Paul Metzger has a new book coming out next month called Consuming Jesus. Metzger is concerned that, without knowing it, evangelicals have become insensitive to issues of race and class divisions within the church. Metzger’s book is about consumerism and how it affects the church in reinforcing the race and class divisions of society, and how it distorts our view of Jesus and his call on our lives.
How have we reinforced class divisions?
Whether we evangelicals mean to or not, we appear mean-spirited and interested only in a privileged few – upwardly mobile, white, Anglo-Sasxon, Protestant, heterosexual males and their families (and, oh yes, perhaps those minority counterparts who make it to our economic and social level) – and in keeping others out.
This, Metzger writes, reflects an absence of “practical love.”
As for our view of Jesus, we have removed the altar or table at the front of many of our churches, and replaced it with a coffee bar at the back.
I like a latte as much as the next person does. Coffee bars have their place – but not at the back of the sanctuary, especially when there is no Lord’s table in front. That’s because the coffee bar and the Lord’s table are symbolic: both are symbols that communicate powerfully their use of “sacred” space. The coffee bar denotes pleasure and leisure (good things in their own right), whereas the Lord’s table always connotes joy through suffering: the bloody grapes of wrath have become a river of life. Like coffee bars with their sweetly flavored lattes, many churches (subliminally) suggest that the church will provide those who attend with the very things the world does – everything involved in self-fulfillment. Christ, on the other hand, drank from a very different cup, one that was bittersweet, in order to bring meaning, purpose, and life.
Sound harsh? Metzger writes from within the movement, motivated by love:
My criticism of the evangelical church is not the angry and cynical attack of an outsider; rather, it is the criticism of one who loves the evangelical church’s historic values of piety and holistic outreach and mission, but one who longs for reform…I love the evangelical movement, especially when we are consumed by Christ and not by consumer religion. But we do need a nobler, all-consuming vision of evangelical Christian faith.
In short, we need to “eat crow – humble pie!” In other words, we need to eat at the table of repentance and reconciliation. There we will find “forgiveness and love, hope and strength to carry on.” There at the head of the table is Christ, “interceding for us and providing for our needs.”
I began reading this book yesterday. Despite the harsh and often accurate criticisms, you get the overwhelming sense that Metzger isn’t out to bash the church. He loves it and wants it to live up to its calling and its heritage. His writing is theological, practical, and insightful. I’m looking forward to reading more.
Tomorrow I’ll look at his first chapter, which outlines some of the historic trends that have fostered race and class divisions in the church. It answers some questions I’ve had for a long time. More to come tomorrow.