Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Consuming Jesus 3

What kind of gospel, or what kind of atonement theory, must be articulated in order to lead evangelicals out of their blindness into a life that pursues both reconciliation with God and with others? This is the question asked by Paul Metzger in the 3d chapter of his book Consuming Jesus.
He plays in this chp with the deep magic of Narnia and with Aslan’s victory; in short, he operates here with a strong sense of ransom theory: that Jesus conquers evil and liberates.
Jesus devours legalistic distortions and divisions. “Like Aslan… Christ turned the tables on the principalities and powers by veiling himself in creaturely flesh and humbling himself to death on the cross” (76). “Separation (legalism) as well as supersessionism (gentile Christians displacing Israel) and antinomianism (antagonism to the law) are all equally demonic” (77).
“Today’s problems of race and class in America are not rooted in torture and oppression, but in liberated choice and pleasure: they are bound up with the subtle law of consumer preference” (80). “… one must choose to be real …”.
“Greedy zeal for a false utopian vision of homogeneity and upward mobility threatens to consume the church, rebuilding the wall of division between those of different ethnicities and classes through free-market consumer church-growth strategies, as well as prosperity-gospel preaching to the poor” (85). Here he goes after Joel Osteen.
“The Christian religion … offers energizing hope that mobilizes the church to become downwardly mobile and to partner with the downtrodden to take action and do something about their oppressive circumstances” (86).

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Dianne P

posted November 16, 2007 at 12:35 am

I like the part about partnering w/ the downtrodden. Too often the church is keen to *help* the downtrodden, but that approach doesn’t do much to transform, neither the helper nor the downtrodden. We’re happy to hand out a sandwich or a Christmas gift, but don’t quite know how to sit down together and have a conversation over a cup of coffee. When we partner, we grow in realization that we’re all in this together, no longer *us* and *them*.
Reminiscent of Rupnik’s book, where the life of Jesus wiped away the difference between us and them.

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posted November 16, 2007 at 7:26 am

Dianne P,
Agree. Not charity but transformation.
If I take M.’s point, I agree that racism is subtle and that many people who would never think of themselves as racists engage, unwittingly, in racist patterns of behavior. How this relates to the four walls of a church is complicated and perhaps is an issue for the church beyond the four walls, the church of how we live our lives.

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posted November 16, 2007 at 8:23 am

I believe that Metzger, among other things, is seeing things through the eyes of personal experience and interracial family life.
The church is handcuffed by the intense individualism that can be classed as “consumerist” in Metzger’s language. If what matters is strictly the me God connection there is no need for church or the cooperation of the parts of the body. Liberated choice and preference leads to homogenization. When we add to this explicit “prosperity gospel” or implicit favoritism (rampant in most of our evangelical churches) the result is devastating.

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Well Woman

posted November 16, 2007 at 11:10 am

I would like to get a clarification on the concept of “homogenization” within the body of Christ. Anyone? Thanks.

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posted November 16, 2007 at 11:53 am

What kind of gospel, or what kind of atonement theory, must be articulated in order to lead evangelicals out of their blindness into a life that pursues both reconciliation with God and with others?
What if it isn’t bad theology so much as a bad lifestyle. We’re all so caught up in our own lifes. Most people’s world revolves around them. It’s self-centeredness, but it’s not.
I recently heard something talking about teen self-centeredness. It said that teens’ go through so much change and drama that they simply can’t fit anyone else into their heads. I wonder if it may be the same for adults these days — life’s just so crazy for most people that they simply can’t move out of their little zone.
So do we need better theology or a different lifestyle? Or is there a difference?

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Scott Watson

posted November 16, 2007 at 1:03 pm

As some have said before,racism, or more specifically,white supremecist ideology,is the “original sin” of America.Even though I haven’t read this work,from what Scot has shared,he seems to be right on target, not simply describing a contemporary phenomenon but a historical and biblical one also. The rise of white supremecy as an ideology and worldview,which is a modern phenomenon,tracks with the rise of European colonial political and economic expansionism, Christian theological justification often tagging along with it in various configurations of various political theologies.
Biblically speaking, this “consumerist” slant is what is subsummed under the name Satan and the Satanic,from the imagery of empire “gone wild” with its overweening, god-like arrogance,oppression,materialism,idolatry,etc. seem in its depictions of Babylon and subsequent great empires and which Jesus associates with the Evil One in his temptation narrative in the allure of its grandeur and what if offers humankind.
To show how screwed up this is,it appears to me that,broadly speaking,historically,Evangelicals have put a lot on emphasis on a theological accounting of things like illicit sex,which is is an easy target,which may not impact their self-identity very much but not engage in a real theological accounting of racism,which Marxist theorists have traditionally done a better job of analyzing.To change this,most of the institutional (including religious)and social realities have to be deconstructed to break people out of the legitimating stupor of American Way,the Christian way in it popular sociocultural makeup.As I see it, the radical praxis of Jesus did just that for his his hearers. Hating father and mothers(i.e. calling into question the family as a legitimating force for wrong sociopolitical purposes),teaching on the dangers of possessions,non-retaliation,loving one’s enemies,redefining who one’s neighbor(coreligionist) is, welcoming “sinners,” etc. all point to this reality.
You can tell a lot about groups by what bristles them. It’s difficult to get straight talk about “race” amongst so-called Evangelical Christian in America,or about anything that call into question the Capitalist and consumerist mindset. If matters close to these things come up in the NT,they are typically, watered down,ignored or give way to pragmatic cocerns in the “real world.” This is strange since Jesus was definitely motivated by and acted out of what any person today would characterize as “utopian” concerns. Moreover,Christians throughout history have taken Jesus’ words about living what they ironically call the “evagelical life” to sell all their property,renounce marriage(a radical anti-empirial act of breaking ties with the basic legitimating institution of society),the world and live in the desert in opposition to the dictates of the “real” world as something as serious as the other commands of Jesus.

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posted November 16, 2007 at 1:09 pm

#4 “Homogenization” is to make something uniform or similar. He’s talking about how we are encouraging single-race and single-class churches, because they seem to grow faster, because whether they recognize it or not, many people prefer a homogeneous group, apparently. I think that’s what he means (just judging from Scot’s initial summary).
#5 You’ve got a good point, though I think the question at the end is true: is there a difference? Our head pastor recently preached about different levels of conviction, dividing them into public (what I say), private (what I think I believe), and core (what I show via action I believe). It would appear there are disconnects in terms of belief. But, I just preached this last weekend about characteristics of our society that block of us from giving thanks; there is a lifestyle of continual consumption that breeds discontent.
So personally, I don’t think you can have one without the other: lifestyle demonstrates theology, theology shapes (and is shaped by) lifestyle. Aren’t they a spiral, continually shaping and molding each other?

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John Frye

posted November 16, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Daryl (#7),
I agree with you: “lifestyle demonstrates theology.” We will not be judged on what we say we believe; we will be judged on how we lived. Every behavior is an expression of incarnate belief. The tragic American evangelical error is to profess and even “fight for” right beliefs, yet live a way of life contrary, if not hostile to the way of Jesus (see Scott Watson’s comments above).

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posted November 16, 2007 at 10:58 pm

Hi John. I just bought your book.
In one of my jobs, we did a huge series on race and struggled with racial questions in a racially-mixed newsroom. Blacks, as you may imagine, “get it” more readily than whites that what you do and not what you say defines your racism. Everyone (almost) says they believe in racial equality. White people say the want to worship with blacks. Blacks will say: you want to worship with us? Come to our church. We have black churches. Why do we have to come to yours so that you can feel better? Want equality? Move into a racially diverse neighborhood. If you say you left a racially changing neighborhood because you were worried about the falling value of your house, you put money ahead of people. And you perpetuated racism. It’s challenging and humbling to try to put beliefs about race into action, and, while churches tend to be among the most racially segregated places, fighting racism does have to extend beyond church walls.

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Paul Johnston

posted November 19, 2007 at 1:04 am

Given the multi ethnic reality of my city, (mississauga) and the truth about the real Christian mission then racial diversity is a given. If, your city is like mine and such diversity isn’t apparent within your congregation, then you and your crowd have other priorities.

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Jason Barr

posted November 20, 2007 at 8:51 pm

I tend to think along similar terms regarding “charity”, that charity alone is insufficient and patronizing.
I might even say that, depending on how it’s articulated, the idea of “transformation” could also be patronizing unless it necessarily includes the idea of solidarity – just as Jesus participated in our nature to bring us into the divine life, so also we participate in the nature of those we seek to uplift so that Jesus can bring them into the divine life – we participate in it together with Christ and with the poor.
I’m having trouble articulating it myself… a kind of imperial language is quite pervasive regarding the ways we tend to think about poverty and I don’t always know how to get around it.

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