We begin a series today on a book by Paul Louis Metzger called Consuming Jesus. This will be a fitting complement to Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change since this book calls evangelicals to explore the the consumerist origins of racism and classism among evangelicals. Paul is a professor at Multnomah (and a former student).
A scourge for the Western Church, and esp the evangelical church because it has so fiercely fought for fidelity to the message of the Bible as something to be lived out today, is racism and classism. This book draws out some themes we’ve seen in other books, but it does so in some special ways.
His central image is “consume.” Jesus has an all-consuming vision; his vision should consume us; as Jesus consumes us we are enabled to consume racism and classism.
The major theme of the book is that consumerism inevitably leads to racist and classist divisions in the church. Metzger’s got two angles here that we don’t hear enough about: first, he places our current problems in the history of evangelicalism and, second, he explores these themes on the basis of evangelical theology.
Chp 1 starts off with a bang: Both Falwell and his liberal counterparts have “used power politics to build moral utopias” (13). Again, “Both Left and Right [Christian political actions] have missed out on identifying the church as a distinctive polis [city] or theo-political community that engages culture in view of the cross.”
Metzger provides a nice, if simple, summary of three themes that have led to the retreat from culture and politics:
1. The seminary as cemetery: anti-intellectualism. Here he picks a bit on Moody.
2. The Savior of the soul who leads to trickle-down social ethics: the strategy is to save folks and that will lead to a better society. The rejection of the social gospel.
3. The rapture and retreat mentality of premillennial eschatology. It will all burn so who cares.
[Oddly, I’m surprised Metzger’s survey fails to observe how signficant the Bob Jones decision on protecting segregation played in the rise of the original Moral Majority, and this prior to the interest in abortion.]
Here’s a good one: “The rejection of the gospel as social is not just a repudiation of the social gospel; the rejection of the gospel’s implications for combating race and class divisions nurtures social niches and fosters a ‘social-club’ gospel” (26).
The conservative evangelical religious right reveals “an adherence to political and social policies that give the appearance of being fixated on conservative, middle-class American social values” (33).
“Jesus did not die to save us from liberals. He died to save us from ourselves” (34).
Evangelicalism has “never really been an anticultural orientation, but rather a posture that is ‘anti’ the alternative culture that wields power at the center, hoping someday to replace the Religious Left as king of the hill” (35).
There’s some hard-hitting statements I’ve culled from this opening chapter. Why? So we can see that the issue of evangelical consumerism can be set in its sharper context of both history and political power-mongering.
[Who in the world is “Balrog”?]