact of what happened before the foundations of time and what the implications were for Christ’s death on the Cross. Apparently my view is fairly simplistic: Christ took on *my* sins so I can be in relationship with him (nice and consumeristic – me me me!). Metzger used the Narnia image of the White Witch, Aslan, and the Deeper Magic that brought him back to life. It’s left me wondering: in how many areas do believers/the church believe that they are still under the Old Law – the Law that was administered by the fallen angels? Do we ever really take time to discern that?
Metzger feels that the divisions that exist in the church today can be countered by replacing the importance of Scripture and the Lord’s Supper. Instead of using Scripture as an expository teaching tool, picking it to pieces, he explores the transformative nature of the metanarrative of Scripture, particularly as it has worked in African American churches – giving them a story that mirrors their own and a hope to look for. In regards to the Lord’s Supper, he notes that the nature of the original practice was different because it “crossed ethnic, economic, and social lines in the ancient church” (123) and through this the church is not only reconciled to its own members but also to other churches. Then they are called to proclaim this union and communion to the world through words and actions – redistribution of goods (137). [This relates to previous readings: It mirrored the sentiment that all churches draw from the same well of tradition: Scripture, history of Christian belief and practice, and systematic theology and prayer (Murray xv), but more pointedly examined racial and class divisions – beyond denominational differences. As Miller stated (195), Metzger agrees that the practices need to have meaning rather than be a tool or rote action.]
Metzger did not delve as deeply into the consumeristic nature of churches, or perhaps his foundational information on commodification wasn’t as detailed, although he certainly footnoted excellent resources. Miller’s book [Consuming Religion}, with its Roman Catholic audience, did not seem to have as much of a feel or expectation that folks flit from church to church as much as Metzger’s evanglical audience, so I appreciated Metzger’s challenge: “Rather than quickly leaving our consumer-oriented, homogeneous churches – thus becoming a connoisseur Christian ourselves – we should do everything we can, working patiently and lovingly to become transforming agents, helping our own churches transform themselves from the inside out” (66). [Again, referencing previous reading: This does not totally mesh with Murray’s take on Post-Christendom’s tendency to be sojourners rather than settlers (19), but does with the emerging church’s glocal characteristics (Bretherton 32). ]
Metzger picks a bit on the megachurches, particularly Saddleback and Willow Creek. I understand his concerns, but I’ve also heard some turnings in their outreach, particularly incorporating those who are of other races and classes, and I wonder if part of their effectiveness is due to their size and resources (which Metzger seems to feel is due to having a consumer-driven church).
As I look at my worship gathering, I must admit that Metzgar’s book wrecked me in some places – in a good way – but still: ouch. I’m reminded of a quote by Shane Claiborne: ““People are poor not just because of their sins; they are poor because of our sins (and people are rich because of our sins). On the wall of New Jerusalem (a facility made up of people recovering from addictions) is a sign that reads, “We cannot fully recover until we help the society that made us sick recover””. Again, I’m challenged by the idea of corporate confession and turning: how will we ever begin restitution and reconciliation without naming the past? And how, in a tradition that doesn’t practice the typical liturgical Eucharist, are we called to be reminded of the barriers that Christ’s redeeming work destroyed?