Joshua Butler's Reviews > Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Dicisions in a Consumer Chruch

Consuming Jesus by Paul Louis Metzger
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's review
Feb 02, 2008

really liked it
Read in November, 2007

metzger addresses how consumerism as a pervasive framework in modern Western culture has affected race & class issues in the church of contemporary America. while slavery and the jim crow laws may be no more, the cultural modes of consumer preference, upward mobility, and the "homogeneous unit" principle have infiltrated the church's self-understanding and ideology, resulting in church growth strategies that market towards niche groups, seek to assist the American in their upward pursuit of life, liberty and personal happiness, and result in homogeneous units segregated from other walks of life (often along lines that include strong demarcations between race and class).

he proposes theological alternatives to frame the church's practice towards prophetic living in a consumer society. my favorite chapters are 3, 4 and 5, where he addresses, respectively, the following dimensions of the gospel in this regard: the structural (Christ's victory re-orders the cosmos in a way that has immense implications for challenging the powers of market / economic forces), affective (Christ's victory re-orders the affections, passions and values of the human heart from the narcissistic towards God / other / creation in sacrificial "downward mobility"), and ecclesial (Christ's victory establishes a body united to him through his eucharistic presence that is marked by heterogeneity [all races / classes] with a particular and prophetic way of life).

the call is thus for intentionality in the church to allow Christ's consuming presence to consume the race & class divisions we have allowed to take such a strong hold in the church.

some highlights for me were the recognition that for many of us today the word "community" is extremely popular but is often a code-word for what is more "affinity"--ie. hanging out with people who think, dress, and share the same cultural ideologies as us. what would it look like for the church body to reflect the homeless dude & the CEO, the soccer mom & the punk rocker, the business exec and the cleaning lady in his office, the migrant worker and the stock analyst? i find this an inspiring vision and am convicted that i'm often more interested in pursuing affinity (developing relationship with people like me) than pursuing truly biblical diverse community. this was an inspiring call to be consumed by Christ towards the latter.

i also found inspiring the challenge to homogeneity and upward mobility, as in the comparison of Sartre's hell in "No Exit" where three self-consumed individuals are locked in a room together with no escape with eyelids that cannot close to the following scene in many of our churches "... Christians gather there, with eyes wide open, some of them hanging out around the coffee bar to check out the possibilities for future dates, perhaps in hopes of building cozy Christian homes. Some others plan evangelistic ski trips to Vail, with the only aim of showing their non-Christian homogeneous friends that Christians can have fun, too." (p.98) I'm convicted how much I adapt the Christian gospel to the pursuit of my own comfort rather than a willingness to lay down my life for the world around me.

I also found refreshing the reminder of the "theology" behind the metanarrative of the economic structure today, as in the following quote from Bigelow he builds upon (p.43): "Economics, as channeled by its popular avatars in media and politics, is the cosmology and the theodicy of our contemporary culture. More than religion itself, more than literature, more than cable television, it is economics that offers the dominant creation narrative of our society, depicting the relation of each of us to the universe we inhabit, the relation of human beings to God. And the story it tells is a marvelous one. In it an enormous multitude of strangers, all individuals, all striving alone, are nevertheless all bound together in a beautiful and natural pattern of existence: the market..." Metzger's ensuing discussion is an example of the refreshing call to question the underlying "theologies" and narratives of what we tend to culturally promote as secular or even neutral realities.

okay, there's more but this has gotten long, i should probably shut up now...

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth I'm totally with you on the affinity vs. community thing. I think about that alot. That's one of the reasons why I left the ultra suburban church that I became a christian at, becuase I thought I was looking for a community "more true to who I am" but really I was (and am?) just looking for people who are "more like me." Such as: "people just "get it" so much more in Portland." If I really wanted authentic community would I just stick it out and try to work it out with people in the 'burbs who, though they may not think like me, do seem to care about me? I don't know.
It's hard to learn from people when they make you want to bang your head against the wall sometimes! haha! But of course "head-banging" is usually a sign that I have alot of growing to do and these people are the ones to teach me something. And I don't mean, like, "Rock on!" head-banging.

Joshua  Butler totally, its easy for me to talk about it theoretically but when it really comes down to it, i really like being around people like me. its funny how in retrospect when i look back in life alot of my biggest growth has come when i've been "forced" into interaction with a broader spectrum of life & experiences, frustrating at first but then beneficial in the long-run. but then i wonder are there some circumstances where i should have gospel "preferences" for faith-community? ie. is God exalted, missional living a central feature of life together, people vulnerable w/ each other and growing in deeper communion w/ God/each other? maybe that's a different type of demarcation than the race / class / age / sub-culture one.

message 3: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth Haha! I know. Growth sucks! :o) Just kidding...
But then again, do you feel like your "gospel preference" is shaped by your experiences with race/class/gender/age/sub-culture/etc.? Just thinking random thoughts here, but I kinda think that people's race/class/gender/age/sexual preference/sub-culture is inevitably tied to how they see and experience "God as lifted up", and how they view the church as missional. So it ends up being more comfortable to hang out with a group of people who may "seek God" like I do or whatever (ie: concern for the poor, justice, grace, equality, etc). It came as a big shock to me that alot of the people I was around straight up told me that they didn't care about poor people and didn't want to be around them. I was like WTF?! How can we be reading the same bible and singing the same songs? But I feel like it is wrapped up in how people are raised and the dominant worldview that they are embracing. I'm not sure there is any "pure christianity." In the end, even as Christians I think it has more to do with society and the institutions that we are enmeshed in than "pure gospel." Like when I was at the suburban church I had very different viewpoints with people when it came to "mission" "worship" etc. (not like I have it all figured out even for myself, but my thought was seemingly going in a different direction than theirs). And I know that being raised in a blue-collar, gay/lesbian community has given me a viewpoint of God that not everyone agrees is "God" if you know what I mean. I'm not even sure that it is "God" necessarily. (Again, none of my viewpoints are "set in stone.") I'm rambling...okay I guess what I mean is the "gospel" that I know is more shaped by my experiences with race/class/age/sub-culture than anything else. But I suppose it's like that with everyting in life, eh? :o)

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