Mark D. Roberts

When I was asked to participate in the blog tour for Skye Jethani’s new book, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity, I had mixed feelings. I do think it’s essential for Christians (including me) to discover a faith beyond consumer Christianity. So I was inclined to recognize the value in Jethani’s book. Yet, I’ve read plenty already that bemoans the materialistic nature of American Christianity. So I wondered if Jethani would simply rehash valid but well-worn gripes. I would have been inclined to turn down the book tour invitation for this reason, except I knew something of Jethani’s writing from pieces I’ve read elsewhere. I knew him to be a creative and engaging author. So I took the risk of signing on to the tour.
As I expected, Jethani’s book does offer a critique of Christian consumerism. But I did not expect him to go well beyond the familiar argument that we Christians care too much about “stuff.” In fact, he shows how this care shapes our Christian faith, our churches, and our mission.
As I expected, Jethani does this with insight and a delightful writing style. He is a brilliant thinker and a top-notch writer. But I did not expect him to interact so ingeniously with art, especially the art of Vincent Van Gogh.
As I expected, Jethani’s critique of “consumer Christianity” is trenchant and well worth reading. But I did not expect his proffered solutions to be equally insightful, gripping, and somtimes even surprising. I was challenged, both intellectually and personally, but The Divine Commodity.
While I was reading Jethani’s book, Newsweek ran a cover story on “The End of Christian America.” It occurred to me that many of the ideas in The Divine Commodity related to this article, and vice versa. So my question for Skye Jethani asked him to comment on these connections. Here is our interchange:
I would like to ask you to talk about the relationship between your book and the recent Newsweek cover story on â??The End of Christian America.â? I can think of several interesting connections, but rather than asking about these, Iâ??d rather give you free reign to comment on how you see The Divine Commodity relating to state of Christianity in America, and especially its purportedly waning influence.
I believe the North American church is in a time of â??creative dislocation.â? I agree with Dr. Mohler, who is quoted extensively in the Newsweek article, that we are seeing a remarkable cultural-shift, and that the â??Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Westernâ? culture. Where I depart from Dr. Mohler is when he calls this a â??cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.â?
Christianity is indeed losing its privileged position of cultural authority in North America, but this dislocation is creating the conditions for God to do something new within and through his people. For those who believe the church and its mission can only succeed by maintaining control of schools, institutions, and governments, then I can understand why trends outlined in the Newsweek article would stir worry. But my guess is that these folks have bought into what I call The Daisy Cutter Doctrine (as discussed in Chapter 9 of The Divine Commodity).
The Daisy Cutter Doctrine is the belief that Godâ??s huge mission can only be legitimately accomplished with huge methods. For example, to impact the United States for Christ, Christians should seek control of the United States Government. Or, if we want to shift cultural values Christians should be producing Hollywood blockbusters that promote the virtue of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. The idea is that a big mission requires big methods for a big impact.
But with Christianity and the Church becoming increasingly marginalized in our culture, the opportunities for massive cultural impact are shrinking. This, I suspect, is what has people like Dr. Mohler so concerned.
I am not.
The overwhelming witness of Scripture is that God transforms the world using the smallest and most unlikely methodsâ??the outcasts, the underdogs, the forgotten, and the under-resourced. Last week was Passover and Easter. In one story the most powerful empire on earth is defeated and plundered by a band of poor slaves in communion with God. In the other story, the powers of evil and hell are defeated by the death and resurrection of a poor itinerant preacher from the backwaters of Galilee.
Beyond the testimony of Scripture, a glimpse at the state of global Christianity shows that many of the places where the faith is growing most rapidly are also where it lacks a privileged position. China may be the most vivid example, or among the Dalit (Untouchables) of India.
For those church leaders that have great concern over the â??declineâ? of Christianity in America, I believe The Divine Commodity carries a message of enduring hope. God may be simply refining his church and burning away the cultural dross that weâ??ve acquired from our privileged position. This refining may be painful as we lose institutions, facilities, and even some previously impactful ministries. But in the end I have great confidence that Christâ??s Church, even in America, will prevail. For when we are weak, then we are strong.
Thanks, Skye, for this thoughtful answer.
So, blog-reading friends, I highly commend The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani.
To check out other “stops” on Skye’s blog tour, see Chris Fann’s blog.

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