A paperback copy of Paul Louis Metzger’s Consuming Jesus arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago to replace the Word document I’ve been using. I’ve been blogging through this book. I figure I had better finish before the book is officially released this Thursday.
I am always looking for a good critique of evangelicalism in the right way. By that I mean a critique that:
(a) is fair – no straw men;
(b) is realistic – no pulling punches;
(c) is not cynical or judgmental; and
(d) offers a better way and avoids the pendulum effect.
You’d think that it would be easy to find books like this, but it’s not. Consuming Jesus passes all of these tests, and deserves to be read widely.
Metzger writes, “Although the consumer church is a fallen power, it can be transformed when it is consumed by Jesus so that it may bear witness as a kind of first fruits of Jesus’ new world order.” In this chapter, Metzger describes how Christ’s atoning work restructures the Christian life.
Metzger nails one overreaction to evangelicalism. Reacting to evangelicalism’s focus on individual sin, some go to the other extreme and focus almost exclusively on structural evil. Metzger writes:
Structural engagement is vitally necessary. But it is not enough. Being “born again” (or from above), in spite of all its negative connotations, is also necessary for overcoming race and class barriers in a consumer church. One must be turned inside out and and upside down. The fight against racialization and related problems requires regeneration, repentance, and forgiveness – the key ingredients of being “born again”…Attempts to confront race and class divisions can be intense and overwhelming and will not bear lasting fruit – indeed, could end in anger or apathy – unless we experience the undying love of God that is poured out into our hearts through the Spirit of grace, whom God in Christ freely gives us to transform our hearts and lives.
There can be no social justice apart from the gospel that transforms hearts. This is obviously a hot issue right now, especially with the reaction to books like McLaren’s Everything Must Change.
Metzger warns us against two extremes:
Moralism – If we’re not careful, we’ll confuse doing good deeds with spiritual life. While a converted heart will always show itself by concern for our neighbor, concern for our neighbor does not always flow from a converted heart. Some have argued that people who feed the poor and clothe the naked are saved on the basis of Matthew 25. Metzger says that this is a form of moralism. Not all who give themselves to the poor and oppressed find favor with God.
Escapism – On the other hand, some ignore social justice altogether. One version of this is the “consumer-church mindset” which “offers self-gratification and fulfillment to the individual” and is not redemptive. This mindset “enslaves and violates those who have bought into it, causing them to spiral further inward and downward into the bottomless pit of their insatiable desires.”
Metzger refers to Jonathan Edwards in talking about both moralism and extremism:
Edwards championed the popular evangelical emphasis on the transformed heart. Yet he would have distanced himself from the individualistic and otherworldly orientation of many who call themselves evangelicals today…To the extent that evangelicals today, with their individualistic and relational frames of reference, fail to take up these concerns of Edwards, they make themselves out to be impostors and illegitimate children of the movement he inspired.
“In light of the preceding discussion,” Metzger writes, “we need to ask ourselves if we are really converted.” We need a restructuring in two areas: a restructuring of the heart, as well as a restructuring of social relationships. Metzger gets this balance right.
I’ll be covering the final two chapters in the next couple of days, in which Metzger talks about how Christ’s atoning work restructures church and outreach.