In Eugene Peterson’s new book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ , Peterson probes into his own history and his own experience of the church to draw out some powerful — stunning might be the better word — observations about the church. Three points to make today, and I ask these questions:
Is this your experience? How has the church been “Americanized” or “consumerized”? What do you think can be done about it?
First, as a child and youngster, Peterson’s church focused on two images of the church. One came from the Song of Songs and the other from Ephesians. One focused on beautiful Tirzah and the army with terrible banners (Song 6:4), and the other one focused on the pure and splendored and holy and unblemished church (Eph 5:26-27). His pastors were always trying to repair the church to get it to be like those texts.
Peterson became a pastor, and those sentimentalized and romantic and crusader images were instinctual.
Third, then something happened. “Tirzah and Terrible-as-an-army-with-banners had been scraped and replaced with the imagery of an ecclesiastical business with a mission to market spirituality to consumers to make them happy” (22). Instead of preaching fantasy sermons about what the church could be, he says, we could do something about: turn the place into a consumer-shaped business for Christians.
“All we had to do was remove pictures of the God of Gomorrah and Moriah and Golgotha from the walls of our churches and shift things around a bit to make our meeting places more consumer friendly” (23).
“Marketing research quickly developed to show us just what people wanted in terms of God and religion. As soon as we knew what it was, we gave it to them” (23).
Tell me, is this true? Too true?