Does the consumerist mindset of contemporary evangelicalism harm our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ? In Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, Paul Louis Metzger answers “yes.” And Metzger goes even further: consumerism affects the church by reinforcing the race and class divisions of society.

Consuming Jesus is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in recent days. Metzger exposes evangelicalism’s consumerism for what it is: a capitulation to the market forces of capitalist culture that is detrimental to the unity of the gospel across races and classes.

Meztger begins by showing how evangelicals first retreated from culture and politics, which prepared the way for a disordered consumerist vision that blinds us to racialization, the market mindset, success, and social structures. He critiques the political aspirations of both the Religious Right and Left. He takes on the church growth strategists’ emphasis on homogeneity. He challenges churches to no longer prop up the materialistic lifestyles of congregations that keep rich and poor, black and white apart.

What I Liked

1. Metzger is prophetic in his call for evangelicals to open their eyes to the race and class divisions in our churches. I like how he pulls from all corners of the church for his critique: from Jonathan Edwards to Martin Luther King, Jr., from John Wesley to John Perkins. Metzger is not interested in promoting another already-in-practice agenda. He looks at the faithful witness of Christians throughout history to challenge the church to move back to its mission.

2. Metzger challenges us to avoid the moralistic trap. No one can accuse Metzger of advocating a social gospel that challenges societal structures while leaving individual human hearts unchanged. Throughout the book, Metzger praises the evangelical emphasis on personal regeneration, even as he chides us for being too self-focused sometimes to see even our own glaring weaknesses.

3. The first half of Consuming Jesus is heavy on critique, but the second half is heavy on practical application. Metzger does not merely complain about the current state of evangelicalism; he offers clear suggestions for changing things. Especially helpful is Metzger’s call for us to minister with the poor, not just to the poor as a way of bridging the divide.

What Needs Work

1. Metzger’s suggestions for changing things are sometimes superficial. He spends way too much effort on critiquing our current church architecture. While I’ll be the first to say I love a magnificent cathedral, I do not believe that aesthetic changes (like moving the communion table to the front of the church) will produce the type of transformation Metzger would like to see. The New Testament has little to say about what church architecture should look like. History shows that churches that look like Metzger’s proposal have had racial and class distinctions of their own.

2. Metzger is right to insist that we need to take responsibility for humanity’s total act of sin, not merely our individual sinfulness. That is why it is valuable for Christians to apologize for the actions of previous generations, for example. But Metzger does not take this as far as he should. If whites should apologize to blacks for previous injustice, so too should blacks apologize for injustice towards whites. The doctrine of original sin means we are all victimizers even as we are victims (a point that Metzger affirms, only he tends to emphasize the white’s reponsibility more than the black’s). What we need is an atmosphere of mutual grief and repentance toward one another.

Overall, Consuming Jesus is a book I highly recommend. Metzger’s book calls us to rethink the current structures of the church and he offers an “all-consuming” vision of the Kingdom which should work its way out into our local congregations and communities.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog