Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Consuming Jesus 2

posted by xscot mcknight

What is the contemporary church blinded to? The fun of this question is that the one who asks it nearly always assumes he or she knows the answer and is privy to something most aren’t. I don’t think it is all harsh on Paul Metzger to suggest that his book Consuming Jesus is making just this claim. He’s in on something that many are missing. What is it?
What do you think the evangelical church is blinded to?
Metzger claims the evangelical church has a “disordered vision.” That vision is consumerist. Here are his words:
“The consumerist mindset entails giving consumers what they want, when they want it, and at the least cost to consumers themselves. It also creates in consumers the desire to want, and then to want more, event to want things they did not originally want — programming them to buy a given product in the free-market system” (40). “It all appears to be benign; yet it is very divisive” (40).
This consumerist mindset leads to a blindness to a “trade triangle”: consumerism, upward mobility, and homogeneity in the church.
1. Blind to racialization.
2. Blind to consumer-market forces: “we fail to grasp how evil and dehumanizing the consumer-market forces can be” (43). Thus, “the market mind-set means that the gospel signifies an exchange between God and us rooted in satisfying our untrained needs” (45). Race and income track one another.
3. Blinded by success: “The most dominant and successful leaders and movements are the proponents of the status quo” (48). He goes after Rick Warren and Saddleback which “caters to consumer market forces” (49).
Preachers must tell the good news with the bad news from the get-go.
4. Blind to evangelical social structures. He sees three elements of this:
a. There is a focus on individual-relational life. Here he chooses to go after Bill Hybels. “Hybels’s aim to reach a particular homogenous target audience of seekers, once it was given primacy, became malignant” (56).
b. There is an antistructural bias. Evangelicals don’t perceive structural issues.
c. There is a small-group breeding ground. Homogenous small-groups is an issue. This leads him to pick on emergent small groups which he wonders about — will they break through the racial issues?
[I must comment here: It is odd that he picks on Warren and Hybels who, though clearly shaped by marketing strategies, are the two most socially-active megachuch pastors in the USA. None of this is documented with statistics or evidence — nor his comments about emergent.]



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preacherman

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:07 am


I think it is easy for us to judge people like Osteen, Warren, Hybels but when we truely surrender to God. When we are consumed by the Almighy; this blessing fall on us. I am not saying that we won’t have bad times in life; what I am saying is that God’s; good pleasing, pleasing and peferect will over flowing into our life abundantly. When we are consumed by God it is life changing. Your life is never the same. Your family is never the same. Your ministry is never the same. Everything is never the same again. It is only when we are willing to die to self though. Truely die. Come to the reality as Paul did “That it is not longer I but CHRIST”. 24/7. I am ministering in a small congregation that GOd is blessing. I think we need to stop and ask oursleves does God want cookie cutter churches? No, there are small churches, medium size churches, mega churches. But, I do believe we all need to be CONSUMED with Him.



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Tyler Braun

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:19 am


I must say I do find it odd that he attacks these two pastors. If success is growing a church from nothing to what they are today and giving other churches and people some knowledge of their own then success is a beautiful thing. I know few people who would question the vision of these two men. I’m not saying anything Hybels and Warren do is gold nor should it be approached that way, but clearly they have effected the kingdom in a great way.



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Ruth Tucker

posted November 14, 2007 at 6:18 am


I certainly agree with Metzger that consumerism is a huge blind spot to evangelicals and all Christians—EVEN increasingly so with our dear Mennonite sisters and brothers. My husband and I are very conscious of this in our own lives, with one 12″ TV and basic cable, used furniture, and a very modest vehicle. But we struggle all the time—and feel a certain amount of guilt as we always seem to fall short of what our lives should look like.
You quote Metzger: ?we fail to grasp how evil and dehumanizing the consumer-market forces can be. . . . Thus, ?the market mind-set means that the gospel signifies an exchange between God and us rooted in satisfying our untrained needs.? Does he say how he lives this out in his own family life? Or is this just one more book that puts forth an ideal, while the author himself is living a life of consumerism?
If he doesn’t clearly lay this out in his book, could you contact him, Scot, and ask him to join in the conversation and tell us with some very specific and concrete examples how he puts this into practice?



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josenmiami

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:24 am


I find it refreshing that there is some self-criticism within the evangelical church (assuming that Metzger is evangelical) and that there is an increasing balance and variety of views on such things as social justice.



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Diane

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:42 am


From Ruth #3: “Does he say how he lives this out in his own family life? Or is this just one more book that puts forth an ideal, while the author himself is living a life of consumerism?
If he doesn?t clearly lay this out in his book, could you contact him, Scot, and ask him to join in the conversation and tell us with some very specific and concrete examples how he puts this into practice?”
I would like to second this request. I too struggle to live more simply, often failing, but would like to see what others are doing.



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Bob Brague

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:55 am


You mean (gasp), God is not a capitalist??!?!?!
What surprises me most is that anyone would find it odd that “consumerist mindset” and “seeker-sensitive” are practically synonymous. Hence, Metzger picks on Warren and Hybels, even though they are the two most socially-active megachurch pastors in the USA.



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Chuck Eklund

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:03 am


Mad Magazine summed it up with the statement, ?The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.?
This quote seemed appropriate to this discussion. I saw it because it was on the top 5 Diggs and being an old Mad magazine fan, I clicked through to it. Here is the site: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/11/the-consumer-pa.html
The article is a summary about the link between low self-esteem and materialism.



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Paul Johnston

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:07 am


If “sola scriptura” is what it is, then who better exemplifies the character of apostolic life as described in the Bible, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or a Catholic priest.



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Diane

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:08 am


I have spent time looking at consumerism and the church in the past few years. It’s a hot topic. However, we might want to distinguish between “good” consumption and “bad.” We all need to consume material things, and Eugene Petersen, among others, tells us to eat the Bible or consume Jesus. Slow, thoughtful, intentional, caring consumption will feel satisfying, be it of material or spiritual things. Hasty, compulsive, ill-thought, on-the-fly consumerism, consumerism to fill a hole, manipulated or coerced consumerism, anxious consumerism, consumerism that leaves us feeling burdened … this is bad consumption. Do churches manipulate or coerce people into giving of time and talent and money … do they use people up … do they make people feel anxious or burdened … and conversely, are people expecting hasty results by giving time or money to the church, do they want to eat a quick spiritual fix, are they filling a hole in the wrong way … Mostly I have seen churches say that some of laity come to consume services, such as Sunday school for the kids, and won’t give back, but churches themselves often unwittingly promote this mentality. For example, I have seen many, many churches make people feel anxious about the church’s finances so they will give, which mirrors the culture. But what it teaches people is that we live in a world of scarcity and they need to hang on to what they have. Mostly, however, despite the accusations of consumerism, I believe most people come to church looking for something much deeper than consumerism, but without knowing exactly what it is, so it is easy to fall into familiar patterns.



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John W Frye

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:30 am


Looking back toward the USA across Ukraine, Poland, Chek Republic, Slavokia, Germany and England and “across the pond,” I think the USAmerican evangelical church is blind to unfettered narcissism. Rick Warren and *The Purpose-Driven Life* notwithsatnding, for the majority of American Christians, it is “all about me” (“and my family”).
From Kiev, Ukraine,
John



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:31 am


Scot,
I think that Metzger’s picking on “small group breeding ground” and on emergent small (or larger) groups is justified. We value homogeneity because it puts us at ease and doesn’t provide uncomfortable challenge.
Emphasis on small groups leads unavoidably to homogeneity (samples are self-selected leading to homogeneity and not large enough to include any real diversity).
This is consumerist – we go where we feel the most comfortable or the most accepted, do we ever consider where we might be of the most use?



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Rick

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:55 am


Some may want to criticize Hybels and Warren, but please don’t include them with more extreme examples such as Osteen.
In regards to small groups, much of that situation depends on the purpose of small groups. There are various reasons why groups exist.
Some may be in seeker churches in which the attendees are slowly encouraged to go deeper by joining a group. That step seems to be a big enough challenge in itself for many.
Likewise, some small groups serve a support groups to encourage people at various stages (young parents, newly married, etc…).
Meanwhile, some have real time limitations, yet want strong relationships. Therefore, they join a group very close to their home, which usually means it is made up of people much like them.
Finally, some see small groups as their “church” and have a variety of people involved. However, if it is very local community oriented/focused, then the diversity will be limited.
One hopes that the members of the group, and groups as a whole, grow and expand their involvement and be “challenged” to go beyond any homogeneity.
However, to simply claim that small groups lack diversity and are therefore consumeristic is missing some other major variables in the process.



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Darryl

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:04 am


Metzger does praise Hybels and Warren for becoming more socially active. For instance: “The fact that Hybels is now alert to the problematical nature of certain past practices is a cause for rejoicing, especially given the profound impact his ministry has had on many churches.” (p.57) And he argues that the problem is bigger than “the personal influence of notable evangelical leaders.”
I thought this chapter was a strong one. He says the real issue is “the prevalent pragmatic consumeristic mind-set”. If such a mindset exists (and I think the evidence indicates that it does within evangelicalism), then it’s certainly worth reflecting theologically on the issue.



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Howard Walters

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:23 am


Some months ago I read a book by Shane Claiborn called The Irresistable Revolution. I have had a very hard time “moving on” to other books and frequently go back to this so skim through some of my underlinings. One idea that I had never seen before and I am perhaps not entirely accurate to the way Claiborn wrote: in the Old Testament, the Levites were allowed to keep 10% of the offerings for use in the temple, but had to redistribute 90% for the needs of the poor in the community. The pattern of giving in the New Testament church was modeled much the same way…the bulk of giving was to redistribute wealth to the needy to create the conditions of the kingdom. Claiborn notes accurately that the modern American church has nearly reversed these proportions, keeping the largest proportion of giving for local programs internal to the church membership, including “customized staffing”, i.e. children’s ministers, youth ministers, music ministers, activity directors. All very “customer satisfaction” in orientation. It seems to me, following the money provides a very clear indication of the consumerist nature of many, many churches. The creation of big building meeting spaces that mitigate against small group fellowship–while requiring large capital outlay for creation and upkeep exacerbates the trend.
I am uncomfortable naming particular pastors and churches, but it may be that critiquing specific characteristics of structure/function and fiscal stewardship would be worthwhile. One wonders if, for example, the “yuppie addiction” to gourmet coffee, increasingly satiated in the lobbies of these megachurches, isn’t symptomatic of unhealthy consumerism (while we congratulate ourselves in only drinking “fair trade coffee beans” at $4.50 for the triple venti-machioto-with whole milk-double hot.) And in the interest of self-disclosure, I am typing from an overstuffed sofa at “my” Starbucks. But I’m only drinking Christmas blend—and my cup tells the story of a “poor Tibetan farmer” around the world and how our lives are increasingly, globally connected. Ironic.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:55 am


Diane #9,
Some great thoughts. I especially like: “Slow, thoughtful, intentional, caring consumption will feel satisfying, be it of material or spiritual things. Hasty, compulsive, ill-thought, on-the-fly consumerism, consumerism to fill a hole, manipulated or coerced consumerism, anxious consumerism, consumerism that leaves us feeling burdened ? this is bad consumption.”
I think that most Americans do tend to take the same consumerist attitude towards Christianity that they do towards material things. Get to church on Sunday…then get out as fast as possible and get on to the next thing to be consumed (dinner, shopping, etc.). Get out the Bible or the Daily Bread…read it as fast as possible…git r done…and then move on to the next thing on the agenda without any further thought….
You’re right. We need to slow down. Experience worship. Listen and think about what’s preached (rather than what’s coming up on our agenda). Read the Word thoughtfully. Chew on it. Consider it deeply. Continue to meditate on it and pray about it throughout the day. How does it apply? What new lesson do I need to learn? How does it contradict the way I think/act now? Does it help me understand other passages of Scripture more clearly? Do I really understand it? Is the way I’ve been taught to interpret it right or do I need to consider a different meaning? What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach me?



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T

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:06 am


I’ll just throw this idea into the mix: One of the things I’ve found in myself and everyone I know to any significant degree is that we all have an idea, or future story, as to how our lives should go, or “progress”, and this idea of our future commands a lot of loyalty, even if we don’t conciously think about the content of the story much at all. Here’s a common example in my circles: “I’ll graduate highschool, then I’ll go to X kind of college, get a higher than average paying job and a cool apartment/house, find the right person to marry, marry them a couple years later, get a house together (of X kind and in X kind of neighborhood), have our first child . . .” Depending on parents, culture, etc., the specifics can vary widely, but everyone has this kind of story of their future in their head, and deviations are not received well. (“I thought I’d be married by now”, “I wasn’t supposed to get divorced”, etc.)
Meanwhile, based on those same parents, culture, experiences, etc., many people feel the need or desire to “trust in Jesus”. The problem then becomes whether one is more loyal to (and has more trust in) the pre-written story (and the relationships that support it) than in Jesus and the story that’s in his head. The crisis of becoming Jesus’ disciple is whether we’re willing to part with our future life story–mid-stream–and receive a whole new one (on a need-to-know basis) in submission to/conjunction with Another. This is what it is very, very hard for “the rich” in this life to do. This is what many, many people (esp. in America) end up not doing, even as they pray the prayer(s) and go to church regularly. We like our life (story), and we want to fit Jesus into it. We like our life story, and don’t wan’t to lose it, even for Jesus’ sake. Is this “consumerism”? Yes, and it’s more than that. It’s all our relational and idolatrous ties to ‘our’ life. If this is what it means to preach “the bad news” of what discipleship is, then I’d agree that we have not done a very good job of this, and gotten the forseeable results of people trying to live their life–with Jesus.



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T

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:09 am


Howard (13), Great thoughts.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:14 am


I have great respect for Hybels and Warren. Both have had an immense impact on the Church for the good (and on me). So it really hit me wrong that Metzger was picking on them. Bob Brague’s comment (#6) also hit me funny. I didn’t like it….but it continued to spin around in my brain and suddenly I realized that Metzger and Brague may have touched on something that has been bothering me, also.
When using this seeker-sensitive approach, I wonder how effective we can be at bringing people to a deeper level of discipleship. If we are always catering to people’s desires, will we be able to effectively teach self-sacrifice and self-denial, laying one’s life down for the gospel…. Maybe we can, but I have really been struggling with this issue lately and am wondering if Metzger and Brague have not just labeled it for me.
Something to chew on.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:20 am


T #15,
WOW! That’s some powerful and lucid stuff. I had to print it off for later….Thanks!
I think this statement of yours sums it up:
“The crisis of becoming Jesus? disciple is whether we?re willing to part with our future life story?mid-stream?and receive a whole new one (on a need-to-know basis) in submission to/conjunction with Another. This is what it is very, very hard for ?the rich? in this life to do. This is what many, many people (esp. in America) end up not doing, even as they pray the prayer(s) and go to church regularly.”



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T

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:39 am


Brad,
Thanks for the affirmation. I think I’ll think about that some more myself! I liked your additions to Diane’s thoughts as well. Good conversation.



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Bryon

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:50 am


I’m always suspect of critique without facts. I’ve lately read a lot of criticism about consumerism and how it is encouraged in the mega-church movement. There are a lot of presumed negatives there. I’d like to read more documentation that illustrates these presumed negatives and recomendations from these thinkiers on how to mitigate the damages or a proposed paradigm shift that will provide a better ministry model.
I admit that I’m coming into the conversation with a lot of preconceived notions about the positive impact of the mega-church movement. What I’ve read, however, sounds more like idealogical retoric than constructive critique moving towards a better future. I’d love to hear some recomendations on where to look or opposign views with support as to why you disagree.



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Matthew

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:00 am


Probably not one will even be able to do all things well. There is holes in every movement.
http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org



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Julie Clawson

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:33 am


I agree with Diane that there needs to be a distinction made between good and bad consumption. We are consumers. No matter how much we simplify and cut back on “wants” we still will be consumers. The question remains if our subsequent consumption is still all about us or if we look to the needs of others.
Howard – you point the finger at yuppies who drink fair trade coffee. How would it be better to drink cheap coffee that treated the growers without dignity and paid them pennies? Being cheap is not the same as being simple and compassionate. If fact often selfish cheapness (hey look at me, I’m saving a buck) can be the biggest excuse for being cruel consumers.
Same with church. There is always going to be some consumption involved in church. Is that consumption solely to meet our needs or is it also to meet the needs of the Kingdom? I am going to have a hard time ever going to a church that doesn’t care about helping and serving others. That reveals a consumer mindset, but I don’t think that is entirely a bad thing.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:39 am


I’m on the road without much time to chat but I thought I’d add the following to the conversation. You may remember the book “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam a few years ago. Earlier this year he published a controversial report about diversity. He essentially concluded that diversity in the workplace is a very postive thing but diversity in neighborhoods is frequently a problem. For diversity to work there must unity around some core value. When asked for example in American society where is this diversity done well (keep in mind this is a sociologist at Harvard) he pointed to Evangelical mega-churches. He has taken great heat for this observation. Now whether or not these folks are unified around the right things is a legitimate question but to claim they have lead to greater racisim doesn’t seem to match the facts.



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Darryl

posted November 14, 2007 at 12:09 pm


I really am finding Metzger’s book to be profound and insightful. Good critiques are hard to find. They have to be honest, fair, winsome, and they have to provide a better way. I’m almost done the book, and I find that Metzger meets all of these criteria. He’s not angry; he’s writing as one of us and theologically reflecting on a potential blind spot.
It really is a book that deserves a wide reading, even if you don’t agree with everything Metzger says (and I hope you don’t!).



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Mark Mohrweis

posted November 14, 2007 at 12:41 pm


I’d like to throw out two questions, not to start any fights, but because the issues that are being discussed are things that I wrestle with as a pastor on a daily basis. Thanks for the insightful comments here!
First, I am curious if anyone sees a distinction between being social active and intentionally fighting racism? What I am asking is- even though Pastor Hybels or Rick Warren are incredibly socially active is it fair to critique them if their congregations themselves do not represent Christ’s goal of all nations coming together as one?
Second, and related to the first, I am curious if anyone has any thoughts about the very end of Dr. McKnight’s post- @ill the emerging Church have a different response to the racial divide than previous generations?
As a word of bio- I am a pastor of a small congregation just outside of Dallas and in a few months my church council will be making a decision of if we would like to reach our own (White) with a higher probability of efficiently and success or work with other races at the risk of turning some people away. I will never say there are easy answers to this one!!



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:00 pm


Let me simply interject a few comments about megachurches.
1. Most, in my experience, who criticize them haven’t attended one or gotten inside far enough to know what is really going on.
2. Megachurches tend to display in large form the strengths and weaknesses of smaller congregations and do not, so far as I can see, have any of their own peculiar sins (other than largeness). Some smaller churches use their funds on themselves; they just don’t use millions. Some smaller congregations don’t help the poor; they just aren’t noticed. So, doesn’t it strike you that critique of megachurches is really just projection of critiques of evangelical churches. (By the way, I’d avoid lumping Joel Osteen in with Warren and Hybels.)
3. And many who criticize megachurches are repeating what they have heard or what they have read, and I’ve not been impressed by what I’ve read of late by evangelicals that critique megachurches.
I give one example: Willow, for all its weaknesses, gave over 4 million dollars away to what was formerly called “social justice” actions.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:02 pm


Mark,
I know almost nothing about Warren’s church. I do know Bill Hybels is working hard, with many Willow participants, at racial reconciliation.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:04 pm


And one more…
I recently spoke with a writer for the NYTimes who told me he thinks Warren and Hybels are leading the next generation of evangelicals into a new kind of social concern on the part of the church, and he sees them as the leaders of this movement rather than the ones against whom the critique can be pinned. I was a little surprised by his finding, but it makes me think if the megachurch pastors might not be the ticket to evangelicals seeing that the gospel is more than getting off the hook of hell onto the highway to heaven.



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:11 pm


Scot,
Interesting observation – megachurches have the same strengths and weaknesses – but provide much larger targets for criticism. You may be right here. They also, by size, prominence, and position (fame) have an opportunity to commit some sins others would if only they had the opportunity.
But with Willow I would critic the emphasis that equates church planning with business marketing model, not many of the other issues. Isn’t this what Metzger is driving at?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:19 pm


RJS,
That’s exactly what Metzger criticizes — with no evidence.
It’s a bit like saying University science professors have an organized conspiracy to bash traditional Christian faith.



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Dan Brennan

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:36 pm


Well, since I started I started talking about it on my blog, I think in America, the evangelical church is blind to the “working poor.” I think that blindspot is connected to the consumer marketing forces. Marketing creates the mentality that produces results and tangible marks of success. There is no question there are “success” stories out there–of the working poor moving up and out of the economic squeeze, but there are plenty of stories where that does not happen.



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:14 pm


Scot,
Would there be evidence to support that conclusion – or would the facts lead to a different conclusion? As I have never set foot in a real megachurch, any view I would express would certainly have no evidence to back it up.
But – you asked a question. “What do you think the evangelical church is blinded to?”
I don’t think that it is the consumerist mindset – I actually think we are aware of this and wrestle with it. I think that we fail to internalize the real implications of the gospel that values all individuals equally. In Christ there is no rich or poor; male or female; sick or healthy; Jew or Gentile; slave or free; educated or ignorant; powerful or powerless; worldly success or failure; ? We all stand before God on equal footing.
I think that the evangelical church is blinded to the insidious favoritism that plays out in so many ways in our churches. We need to take James 2 seriously: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?”
But you are writing a commentary on James, so perhaps you will tell me I have misinterpreted the passage. (Although I think that the same ideas are supported elsewhere in the NT as well.)



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:28 pm


RJS,
Favortism nails a big issue to the wall: the problem is not so much consumerism as it is selfishness, which happens to be expressed as consumerism by those who have lots of things and money or who live in a society drenched with consumeristic tendencies.
I’ve said before that “consumerism” is a word and it happens to be an evocative word that works with folks who want to look through its lens and shape everything by looking through that lens. But, “explaining” megachurches through the word “consumerism” is easily deconstructed. I can explain a whole church through the word “competition” or “comfort” or any number of words. The ability to explain through a word doesn’t mean the word is explaining reality. Yes, Willow uses “marketing” tools — so what. In my judgment, marketing is sales and sales is persuasion and persuasion is a word used for evangelism. What matters is not persuasion or sales or marketing but the content, the motive, the theology, the gospel. You and I can set up an argument for a theory that is nothing but consumerism: we are trying to persuade to “consume” our idea or theory. Is that consumerism? Hardly. It’s language.
So, I want to see facts and I want to see inside facts that show that this place or that place is really out for money and really sees people as potential money givers; until I see that, I don’t buy it.
Why not just explain the complainers as “disaffected” or “envious” — which is how some megachurch defenders describe its critics. Language again.
Here’s what I will say: I’ll match Willow’s desire to do gospel work, its intents, desires, work efforts, helping of the poor, responsiveness to the needs of a variety of people (except the 20somethings), etc., against most — big or small — and just say that Willow’s got a bigger good thing going on and smaller churches have smaller things going on, but good things are going on and I like them both.
Well, that’s a bit of a rant. And the big point is this: “consumer” is nothing but language until I know what is meant and until I see some facts.



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Bryon

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:34 pm


Scot,
I think that’s the key. The conversation has been reduced to rhetoric rather than substance. In you reading of Metzger’s book, do you find him contributing to the debate in a substantive way or is it more of the same?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Bryon,
In some ways it is very much like Brian McLaren’s book — calling evangelicals to a socially-sensitive perception of the gospel. Consumption in the book, though, is an assumption and I’d like to see it defended and explained.
It is more evangelical than Brian’s book in that it has an emphasis on the need for conversion; it is more theological.
But, in the end, it joins a list of books calling for evangelicals along the Sider-line of advocating for a church that is less racist and classist.



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Bob Brague

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:43 pm


I think this post is looking through the wrong end of the telescope, has got the cart before the horse, is seeing through a glass darkly, pick any metaphor you like.
We are not the consumers. God is the consumer. In both the Old and New Testaments (Deuteronomy and Hebrews) you can find this verse: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
He is consuming us. We should not be trying to consume him.



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Rick

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:48 pm


Scot #27-
I agree on the lumping in Osteen with Warren and Hybels. Osteen is a different situation.
In regards to the favortism, money is many times not the issue. Rather, those who have money (usually through business) are seen as successful and influential leaders. That is key since many megachurches strongly emphasize leadership, and see these individuals as ways to impact a wider spectrum of people. Thus, they are given extra attention. Church history is full of such tactics. I’m not saying it is the best way, but as Scot indicated, we must keep in mind the motives.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:54 pm


Bob,
It’s not so simple: we consume God and God consumes us — that is the image in Metzger’s book. It’s a good image.



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BeckyR

posted November 14, 2007 at 2:59 pm


Some friends of ours got back from 5 yrs in Africa working to set up Habitat for Humanity there. One thing they said to us ala differences they found, is in African christians they were with, the emphasis was – use me God. What they found in American churches once they returned to here, was – fill me God. One just needs to listen to the songs sung in a service and see that. And there are too many churches where the message is about bolstering self esteem. No meat to go away with to chew on.
There is a need to have small groups that break down the church into small enough groups that there is opportunity to know each other more and make a commitment to minister to each other more. We do the kingdom great harm by excluding people by having groups for the newlywed, new parents, seniors etc. It perhaps extends a fuller invitation to have groups that are about a certain topic. That way we get the insight of the young and old, male and female, parents and not parents, mentally acute and not so mentally acute. We deprive the church a lot when we have groups that exclude the input of the older with the younger. Emphasis I’ve written about before here, is it being important having a conscious commitment to each other in a small group – no group hopping; a place to learn what it really means to love one another because we finally get close enough to each other to love the nitty gritty – the thorns and the blessings. And this is not something that can be accomplished by following a program or plan. It is something that can only be accomplished over time. In that way it is not consumerist. It must be consciously agreed to meet weekly, the same people, and if you drop out it must be for a good reason; consciously agreed to be commited to be responsible for each others’ physical, spiritual, emotional and physical well being. We deprive the church of meat and breadth when we limit people to groups that are there for people of the same – seniors group, newlywed group, new parent group…..
There, I soapboxed the same thing again.



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Darryl

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:03 pm


I don’t think Metzger’s critique is limited to Willow. I see myself and my setting in the critique, and we are hardly a megachurch.
He does define consumerism, at least I thought he did, in the quote you highlighted, “The consumerist mindset entails giving consumers what they want…” It’s “catering to what consumers want and creating wants in order to win them over to buying a given product” (p.40).
I don’t know whether or not this applies to Willow, but I have recognized this temptation in my own life and ministry. I think there’s pretty widespread acknowledgment that this dynamic is at work in more than a few churches.



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:04 pm


Scot,
Do you think favoritism is an expression of selfishness within evangelicalism? I wasn’t actually thinking of it in the sense of quid pro quo – i.e. valuing the wealthy or powerful for their money or influence – as much as an awe of success and power and prestige (almost hero-worship).
Perhaps it is selfish in the sense of acquiring social capital by association with success, power, and fame.
But I do think that the evangelical church is blinded to the ways in which favoritism plays out.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:13 pm


RJS,
It’s probably more complex than a simple focus. Favortism, in my assessment, tends toward kowtowing to those from whom we can gain a benefit. It can be celebrity stuff, too, but mostly the former. Hence it is a fundamental denial of “love your brother as yourself” instead of “love your brother for what it can do for you.”



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:24 pm


And back to #31 again – Morphing comments are confusing. First a reflection – I have sat in church services and banquets, with my young children, where the pastor or speaker made exactly that claim.
But maybe the evangelical church is blinded to the need for evidence to back up statements of fact and accusations. Evidence before verdict – what a novel concept!



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Sarah

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:27 pm


As a high school teacher, students often offer highly biased political commentary–criticizing the president and anyone else in Washington. Their sourcs are usually their parents or Saturday Night Live/Dave Chapel.
It always strikes me how we as Americans have deluded ourselves into thinking we are informed enough to comment on big picture scenarios we know nothing about. This same mentality pervades the Church (including me).
While my book suggested some “blind spots” (though I note multiple times that my observations aren’t unique to me or my generation), I find HUGE value in the example of Hybells and other similar leaders. And I say so several times.
While it makes sense to try and remedy “blind spots” we perceive with our own efforts, we should always be willing to acknowledge and appreciate that other people are just as validly working on what they perceive as blind spots. And every effort is a step forward for all of us.
Sometimes I think the best way to grow the church is for each one of us to really focus on letting God transform ourselves. As more of us grow, the collective wins.



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Bryon

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:40 pm


Sarah,
I think that’s an excellent point. We need to focus on living… ahem… the Jesus Creed.
There are two other things to consider in my opinion.
(1) Leaders of churches need to process this information and lead their churches in such a way that the church will reflect Jesus.
(2) We need to remember that Christianity is centered around community not the individual. I think that is, in part, what makes the consumerism bandwagon so easy to jump on.



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mariam

posted November 14, 2007 at 3:52 pm


#16. The crisis of becoming Jesus? disciple is whether we?re willing to part with our future life story?mid-stream?and receive a whole new one (on a need-to-know basis) in submission to/conjunction with Another. This is what it is very, very hard for ?the rich? in this life to do. This is what many, many people (esp. in America) end up not doing, even as they pray the prayer(s) and go to church regularly. We like our life (story), and we want to fit Jesus into it. We like our life story, and don?t wan?t to lose it, even for Jesus? sake.
And this is why Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. I don’t think he was condemning or making a judgment on the rich. He was “discerning” (Scot’s very useful word) what a difficult struggle it is for the rich (and in North America we are mostly rich) to disentangle themselves from their possessions and expectations of what their life should be like in order to focus on the Kingdom. We are trapped in our addiction to materialism, no closer to heaven than the drug addict, maybe farther away because the addict usually knows he is in hell.
I like your idea of us not wanting our participation in the Kingdom to interfere with our preconceived story for ourself. So often I think we only come to see the real message of Jesus when our story crumbles. At least it was that way for me.



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BeckyR

posted November 14, 2007 at 4:14 pm


Was it a couple weeks ago when a comment section turned into how we use our money; talking about capitalism, socialism, a greater encompassing economic theory that reflects biblical standards. I will make my comment here, again.
I do not see myself as someone whose sense of prestige hinges on things. If anything, perhaps I need confess pride about not caring for more and larger. Those statements are not across the board – I live in a house I picked because I like it, we have a car we bought new yet within reasonable limits and my place in buying it was the aesthetic. My guilt at the time is hubby having just come home with a new $800 tv. And he was strutting like a rooster in a hen house. ‘I’m important.’ Yet, of course, confronting him of that, he denied it.
A couple days ago I voiced my guilt over us having a $800 tv, that now we should give $800 to some charity. Wherein my sister chimed in and said we have done that, and more, in paying for our brother’s rent for many years. But I do not think that’s the point. I think there’s 2 things there – he bought bigger/better, and his prestige got hooked into it. Even though we do pay my brother’s rent, we don’t need a $800 tv and there are other’s who could be helped by those $800. Is his a consumerist attitude, even if his sense of importance hadn’t got tied into it.
I mentored a teen who was poor-poor. I had never seen that poverty in our city before. For christmas they each got $5.oo. It was iffy if they’d get anything christmassy. How to reconcile knowing there is such poverty in our city yet living with our cable tv, Ipods, GPS’s, new cars, eating at restaurants. This girl had never been to a movie, never had anything from a fast food joing. If we haven’t the consumerist mindset, what does something more biblical look like? Does cutting back on our extravagances mean we haven’t the consumerist mindset? If we cut back on our extravagances and use that money for the poor, is that more biblical. Is there a place to have Things and still be biblical.



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Friar_Tuck

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:51 pm


Is this Metzger any relation to the bible scholar Bruce Metzger?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2007 at 8:05 pm


Friar Tuck,
Not that I know of.



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Patrick Hare

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:16 pm


Is there a distinction to be made between unhealthy, idolatrous consumption, and healthy consumption which serves God, others and the planet?
Is buying all used items the answer? What impact does it have on our brothers and sisters who produce these things for a living? Would we have purchased furniture from Jesus? fish from Peter? nets from Paul?
Can aesthetics ever be a factor in our purchases? Must our homes, clothes, cars be ugly and plain? Do you think Jesus’ carpentry creations were more like fine furniture or IKEA? Can we make an idol of asceticism as well as consumerism?
Just wondering . . .



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:26 pm


Scot #34
I wish I had more time to engage this great conversation but I at least wanted to say how much I resonated with your comments in #34. I think self centered idolatry is the issue. Big churches and small churches have different ways in which they can cater to this but being big is not the problem. I?d say when big churches err it tends to be in creating a programmatic world that is all about me, and smaller churches tend to create a relational world that is all about me.
On a secondary but I think important note, I would suggest that categorizing things as ?consumerist? as opposed to self-centered, intentionally or not, ties into a deep seated anti-business anti-marketplace sentiment that runs through vast portions of the church. (I appreciated you observations about marketing BTW.) It seems business is evil and not of God. To me, it almost seems to locate the problem of evil in the economic order. It seems to imply that people would be good and holy people if it were not for the economic system. It does not take seriously the depths of human sin and our endless capacity to bend any system toward idolatry.
I can?t count the number of business people I know who no longer have anything to do with the church because they can see no connection between the church and their vocation, and they have routinely heard their work framed in pejorative terms. I?ve been in Bible studies with deeply committed Christians who are entrepreneurs who keep only nominal ties with institutional Christianity but would astound many with their depth of perception into the things of God and how their work relates to it. Instead of equipping saints for work in marketplace ministry, I often get the sense that many in the church would rather just purge the body of those in the marketplace. I?m wondering a bit off topic but this is how these conversations around ?consumerism? often strike me.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:27 pm


#52 Patrick
“Can we make an idol of asceticism as well as consumerism?”
Bingo!



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preacherman

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:30 pm


I am at a small congregation that gives 80% to orphans homes, poor in the community, and missionaries.
I think it is great when mega churches give.
I don’t have anything against mega churches.
I think when we are consumed with Christ our attitudes, giving, thinking, everything that we do in worship and towards outreach is in the will of God. Why? Because we are consumed by the Holy Spirit!
Scot, the Holy Spirit is guiding you and this turn the church upside down. God may we be mission minded. May we be consumed.
Thanks scot for continuing these great posts brother.



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Tyler

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:43 pm


Scot,
On consumerism–I, like you, prefer the term selfishness, a biblical term that captures the ethic behind narcisstic or compulsive consumption. The greatest perpetrator I know is the one that stares at me in the mirror. That’s why I wince at blanket statements about the sins of any one church, or better yet, the “evangelical church. All of us, when we honest, do and consume what we want to do and consume. And therein lies the problem. It therefore has little to do with the size of churches, where they’re located, or how wealthy they are. Selfishness seems to be a welcome guest just about any place humans are gathered.
One note on the “just like us” criticism often leveled at megachurches. The homogenous unit principle and targeting (more precise than “marketing”) were not invented by Bill Hybels or Rick Warren. The ideas stemmed from guys like Donald McGavran, who observed the principle at work in India. Problem: Believers from a low caste were not able to persuade high caste Hindus of the truths of the gospel because of a pre-existing social barrier. Solution: Western missionaries began to contextualize and target high caste Hindus to reach them. As faith takes hold across various castes, a unity would then develop as the Holy Spirit convicts these new believers in areas of sin (including racism/classism).
Do you think McGavaran was guilty of institutionalized narcissism or was this simply the wisest course of action in light of pre-existing social (sinful?) realities?
Most missiolgists today would give the latter answer. Pastors in suburban areas (in both small and large churches) face the same sinful realities. Just like we can’t expect non believers to act like mature followers of Jesus in areas of sexual morality, neither should we expect them to value diversity for its own sake. Even much that passes for “diversity” in secular culture today is thinly disguised feel-good patronizing of certain “disfavored” groups. It is not natural.
Final comment, I agree with Scot and others who point out how much big churches like Willow have done in the areas of racial reconciliation and even wealth re-distribution. These things must be considered by those who love to shoot flaming arrows at big targets.



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Tyler

posted November 14, 2007 at 10:52 pm


Sorry! One more thing…
I once attended a lecture by Dr. Sider on justice. In the Q&A that followed, a student asked him if he frowned on megachurches (Willow was mentioned specifically) that spent millions on facilities. His answer was to immediately praise Willow for the work they have done in inner city Chicago. His answer was poignant and humble, and not the rebuke that the student was likely anticipating. I am glad that the NY Times is also taking notice.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:08 pm


Hey preacherman #55,
You wrote: “I am at a small congregation that gives 80% to orphans homes, poor in the community, and missionaries.”
Absolutely awesome! That’s living out the Biblical message. Thanks to you and your congregation for being an example.
May our Lord Jesus continue to bless you and your church.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:20 pm


There’s a great video of Rick Warren at Ted.com in which he addresses the importance of social issues.
I watched it several months ago and was amazed at how well he handled this opportunity. He was a speaker at the Ted Conference this past year (a conference for the ultra wealthy movers and shakers that features speakers that are mostly atheists and progressive liberals like Al Gore….but there was Rick Warren right there in the thick of it!).
Here’s the link: http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/view/id/71



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted November 15, 2007 at 6:37 am


I have been to several megachurches, including Willowcreek, over several years. The first thing that I would say is that there was clearly a foundation of people seeking to follow Christ authentically. With the possible exception of one or two, most were not prosperity driven or after peoples money. Willowcreek and Saddleback, like all churches, are imperfect, but both have given a great deal to the larger Body of Christ and to the world.
That said, without specifically making them “bad guys”, the very level of influence they have had (intentionally) on shaping church and ministry models through the world does means that they will (and should?) face some extra scrutiny. Isn’t that, in part, what REVEAL is seeking to look at? While we must check our attitudes and intentions, I don’t think Metzger out of line with his concerns. Given the level of influence these megachurches have, it makes sense to question them more closely (though not exclusively).
Sure, consumerism is a form of persuasion, but the degree to which the market model is embraced will inevitably have an impact on the message. While many churches use marketing methods and language (and should be equally challenged), the degree to which the emphasis emerges in the public material (often promoted as a models to follow) in some of the more well-known churches concerns me.
There is no doubt in my mind that Willow and SB are great churches effecting great things for the Kingdom. However, IMO, I don’t think Metzger failed to make a case as much as you suggest. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised by how unconcerned you seemed with marketing approach in general. Do you see no dangers in such a use of “persuasion”?
Peace,
Jamie



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 7:59 am


Jamie,
I agree on the likelihood of greater scrutiny. And I agree with you on the “follow us” approach. And thanks for the push back because I stated some of that with a little more strength than I perhaps should have.
Jamie, Metzger makes no case for consumerism in our world today; he assumes it and asserts it. “Consumption is his assumption.” How does one go about proving a church is driven by a marketing and consumerist model? Think about it theoretically and then show me that many actually prove that sort of thing. Read that second chp and show me where he offers any evidence that consumerism is at work. (By the way, I don’t doubt it is at work; and racisms and classisms are frequently at work in the homogenous model megachurches; but in a book that critiques consumerism hard, I’d like to see some evidence of how we know it is “consumerism” that is at work and is the culprit.) I’d like a clear definition; I’d like it distinguished from other forms of “fair” evangelism and persuasion and various degrees of consumption and what is good consumption and what is bad consumption; I’d like to see that kind of stuff.
Now, let me play with his words: Why not say he’s adapted a consumerist model because his whole point is about God consuming us and our being consumed by God and our consuming of Christ, etc? Has he used a consumerist model to consume consumerism? (I don’t think so; I think for him this is an image, a good one, but you can see that use of a term does not imply adaption of a whole model or way of being or thinking.)
The oddity of Metzger’s stuff on Warren and Hybels is that he assumes his critique is on target without justifying it and then pushes against two churches that are leading the charge for the very thing he is advocating (anti-racism, etc). Look, I’m involved with these issues and I’m working at the issues at a theological level and I see things and I hear things in megachurches — I’ve spoken now in a few. I do think in some cases that the McGravran model is at work, and now many of thoese churches are seeking to break out of the tracks they have worn deep. It is not easy.
Not only that, but I think the “gospel” itself has been reshaped to fit those deep tracks and I don’t like it. That’s why I wrote Embracing Grace.
My response in general is that you assume Willow uses the “marketing model.” To say that I’m not concerned with the “marketing model” is not really fair. I say most of marketing is about persuasion. If I thought a church really did treat its “members” as “purchasing/contributing units” — and only that — I’d be deeply concerned. If knowing the financials of a church leads to some numbers, I’m not bothered.
Let’s think about it. A church brings in 10,000 a month; there are 200 people in attendance; that means 500 per person. Does knowing this and even calculating budget on this basis mean “marketing”? I don’t think so. An element of church work is financial and we should be wise.
If it costs megabucks to bring in a well-known singer and the church doesn’t think it will have any “yield” I’d have concerns about such language but I have for years heard the church financial folks talk like this. It never impressed me; still doesn’t. But I suspect it is one factor we need to consider.
My big concern is “reducing” these churches to this financial element of what is going on, which is a language game that seeks to capture through one word a much fuller reality.
One can call Willow a “seeker” church, but its weeknight services and its many other services and ministries and programs and ad hoc functions show that while some weekend services (not nearly as many as it used to be) are seeker, the church seeks to lead seekers into living faith with Christ. To reduce it to a “seeker” mentality/approach is unfair to the reality — and I know this isn’t directed at you; it’s about using words to describe and reducing through words.
Sorry Jamie for this extended comment. Too long. You’ve made me think deeper that my point has to do with language we use and how we reduce churches to a language game and that language game doesn’t explain enough.



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Diane

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:09 am


I know nothing about Willow Creek and am not critiquing them in any way, but I do want to support in principle what Jamie says. Successful (by the world’s standards) people and institutions have to have their feet held to the fire. They can’t get a pass. This is really important. We’ve all seen the damage done when institutions and people get insulated from reality and from criticism. The Roman Catholic Church does huge amounts of good work in the social justice arena, but does that give them a pass on clergy sexual abuse? Successful people and institutions have to be scrutinized very, very hard. We don’t need to worry about them getting their feelings hurt; they are surrounded by many layers of comfort and approval and by many, many people catering to them. In my experience, many have an inflated idea of their own importance (even the Catholic Church isn’t as important as some of its people seem to think. Really.) I have met some prominent individuals who think they can do no wrong and incredibly overestimate their own importance and who become astonishingly sensitive to even the most mild criticism. Why wouldn’t they be, when they are constantly followed by flattery and fawning? Constructive criticism and lots of questioning helps and doesn’t hurt in these circumstances. It’s needed, the more so as people start tiptoeing around these stars and star institutions.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:13 am


Diane,
I agree completely. My experience around one megachurch is that they get criticized often and often quite harshly.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:26 am


Scot,
Thanks for talking it through with me. It helps me better understand. Honestly, I am convinced that Willowcreek has the best at heart for the church (both there locally and as a larger expression). I didn’t want to suggest that they view their congregants as financial contributors or customers, but rather that there is an inherent risk of adapting consumer based marketing techniques in church contexts. Should they all be out right rejected? No, but what I hear Metzger saying (and I am not all the way through the book yet) is that the medium needs to be considered in addition to the message. All this to say, I am concerned that we win one battle by sacrificing another.
In truth, my comments are more in respect to my own church, which I love. However, in the past few years it has seen incredible growth, but also a significant homogenization. My church is undoubtedly a budding megachurch that follows Willows models and teachings closely. So my concern was more personal than my comment might have reflected.
However, I really appreciate the clarity on your concern with Metzger, which will be helpful as I work through the rest of the book.
Peace,
Jamie



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:36 am


Scot,
That is a post length comment – but well worth reading. It will take a while to percolate.
I don’t think Willow or the vast majority of evangelical churches have models that value congregants primarily as financial contributors or consumers. Maybe this is my naivete – but I actually think most are much more concerned with the Kingdom of God than the Kingdom of Worldly Success.
But I do think that many have models that place excess value on calculating the greatest return on investment. In this case investment would be time, money, effort – and return would be conversions and leading individuals to become disciples. Good things of course. But when return is measured by either sheer numbers benefited (or by the power of those impacted) there is a problem. It is this combination of homogenization and occasional favoritism that rubs me wrong.



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Bryon

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:49 am


RJS,
I want to challenge the statement, “many have models that place excess value on calculating the greatest return on investment.” I was very challenged this year at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit by Harvard Professor Michael Porter. He proposed that churches do a lot of good things but don’t necessarily them well because of a lack of focus on the returns for investment.
I think, if we are going to effectively fulfill the mission that Christ has given the church both as local congregations and as the world-wide church, we need to focus on investment returns. For me part of the returns that we should measure are how well we are overcoming favoritism, racism, institutional narcissum, etc. in the church.



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:51 am


Of course – I also then must wonder if it rubs me wrong only because I am disaffected and envious, selfish evaluation, – or if it is a rational evaluation. Ah – the complexity of it all.



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:54 am


Byron,
Clearly success demands a focus on returns. But we must carefully evaluate how we define success and how we measure the returns on investment in attaining that success. I submit that we sometimes have the wrond definition of “success” and/or measure the return on investment by the wrong standard.



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Paul Johnston

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:59 am


What Biblical evidence can anyone give to support the “market strategy” approach employed by American Megachurches.



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Bryon

posted November 15, 2007 at 9:01 am


RJS,
Aye, but there’s the rub for in this life of following Christ what sort of success will come?
Agreed, as an employee of a mega-church, I have seen both good and bad definitions. The top 100 lists etc. are a great temptation to misdefine success.



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 9:19 am


Bryon,
Perhaps in line with Scot’s question “What do you think the evangelical church is blinded to?” the answer is our implicit definition of success.
Without clearly articulating a Biblical definition of success and a Biblical description of acceptable return on investment, we flounder in the waves, blown about and influenced by worldly perceptions of success and acceptable return.



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Allie

posted November 15, 2007 at 9:20 am


That’s precisely the problem, Byron. I can’t help but wonder what “God’s Top 100 List” will look like in the Kingdom–who did (or does) He define as successful? That’s the rub, and why pursuing earthly success can be so problematic–we can achieve so much in the world, but not have done squat for the Kingdom.
However, the issue that I think is being ignored in all of this is stewardship. I don’t think Metzger realizes that Willow, for example, understands the statement Christ made that from whom much is given, much will be required. Obviously, Willow has been given a lot, both in material and human resources. The challenge it faces (as does everyone else) is, “How do we best use what God has given us, so that when we give account for it, He will be pleased with us?”
At bottom, the issue of stewardship really puts the idea of consumerism in a different light. It makes us reevaluate our priorities (one book I read asks it this way: “Gucci, or Giving?”) in light of what God is doing in the world, and undercuts the world’s emphasis on materialism and “success”. To ignore stewardship and proper use of our resources guarantees we will be constantly fighting this battle of what “success” is and how ministry is best done, with no answers. However, if we reframe this question in terms of stewardship, we may well find our critiques of Willow et. al., coming back to us.



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Dan Brennan

posted November 15, 2007 at 9:46 am


Scot,
Good observation about the “one word” that fails to capture the fullness of what is happening. That’s true for the “emerging,” “Anglican,” or “charismatic.” But it seems to me that Willow Creek leadership has invited this empahsized thrust with their focus with their self-conscious choices. They forged a new language in the evangelical community–a language game I think is fair to say–that didn’t exist in the evangelical community before Willow and others were born.



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T

posted November 15, 2007 at 10:37 am


Scot,
I know I’m a little late. But you said something I’m really curious about (in your long comment),
“Not only that, but I think the ?gospel? itself has been reshaped to fit those [McGavran?] deep tracks and I don?t like it.”
Could you elaborate? In what ways do you think the gospel itself has been reshaped to fit those ‘deep tracks’ (which I assume are tracks of the homogeneous unit principle)?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 12:47 pm


Western individualism has clipped the church from the gospel. They have also clipped other things, but that’s just a starter. And our patterns have kept us in that rut.



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Paul Johnston

posted November 15, 2007 at 1:12 pm


Honestly I think the word American would be a better substitute for the word Western in the above comment, Scot.
Most other western countries, particularly Europe, to the extent that they still worship, employ traditional methods of Gospel interpretation.
Individual interpretations of a self affirming Gospel enmeshed in the the cult of human personality and marketplace methodologies, is an anathema to my understanding of Scripture and is mostly an American concept.
The American evangelical movement has progressivly worsened in it’s idolitrous portrayal of leadership that affirms and deliberately seeks worldly fame and massive fortunes.
Shame, shame.



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 4:02 pm


Scot,
Is Consuming Jesus a scholarly book?
Or is it more of an anecdotal reflection and evaluation? Is it a book to try to get “ordinary” evangelical Christians to reflect and question assumptions, preconceptions, and the status quo? Does it succeed – even while unfairly stereotyping and criticizing specific megachurches or evangelicalism in general?
Is the language game played by Metzger any better or any worse than that played by McLaren? Or is it just that Metzger attacks something that hits home? I know that some of my response to McLaren arose from the fact that he vilified, without evidence and without acknowledging good with bad, the kind of church that played a formative role in my development as a Christian.
The major lesson I come away with is a need for Christians to frame arguments in ways that are constructive rather than divisive. This means fair criticism, care to acknowledge and highlight positives, evidence, and avoidance of personal attack – or the appearance of personal attack. Why do we think it is ok to attack each other? Why would a Christian scholar think that a chapter title like “The ends of Enns” is appropriate or useful in a general audience book? O wait – now I am off topic.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 5:04 pm


RJS,
I’d say it is a theological book with an academic press (Eerdmans) with a theological vocabulary and pace.
McLaren addresses global crises; Metzger addresses evangelical ones. McLaren barely mentions “evangelical.”
Metzger’s critique of evangelicalism’s complicity in consumerism is an assumption and that is my only critique of the book thus far: I’d like to see some proof and I’d like to know what he means by it. His critique of Saddleback is a few pages and the one on Hybels even less. I think he gets by with some of this critique because it is fashionable.



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RJS

posted November 15, 2007 at 5:27 pm


Scot,
Thanks. I guess what bothers me is the fact that we feel such personal critique is ok – esp. to a sympathetic audience, i.e. when and where it is fashionable.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 5:51 pm


RJS,
I didn’t respond to that element of your comment, not knowing where to take it.
I think Metzger’s book is clearly “friendly fire.” He wants a better evangelical church. And, one of the major reasons to write is because there is something not being said that needs to be said or something wrong out there that needs to be corrected. Those seem to be his motive.
Again, to reiterate what I’ve said already but for all those reading this far:
The big issue for me is this — How do we measure and define what is here being called “consumeristic Christianity”? Is it suburban churches in general? Exurban churches? Materialistic? Is it a church that is demographically inconsistent with its neighborhood? I’d like to see some solid social-scientific studies on this.



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Darryl

posted November 15, 2007 at 8:41 pm


When I read this chapter, it seems to me that Metzger is theologically reflecting on what can only be called common knowledge. For instance:
-Racialization exists;
-We generally approach life as consumers, and this creeps into how we obtain “religious services”
-Many churches approach growth in a way that is similar to the way that our consumer economy runs
-Individualism (part of consumerism) is prevalent, and this too has crept into church
None of this should be too startling to anyone as a statement of facts or reality, I would think. Or maybe I’m wrong? After all, Metzger does say that we’re “blinded” to these forces.
Metzger quotes on many who have reflected on these issues, such as C.S. Lewis, Mark Noll, Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. I’m not sure studies from Barna or Gallup would have helped this chapter actually.
How do we measure and define consumeristic Christianity? I think that Metzger has done an adequate job defining it; I think we measure its presence by some of what he describes (homogeneous churches, continued racialization, etc.). The opposite is true as well: we know we are not consumeristic when we are breaking through some of the racial barriers, refusing to commodify the Gospel, etc.) The pollsters would have to make this quantifiable, but that’s beyond the scope of this chapter.
I’m enjoying this, even though I’m puzzled. My reaction to this chapter was much different from yours. Maybe I was already convinced of some of the things Metzger was writing about, but the chapter isn’t enough to convince someone who hasn’t already bought in.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2007 at 10:28 pm


Darryl,
Your comment opens up some other issues that I think can be addressed.
With you, I’m inclined to connect racialization in the church to significant unconscious forces at work. And I’m inclined to accept the insightfulness of consumerist critique.
Racialization exists, however, outside consumeristic places. If the major issue is race and class, there is much more to this than consumerism. Racism and classism existed in ancient Israel and Rome.
For two years I’ve pushed back on the use of consumerism to define churches because the term for me is inherently reductionistic. I will continue that until I see someone show me that the use of marketing or even financial metaphors by a church means the church is entirely shaped by consumerism.
Humans are complex; churches are complex; we need complex and careful analyses before we critique.



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Well Woman

posted November 16, 2007 at 9:58 am


I suppose we can take up a lot of time and space debating the issue of whether big or small gatherings are most effective in expanding the Kingdom. Perhaps, when we take a simple look at the life of Jesus and The Way that He taught, we will see that He used Big and Small in combination with one another to get the ?maximum ministry effect?. He was comfortable with ministering to crowds that were in the thousands, and He was equally comfortable ministering to one small child on His lap. The Great Physician was well aware that different ?infirmities? require different ?treatment modalities?. Likewise, we may not all be equally as gifted: some may be able to shepherd a large group, and others have been equipped to work in a group that may be as small as one on one. One thing is for sure: when we agree, and are in unity, we know that, whether we are ministering in a small group or a large group, and we are ministering in His name~ He is in our midst. (Matthew 1:19-20) The same holds true for diverse/homogenous groups; Jesus ministered within both contexts?as should we.
Mother Teresa said: “At the moment of death we will not be judged according to the number of good deeds we have done or by the diplomas we have received in our lifetime. We will be judged according to the love we have put into our work. We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” If I may be so bold as to paraphrase this great Woman of God, let me say this: ?At the moment of death, we will not be judged by how big and slick or small and organic or diverse or homogenous our churches were; we will be judged according to the love we have put into the lives of our congregants and communities. Do all things, big or small, with great love.?
Let us agree on this one point, at least?love and greed/narcissism/ (insert whatever word here you think best describes ?21st Century American Consumerism?) are antithetical, and both can be found in big or small institutions.
What?s in your wallet?



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Julie

posted November 16, 2007 at 12:33 pm


Going in a slightly different direction: racialization in the church is in part due to the fact that the black church is among the few institutions “owned” by blacks. Why would a black congregant or group of blacks choose to leave behind the opportunity to lead, participate and own in order to join a white church, one run by whites, owned by whites and sustained by whites?
Secondly, the mega church is a model that thrives on middle class incomes and education levels (particularly those norms set by the white middle class). The mega-church is more like a school than it is like a business or church, actually. Courses, opportunities for service, training to teach or sing or lead… these are organized around white middle class values that put education and leading ahead of other values (like long Sunday lunches or dressing up as a sign of worship or being in church singing for three hours on a Sunday morning or having a catharsis through a sermon, not a lecture that deconstructs the original languages or going to a place where you can forget about white norms once per week).
Perhaps the focus on consumerism has more to do with a vague sense of guilt over our limitations than the specifics of being greedy or materialistic. We all gravitate to contexts that feel familiar and empowering. The mega-church is clearly effective in this regard for middle class whites.



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RJS

posted November 16, 2007 at 12:43 pm


Julie – Great comment. And if this is getting closer to the root of the problem, the solutions are completely different.



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sheryl

posted November 16, 2007 at 8:02 pm


Scot, I share your frustration with Metger’s assumptions about the Church being consumeristic. He does not back up his claims with evidence and continually makes sweeping generalizations. He says, “we,” yet never defines who is in that group. He assumes, but never says how he gets there. And most egregious, he never explains the connection between consumerism and racism/class divisions. Metzger expects the reader to accept his arguments without explanations. I don’t. While reading the first two chapters, I couldn’t help but think this sounded more like political talking points than a theological, social argument.
Also, Metzger takes easy swipes at two, well-known megachurches because they’re easy targets, which I think is unfair. Having been a part of Willow Creek North Shore since moving here, I wonder if Metzger has visited this church or any Willow churches? North Shore is not just “one flavor,” i.e., vanilla. His criticism sounds like what others say who haven’t actually been to the church.
And these are not the only megachurches in the country. There are other churches that he could use to address the racial and social problems that might be more appropriate, and NOT just white churches. I found it ironic that Metzger never mentioned T.D. Jakes’ church, The Potter’s House. My husband has visited there and he may have been one of the only white people there in a sea of thousands.
There are mega-churches that do well. While living in Hawaii, we were members of New Hope in Honolulu with Wayne Codeiro (10k+ members). This is one of the most ethnically, culturally, socio-economic, dynamic communities I have ever seen. It’s worth going to Hawaii just to visit this community, because you won’t believe it.
While Metzger takes easy shots at mega-churches, it’s often the small churches that struggle with the issues he raises.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 16, 2007 at 11:26 pm


Sheryl,
You make some great points. It’s helpful to get some input from someone who has had some experience with numerous mega-churches. My experience has been with small (20-100), medium (200-400), and large (800-1200). And I’ve seen the problem in all of these churches–but it does seem that the smaller the church, the worse the problem.



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Darryl

posted November 17, 2007 at 3:12 pm


This has been fascinating. Scot, thanks for stimulating this conversation.
I’ve found Metzger positive overall about megachurches – he has high praises later in the book for Saddleback. His picture of how the church should be at the end of the book mentions Willow positively, as well as other megachurches.
I was just thinking – Metzger is from Portland, an area with a higher level of suspicion toward the free market; I am from Canada, which is probably similar in some ways. Could it be that his critique is based on a worldview which might not be shared with someone, say, in the midwest? I don’t know the answer, but it may be possible.
Scot, I hope you can return to this theme later. What gifts has the free market brought the Christian faith? What in the free market must we critique when applied to faith? Seems like there’s lots to explore here.



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sheryl

posted November 17, 2007 at 5:12 pm


#88 Darryl – Excellent Point! I was also wondering how much Metzger’s own cultural context has influenced his thinking and theology. Portland is definitely a land of its own.



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