Not every book on the consumerism and the church includes a chapter on fallen powers. But Paul Metzger’s book Consuming Jesus devotes a healthy section to this topic. Metzger writes, “Sinister forces are at work today, and they have an impact on the church and the broader culture to their very core, which sometimes leads us to lose our wits and discernment.”
We live within a context of consumerism and free-market enterprise. “In a free market church culture,” Metzger writes, “those who cater most to this consumer force thrive best.” Many of our models for church within North American are built around catering to consumer forces. We don’t even question this approach, yet it’s led to class and race divisions, and all kinds of other problems within the church.
Metzger describes how we are blind to a number of diabolical forces that are currently affecting us:
Racialization – We believe that racialization is no longer an issue. “Jim Crow legislation, like slavery, may be a thing of the past,” writes Metzger, “but racialization and classism are not; they simply take new forms under the law of consumer preference.” As the movie Crash illustrates, we are suspicious and fearful of “the other” – even in the church.
Consumer-Market Forces – We believe that “consumerism and the free market are basically benign, and that catering to people’s desires is good if the church wishes to grow and be successful.” But the market forces dehumanize us, turning us into “solitary individuals who shop and sell.” It commodifies human life, rather than offering the free gift of the gospel. It also leads to race and class divisions based on income.
Success – Churches face the temptation to water down the message in order to be successful. “Prophets in America are not often successful – so they usually get stoned.” Metzger asks, “Will the consumer-sensitive church ever be prepared to contend against the incessant consumer impulses that lead people to shop and find the church that gives them the spiritual goods they want…at the least cost to themselves?” In other words, will we keep trying to satisfy the consumer market for churches so that we grow, or will we challenge it even if it costs us?
Metzger reminds us of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The senior demon Screwtape advised his nephew Wormwood that “if he cannot keep his patient from attending church, he should coax him into becoming a church shopper.”
Social Structures – We are blinded to social structures, because we focus on personal evangelism. We mistakenly think that “if we focus on building personal relationships, social-structural problems such as racialization will eventually take care of themselves.”
Metzger says, “We American evangelicals need to move beyond our pragmatic orientation and short-term vision of focusing almost exclusively on building personal relationships with individuals to win them for Christ.” We should “guard our strengths” (like personal evangelism) but also “critically engage our weaknesses.”
Metzger’s conclusion: “We evangelicals have been structured historically and culturally in such a way that we are often blind to the divisive forces arrayed against us.” The rest of the book outlines a biblical and theological paradigm to address this situation.