Foreword

“…so that they may be one as we are one.” John 17:11b

Sometimes I feel like the entire community of Christians has the wool pulled over its eyes. Then I remember that I am part of that community, and I get nervous. My initial response is to become bitter, and detach myself from “those” Christians. My next response is guilt. I shouldn’t be sitting back, criticizing the church, and only adding to the stench. I should be redemptively, humbly, and prayerfully striving to alleviate the malady to the best of my ability in order to build wholeness and unity.

How easy it is to criticize, how easy to spot flaws, and how difficult and laborious it is to partake in the long—but joyful—process of mending what’s broken: the brokenness that defames Christ, the brokenness that we as Christ followers have a responsibility to remedy in search of wholeness.

In Donald Miller’s foreword to Paul Louis Metzger’s Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, he discusses how difficult it is to truly be unified. What does that even mean anymore? And should we even bother? Or better yet, are we bothering? Although Metzger poses serious and grave concerns about consumerism driving the church toward disunity rather than a love for Christ that spurs unity and reconciliation, Miller points out that Metzger does this in a refreshingly redemptive way. “Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this book lies in the hope the author forecasts for the contemporary church,” and one “senses Dr. Metzger’s grace for all parties” (p. x).

When I think of the Christian church, smiles come to mind: nurseries, little blonde munchkins running around, the awkward greet-your-neighbor time after the business-as-usual church announcements, flowery, well-groomed young couples, and polite, reserved old couples. I think of nursery numbers flashing across the giant screen mastering the front of the congregation, notifying young parents of their problem child. I think of the hot coffee and its array of creamer options: vanilla, crème brulee, sugar-free hazelnut, and of course, the pumpkin spice or eggnog creamer during the holidays provided by the truly accommodating church. Starbucks does it, so the church should too, right? I think of a happy little message, or even a tear-jerking message, and then of course the typical post-church festivities: lunch out with my sister, coffee with friends, or maybe just a nice little nap.

All in all, the church experience is very pleasant. But what occurs outside of church is where it gets complicated for me. I see all these nasty problems in the world. And the strange thing is, they’re not getting better—they seem to be getting worse. Odd, because when I sit in church and look around me, it seems as if all is right with the world. But a simple look around will tell you this is not the case. I find myself becoming disillusioned with the church because it seems so disconnected from the surrounding world. As a result, I feel internally disconnected, going through a seemingly unending cycle of frustration, guilt, good coffee, smiles, frustration, guilt, good coffee, smiles…

Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with having six different creamer options. I don’t even see anything wrong with flashing nursery numbers. In and of themselves, these do not pose any real threat to the health of the church. But I do have a problem with what all the consumer-driven messages, in the big picture, communicate to both Christians and non-Christians.

I often feel as if an imposter has taken my faith captive, raped it, abused it, and hung it up for all to see. See, my conversion experience was not pretty. Nor flowery. Nor smiley. I was a wretched, miserable sinner, completely jaded toward God, religion, the church, Christianity and all the irrelevant, ignorant, oblivious people who joined that destructive force. That was my first-hand experience with the church. So now, being a Christ-follower and personally experiencing His un-explainable grace, joy and redemption, I am sensitive to, and concerned about the image that evangelical Christians present to those outside. I know what it’s like to be “on the other side”, to view the church as some sort of freaky justification to be sheltered and fake.

The thing is though, that voice, that message, is worlds and worlds apart from the story and heart of Christ. So, how do we overcome this—on both an individual and corporate level? I personally believe change starts individually, but the church institution as a whole gives these changes momentum and lasting power. Spiritual discernment and understanding will certainly help. But these are hard to come by when, for as Miller says in the foreword to Consuming Jesus, church leaders today tend to communicate more competencies in movie-clip allusions than in New Testament Greek.

For Miller, “…we understand the church better not by simply studying it, but studying what it has eaten to become it” (p. x). The sneaky thing about being inundated with consumer-driven messages is that because they are so constant, we don’t even recognize them anymore. As a result, it is natural to acquire a pop-culture vernacular, while it is uncomfortable and unpopular to step back and objectively examine how the consumer in each of us can exacerbate division, oppression, and a misconstruing of the Christian message. But according to Miller, Metzger’s book provides such objectivity. Consuming Jesus helps us step back and assess the situation objectively. As a result, Miller writes, “we finally realize that we are rats in a maze, where before we simply searched for cheese” (p. x).

If, as Metzger says in his conclusion to the book, the church is ideally like a patchwork quilt where those from different races, classes, backgrounds, and ages all come cohesively together to warm a cold universe, then I would say right now that it’s a giant, holey, cream polyester blanket full of fuzz balls.

Cohesive messages and lively worship bands the church gets, but intentionally striving for true unity among believers from diverse backgrounds it tends to forget, in the name of homogenous units and consumer comfort.

Miller ends the foreword to Metzger’s book by admonishing Christians to “lock arms at our differences to display for the world one Christ manifesting himself through the church for one purpose” (p. x). I believe that this is the sort of vision that the Lord Jesus had in mind when he prayed to His Father that we may “be one.” Not “them” out there, but “us” in here, and all the others scratching their heads over what creamer to use and forgetting why they’re even there in the first place.

Christianity is about unity. It’s about love. It’s about demolishing walls and accepting people through the compassionate eyes of Christ. It’s not convenient, it’s not dainty, and it’s not supposed to come in a shiny package for us to rip open, only to be disappointed. But man, to sit in church amongst all my neighbors of this world, not just the select few like me (those I like), would feel a bit like this unity thing Christ is talking about.

I want us to get there. And as Metzger always says in our theology class (and which John M. Perkins says in the afterword to Consuming Jesus), “we settle for so little when Jesus calls us to so much more!” The all-consuming Jesus is a patient one, but He’s still calling us to be consumed by so much more than base consumerism and consumer preference Christianity. So what’s holding us back from the all-consuming Jesus?

8 Responses to “Foreword”

  1. Rich T Says:

    love the theme of your post here. Definitely true. A question we often ask at Alliance Theological Seminary is much the same – what does church need to look like? If the culture is different, what are the things that NEED to be included in church? In American culture, the church is often something of comfort as you so eloquently point out, however, Jesus was rarely comfortable on earth! His ministry was about as controversial a thing as could exist in his time. The consuming nature of our culture is indeed alarming. Anyone who has attended a Black Friday sale will admit this! Is consumerism part of our current culture (and thus part of church)? How can we separate our this from our culture? What would church look like then? I focus on cultural issues because in my mind the church is a social grouping which represents the culture. Church looks different in different cultures – as it should. Different cultures value different things. Is it culture that keeps our churches the way they are or is it simply expectation of the muted Sunday service and the expectation of something comfortable?

  2. Bryan Dormaier Says:

    I don’t know if it is proper or not for one to comment on a blog which one also admins, but I will anyways 🙂 What holds us back from the consuming Jesus of the Bible is first and foremost ourselves. We will always seek to love ourselves first, yet this is not what Christ calls us to. Christ calls us to love first God, and then to hold others on the same level as ourselves. Many times our catering to consumer culture instead creates an atmosphere in which we love ourselves first(personal preference on how we are taught about Jesus) then God, then others. The answer of this is that we must constantly preach the love of the triune God that we might be consumed by Christ’s love(the only way it is possible to love as Christ calls us to love). As I was telling a girl I chatted with yesterday, that type of life, one that is outwardly focused is always a captivating sort of life and rings true as beautiful, even to those who don’t have the same belief structures as us.

  3. Kelsi Johns Says:

    In response to Rich T.’s comment, I think those are imperative questions to ask: “Is consumerism part of our current culture (and thus part of church)? How can we separate this from our culture? What would church look like then?”

    Consumerism, church and culture are all inextricably related. We are, to our very core, consumers- from consuming air, water and food to consuming harmful and tantalizing messages which tell us that to truly matter, we need to consume more than we need and we better look good while we’re doing it. I wonder, how do we cautiously accept the reality that we are consumers, and then move in to an arena where we address the harmful aspects of consumerism that have plopped themselves down in the pews at church and found a comfy home? But, like you ask, what WOULD it look like to purge harmful consumerism out of the church? I believe it would be reminiscent of the patchwork quilt analogy: multi-everything. People would attend a church because they are hungry for the love of Christ, the gospel, for fellowship, for authentic, loving community, AND because that church reached out to them in love. Factors of status, comfort, familiarity or pretty people would not enter the equation. I do believe however, that deep down, that’s what we want: Christ in and of Himself. Not Christ in a white robe, heroically holding a staff, clutching a lamb, wind blowing in his sun-bleached hair. And it breaks my heart that instead our consumer impulses perpetuate the message of a Christ who prefers what we prefer, which then hinders others from being able to fully “access” the gospel and authentic community.

    The other questions you asked are, “Is it culture that keeps our churches the way they are or is it simply expectation of the muted Sunday service and the expectation of something comfortable?”

    I think that the specific manner in which Sunday services have become muted and comfortable is influenced by our culture, but I do believe that this comfort exceeds cultural divisions, just manifested in different ways. I can speak for the cultures I’ve experienced living in the states and in Central America and I know that the church experience for me was entirely different. Among other differences, I’ve found that church in the states perpetuates individuals to be as comfortable as they can, socialize with those in their racial/class group (or only those they are comfortable socializing with) and if they are overwhelmed with the problems that may cause (oppression, division, apathy, hypocrisy), then don’t think about it (because really, you’re just one person- what can YOU do about it?), or think about it a little, drop a $20 in the offering, and move on.

    Sadly, I have experienced that this is how we tend to deal with this subject. I cannot list all the times I have had discussions with fellow church-goers and they dismiss the idea of changing their lifestyle for the name of social justice because it would be inconvenient (read: uncomfortable) for them. I do understand this, I am guilty of this too–we are all to some degree. But it is interesting to consider to what degree consumerism in the church is heralded because it is simply uncomfortable to examine it.

    But I am deeply convinced that if ever there is something that is overshadowing or muting the love of Christ, then it needs to be not only addressed and examined, but overcome. No, I don’t know exactly what that will look like regarding the the church and race and class divisions, but I am excited to journey among others to find out.

  4. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    “MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN.”- Daniel 5:25

    Somewhere in the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel, he was asked by King Belshazzar to interpret the handwriting on the wall, after they have feasted using the gold, bronze and silver of the Temple. The word TEKEL meant “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.”

    This analogy appeals to me as an interpretation of Metzger’s Consuming Jesus. The Christian Church may have been weighed in the balances, in terms of class, race and church divisions and have been found wanting: for all its rant about the love of Jesus, the Church of Christ has not lived up to its preaching. Unreformed reformers seldom inspire, so says a cliche.

    As a visible minority, I used to denounce Christianity as a tool of American neo-colonialism, that the faith propagated by American missionaries in my homelands were CIA-endorsed covert operations so that the masses, the poor, uneducated proletariat will forever be in their shackles, being made with bread and circuses that these televangelists rant about.

    i am experiencing some sort of deja vu with the culture of consumerism that prevails in today’s American churchianity. Whereas before i used to denounce the Christian faith as a way of diverting the consciousness of the masses from the all-too real issues of the time, such as poverty, inequitable distribution of wealth and income and the social injustice in a Third World setting, i find it eerily similar how the same faith drowns the faithful with its comforts, conveniences and other-worldly perspective so that the unfinished work of racial equality and class-less society are relegated to the simply unattainable, unachievable Utopias, and therefore not worth working for. Alas, our society makes lemmings out of the un-critical: lemmings cannot help but swim towards their destruction.

    It becomes very deplorable and appalling, however, when that very force of God’s love in this world buries its head in the sand and pretends that everything’s gonna be alright without being involved in any struggle for liberation against the evils of racial inequity and social injustice. Or that palliative or cosmetic reforms suffice, that these maybe placed so that the malcontent and dissatisfied might be appease. And life can go on fine and dandy.

    Classical economists say that, “In the long run, markets will equilibrate.” That is, in the long run, there will be racial harmony and equality, there will be social justice and equitable distribution of wealth and income. To which, John Maynard Keynes would say, “In the long run, we’ll all be dead.”

    Ahhhh, but the Christian church may say, “we are but fertilizers of roses yet to bloom”. To which the radicals would say, “If not us, who will? If not now, when?”

    If today’s Christian church is so consumed by the love of the Triune God and is consuming the eternal love of the Father expressed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it follows that it cannot sit idly by and warm pews and benches as racial tensions and segregations still exist and continue to oppress. Does not love, according to Paul, rejoice not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth? Does not love think not of evil? Love does not fail. And the all-consuming love of Jesus does not fail.

    How is it then that the Christian church, founded on the unconditional love of Jesus, failed, has failed and continues to fail in expressing to the disenfranchised, to those people outside of its realm that they are valued and are valuable not simply because of the content of their character, nor the color of their skin, but also by the unconditional love of their Lord and Savior? In the words of Philip Yancey, why is it that the very recipients of the grace of God are the very ones unable and unwilling to disperse that aroma of grace?

    Perhaps because the Church is too comfortable- like ships in a harbor. Too comfortable that it has not onluy become complacent but must have also lost its sense of direction and its sense of the deeper ministry it has been called to. As ships are not built to be safe in the harbor, so the Christian church has not been founded to become comfortable places of worship and fellowship and praise. As it has become so, the Church is losing its grip on the prayer of Jesus, “that the world may know that You have sent me, and have loved them as You have loved me.”

    Or perhaps because we have “marketed” the Church to the many and thus, traded the Scriptures-based communally intimate outward-looking congregation for the seeker-friendly, coffee-bar patronizing “fellowships” and “evangelistic outreaches”. Sort of letting the camel into the tent and being kicked out in the process. That by aligning our practices to the practices of the lost and the perishing, we acquire the habit of the lost and the perishing: the habit of comfortable and convenient consumerism.

    I have personally experienced the difficulty of integrating myself and even my church into the mainstream of Anglo society because of “cultural differences, language barriers, weird language accent”, etc., in a country that is supposed to be multicultural. And my analysis is that, within the context of the Christian faith, American society is far less relational and far less vulnerable and far more individualistic and me-centered than my Asian background. How does one build community in a group that puts too much premium on inviduality at the expense of community? How can a church so individual-oriented be mobilized for a concerted sustained action against the prolonged evil of racial segregation and discrimination?

    Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his poem, Ozymandias said, “I am part of all that i have met.”

    Like G.K Chesterton, the problem with the world is “Me”.

    I like this simple ode though, in the struggle for eradicating racial, class and church divisions:

    Through this toilsome world, alas!
    Once and only once I shall pass
    If a kindness i may show
    If a good deed i may do
    Let me do it while i can
    No delay for it is plain
    I shall never pass this way again!

    MORITURI TE SALUTAMUS! (Gal. 2:20)

  5. Ronaldo Sison Says:

    Comments on the FOREWORD
    It is scary to look through the eyes of people because far too often what is present there is pain, or fear, or guilt. Hopefully, Christians, with their strong faith (i.e., the substance of things not seen, the surety of what is hoped for and the certainty of what is not seen, etc.), do not manifest pain, or fear, or guilt, because the grace of God is expressed in Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross and the promised Holy Spirit, is redemptive, is humbling and leads to prayerful striving.

    Maybe it’s a mater of semantics but being critical is constructive, as oppose to being cynical, or fault-finding, in a guiltless society, amid a state of a confused conscience. So, i take criticism as a balanced and objective presentation of the positive and negative-which was what Dr. Metzger presented in his book.

    If faith is defined in the Bible as an efficacious, experential knowledge, of believing in God and in the fact that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him, would it be possible for any imposter to rape it, take it captive, abuse it or hang it for all to see? Especially of the passage in Isaiah 26:3 that says, “Thou keepest (meaning God) in perfect peace Him whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusteth in Thee”. Faith, therefore, may never be held captive, nor raped, nor abused when it is focused on the sovereign grace of God.

    Christianity throughout the centuries had been characterized as prejudiced, racist, discriminatory and hypocritical. More than that, she has seemed to be a whore. But, as Augustine said, She is still my mother. Quite strong words from an early Church Father. And this discriminatory, prejudiced, racist and hypocritical church has long endured its cynics and doubters. And this racist, bourgeoisie, pretentious and inconsistent church will one day stand before His bridegroom as a spotless Bride. Such is the incomprehensible love of the Triune God.

    And centuries later, we still grapple with the relevance of today’s Christian church, maybe not so different from the first-century church who fought against the oppression of the Caesars, the malaise of the Gnostics and other cults, the Dark Ages, the Diet of Worm. Centuries and centuries later, we who are recipients of the wonderful grace of God still wonder why we split hairs on the most inconsequential things in the Church while the suffering, persecuted brethren outside our own cliques and upwardly mobile, homogeneous groups do not feel our empathy and compassion for them. One denomination for example, only apologized to the African-American community about its position and its role in the slavery issue in 1997, more than 200 years after the Emancipation Decree of Lincoln. (Well, the denomination has still not apologized to the other minority groups it has discriminated upon.)

    On the other hand, the Christian church may well take note of the economic concept of optimization: maximizing output while minimizing input. The Church may well be acclaimed for digging deeply and searching its very psyche where it could best render its resources to reach out to the greatest number, without marginalizing those in the fringes. This is also termed as stewardship of the resources of God. In a global economy such as ours, perhaps the Church could sit back and reflect on the many in the Third World who risk their lives and limbs not only for the proclamation of the Gospel but also to present a viable alternative of social justice and communal living to the peasants and the oppressed who are otherwise following atheistic ideologies. Perhaps the Church could do this as an expression of its striving to bring down walls of hostility and of accepting people as they are the ones meant to be and of having hearts that are broken with the things that break the heart of God.

    Sometimes i wonder whether it is really worth paying interest on a mortgage of a Church Building when that very fund could be used to equitably distribute income and resources for the proclamation of the Gospel in the less-developed countries (LDCs). I applaud congregations that choose to rent public property (at a lower cost) so that it could rechannel its funds to inner-city projects that alleviate the plight of the poor and make them see the Great Provider that churches proclaim Sunday after Sunday. It is uncomfortable and inconvenient to be setting up stage and gyms every Sunday to honor and glorify God in a corporate setting but i think God was glorified nonetheless when His presence was in a travelling Tabernacle as He was in the Temple of Solomon.

    I think Advent Conspiracy is one such movement that transforms consumerism into a biblically-oriented, Christ love-consuming and proactively dynamic culture. Praying though that it does not end there but there is a sustained effort directed at alleviating the malady that is inequitable distribution of wealth and income.

    Maybe what is holding us back from keeping the unity of the Body of Christ is our own contempt and total hostility to the Holy Triune God who is the only One able to sovereignly and graciously work in the hearts of His people to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

    And true, He is patient for He has said through Solomon, “(God) He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (3:11)

    Christian Unity will come and it will come in a nice, beautiful dainty package called the New Jerusalem, not in the here and now perhaps, but the here and now is what we have to work on and manifest the God who is Immanuel.

    SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI!

  6. Kelsi Johns Says:

    Amen brotha!

  7. Joel Kersey Says:

    Great thoughts here . . . thanks for sharing the encouragement. I especially resonate with the challenge to remain engaged in the church while battling feelings of being disconnected or disgusted with it. We must press on to encourage those around us to change and follow after Jesus Christ, and rather than becoming disillusioned with our fellow brothers and sisters.

    Peace in Him

  8. Ronaldo Sison Says:

    “To be or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea ot troubles,
    And by opposing end them…”
    -William Shakespeare, Hamlet’s Soliloquy

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