Quick take – buy this book and read it! It is not as much about “consumption”…it is part of the thesis of Metzger. There are better books on Consumption (e.g. Kavanaugh’s Following Jesus in a Consumer Society and Consumed by Ben Barber) and American/Western Culture. Read those if you want to study and reflect on that “ism”…especially Kavanaugh’s book which was a “life-changer” for me! BUT, if you want serious exhortation on the issues of Race, the economic realities that force people into class divisions, and the pathetic response of contemporary “church world”, then this book is for you!
“…consumer church…(is) about those who are in and those who are out…evangelicals appear mean-spirited and interested only in a privileged few…all forms of disunity in the church can be traced, in the end, to an absence of practical love…”
The words above are from the opening pages of Paul Metzger’s new book, Consuming Jesus – Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdsmans, 2007). If those words bug you, offend you, or irritate you deeply, I would avoid this book like the plague. Having been raised in the great city of Detroit, Michigan in the 1960’s, I am very much aware of the issue of racism. My extended family was extremely racist…no, they were not KKK members…just ordinary white people who felt strongly about groups of people who were not like them. I lived in a segregated, middle class neighborhood that was divided up into two groups – Lutheran and Catholic. That was about it. Anybody who “looked” different was a target…in fact, during the riots of the late sixties, it was clear to me as a child what “side” my family was on. And, frankly, it is a part of my past that was in need of healing in MY heart as I grew. I don’t believe I ever had a problem with racism but because I grew up in a racist system, I had a deep-seeded fear of people who were racially divergent. That’s the honest truth…I grew in my acceptance of all and any race as I grew as a Christ-follower but it was a journey that took a lot of time and a wide-variety of experiences engineered (I believe) by the Spirit of God to emerge as a more loving soul. In addition, I eventually entered the professional ministry in a denomination that heralded “inclusivity” as its multi-decade emphasis and buzzword. The denomination was a historical, Anglo, primarily Germanic and Scandinavian structure that had a history of being exclusively “white”. It was interesting to me as a pastor in the denomination that efforts to be “more inclusive” meant fast tracking ministry preparation for what the denomination called “minority candidates” as well as attempting to alter a liturgy that was very racially “exclusive” to make it more inclusive. The problem was clear though – as long as “you” (the excluded) accepted “our” way of doing things, our way of worship, our way of talking, joking and “doing” church, “we” were happy to be inclusive. If “you” wanted us to change, forget it! I know the denomination didn’t want to admit that reality but that WAS the reality. It was, as Metzger lays out in the book, very comfortable for the “us”. Truly breaking down dividing walls and finding ways to integrate our churches would take a dramatic change…something that most churches in the denomination were not willing to do. So, enough of my stories…quickly, on to the book. Metzger takes on the sacred cows of homogeneity, consumer church, mega-church, rapture theology, fundamentalism and a whole host of topics that, over history, have taken us as followers of Jesus and plopped us down in the reality that we live in today. He indicts the “church” for the fact that we have “moved on” past the entrenched issues of race, class, divisiveness and faith only to adhere to and feast on consumerism, free market capitalism and modernistic ideals of success and growth! Here’s another segment for you to take a gander at:
“As Americans, evangelicals are often blind to faulty pragmatic practices because Americans rarely question success. The Germans were the same way: they were blind to the diabolical evil because Hitler’s program was very efficient and effective in making Germany “work” and return to prominence” (p. 48).
All I can say is “ouch”. Friends, this is the way the entire book is…it is prophetic and challenging BUT necessary for us to read. Metzger does not just slam and go but offers constructive ideas for a renewed and healed “church”. This is well worth your time…this man is smart and brave! In addition, he has Don Miller and John Perkins on his side…both comment in the book through foreword and afterword. Reading this book is like reading the prophets in the Tenack…the difference is this – you might think you can weasel out of the line of fire of the prophets because it is in the bible and not necessarily talking about OUR time. You know how easy it is to be a bible editor (looking purely for those verses that are inspiring and positive)! You can’t get away from what Metzger has to say…you need to hear it, ponder it and pray for renewal in a NEW way! Check it out!