Scot McKnight is a prolific blogger and scholar. His books and posts are always worth reading. Beyond that he’s a gentleman and he gave me great advice on buying a fountain pen. I don’t always agree with him – but rarely have I read a post that’s left me scratching my head as much as this one on Paul Metzger’s book Consuming Jesus.
It could be that I’m already convinced of what Metzger writes in this section of the book, but McKnight is not buying it. His quibbles are that the chapter isn’t backed by solid social-scientific studies, that it doesn’t refer to other scholarly works that build the case, and that Metzger doesn’t define consumerism well enough.
What Metzger describes in this chapter is really what you would have to call common knowledge. For instance: racialization exists. Churches are pragmatic and often appeal to people’s felt needs and making them feel comfortable. Churches are often homogeneous, racially and socially. Individualism is our general mindset, even within the church. We run the danger of offering the Gospel as another commodity. I am sure that much of this has been studied by Gallup and Barna, but it has also been written about by David Fitch and others. I’m not sure that social-scientific studies would have made this chapter stronger; you can quibble with some of these points, but my sense is that the argument is more one of theological reflection than surveys.
As for referring to others, Metzger quotes people like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels as they have wrestled with these issues and changed their minds, as well as a New York Times Magazine article, scholars like C.S. Lewis and Mark Noll, books like Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture and Selling Out the Church: The Dangers of Church Marketing. There are some 33 footnotes, and not many of them are fluffy. I believe Metzger is sufficiently grounded in what he writes, even if he may assume some level of agreement as he writes.
McKnight also says that Metzger doesn’t clearly define consumerism or how to measure it. I thought he did with statements like “giving consumers what they want, when they want it, and at the least cost to consumers themselves”, or “catering to what consumers want and creating wants to win them over to buying a given product” which is “socially acceptable today, even in the church.” He writes of preaching the gospel in a consumeristic way such as signifying “an exchange between God and us rooted in satisfying our untrained needs,” and of providing religious products and targeting demographics in the style of free-market enterprise. He may not give a technical definition, but you sure get the sense of what he’s talking about, and it wouldn’t be hard to quantify it either – but that’s beyond the scope of the chapter.
I could be missing something, but I’m having a hard time believing that McKnight and I read the same chapter. But it is ironic that the chapter is about how we are “blinded” to these things. If anything, it proves that we are at least seeing different things.
In any case, I look forward to the rest of McKnight’s review – but this just goes to show that a review can never replace a book.