Archive for March, 2008

Bound by Consumerism

March 21st, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

New Wine, New Wineskins, a ministry through Multnomah Biblical Seminary, which Metzger founded and directs, is holding a conference this April entitled “Bound: A Conference on the Global Slave Trade” (visit for more information). This conference is relevant to the many issues explored in Consuming Jesus. Consumerism, along with race and class divisions, not only permeates and infects the church; these issues also greatly propel and foster the booming international slave trade. The “bound” are our brothers and sisters down the street and overseas, who reap the disheartening and flat-out evil effects of those wanting things quickly, cheaply, and for great profit. These “things” include anything from vegetables to shoes to diamonds to sex. The global slave trade is so intricately bound up with consumerism and race and class divisions, since those who have the most and consume the most are often considered the most valuable from consumerism’s standpoint. Those from the developing world and from underdeveloped places in our region who have less and consume less are often considered less valuable. Thus, their plight does not affect as much those of us who have more–especially when they look different from us. However, as Christ followers, we are called to bear witness to the all-consuming, compassionate Christ whose love knows no bounds and who cares for the poor, the orphan, and the widow in their distress. If we would follow Jesus, we must follow him wherever he goes–caring for the least of these–wherever they might be–around the world.


But the slave trade is not just out there somewhere–across town or across the globe. The slave trade encompasses every facet of our lives. As consumers, we drive the economy. If a sweatshop over in Bangladesh is making valuable profit off the backs of forced labor, then what will motivate this business to change and implement humane practices? In a profit-driven world, the profit-driven mentality maintains: “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it–and it’s not broke.” But if the backs of those forced into slave labor are broken, how can the economy not be broken?

I receive a lot of criticism when I discuss my conviction not to buy clothes made in third-world countries. I realize that not supporting the economy in an already impoverished country may sound like an unstable solution. The main question that people pose to me is, “These are poor countries. What will happen to those economies if we just quit buying from over there?”

My response is this: Within the power and control that I have, I don’t want to perpetuate an oppressive market. If I support a broken system, what will drive it to change? I don’t want to exacerbate the dire situation in poverty-stricken countries. If there are enough consumers refusing to support sweat shops and communicating clearly (using buying power, joining advocacy groups and companies i.e., what is and is not acceptable, then businesses will be forced to re-adjust (think: Nike & The Gap were driven to improve their work ethic overseas). When forced labor is the only option for the poor, then this is where they will remain. But imagine if better job conditions were available to the common people; it would allow individuals freedom in other areas of their lives: if they are thriving in better working environments, they won’t be as susceptible to sex trafficking, and they won’t be as vulnerable to the deception of other traffickers promising a better life. Eventually this better living situation will significantly reduce poverty and slavery.


With every purchase we make we are casting a vote. As Dr. Metzger says in Consuming Jesus, the cancerous consumer culture encourages us to get what we want when we want it at the least cost to ourselves. In view of his challenge to the consumer culture, we need to ask ourselves: What about the cost to others?


If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. An unwillingness to confront an evil structural problem coupled with a defeatist attitude leads us to do just what the enemy would have us do–nothing. And such failure to act assists those in power in the slave trade in keeping slaves just where they want them–earning barely enough to survive, making just enough to keep coming back.


As consumers in the US, we have the freedom to make choices. This necessitates humble, sober responsibility and intentionality. We must do what we can with what we have. We are part of a larger whole that has the incredible power to shape and change our economy and structures. That is a blessing, which, if not treated wisely, can also be a curse. Let us make it a blessing for Christ’s kingdom work here on earth. Please pray. Please act responsibly. Please join us for “Bound”–New Wineskins’ conference on the global slave trade on April 12.


I realize that refusing to support the forced labor economy in third world countries will not in and of itself solve the massive problem at hand. This problem is so deeply rooted in our fallen humanity that there is no quick fix. I do wonder though, as Christ followers and as the church, what other things can we do. Honestly, if Jesus were on this earth today, with all the social and structural evil permeating even the smallest decisions, how would he live? What would his purchasing decisions look like? What sort of businesses would he support? Which temples/markets would he storm, and what tables would he overturn? And beyond that, what sort of neighborhood would he live in? What would his church look like? All these questions get at our worldviews, and more importantly, our hearts’ desires. So, it’s not simply “What would Jesus do?” It’s also “What would Jesus value?”


I am curious what you think. In light of the slave trade and consumerism, how responsible do you feel with where your money goes? Do you think it’s even worth it to try to fight such a massive beast with your own wallet? And I wonder, if in the end you understood that all of your efforts were futile, would you still live in light of that hope with intentionality anyway in the name of Christ and with a moral conscience? I think of the prophet Jeremiah who is known as the weeping prophet. He never saw a convert in his lifetime, despite his blood, sweat, and tears. But he was a victor in Christ’s eyes. In light of eternity he was a success because he lived out his calling in faithfulness to God. As Christ followers, our calling is to live redemptively, to live on earth in light of heaven. Whether or not my purchasing decisions greatly affect the horrific slave trade in the end should not be my primary concern. Just like the prophets, my primary concern should not be results driven, but rather driven by God’s love, which far exceeds “success stories” and sustains us when failures abound. This is one of the things I’m wrestling with: How much do you think our decisions are driven by external, worldly results? And in what ways do you think these factors affect and exacerbate the horrors of the slave trade?

Critical Loyalty

March 12th, 2008 by Alex Davis

After granting that the content and thesis of Consuming Jesus are in themselves enough to establish its prophetic importance, Davis explores how the book’s implicit tone of loyalty to the evangelical movement can be understood as an especially potent prophetic power.  Beginning with an account of his own initially tepid reaction to the book, Davis goes on to propose that Metzger’s tone fits within a tradition of critical loyalty inseparable from Biblical history itself.  Critical loyalty, Davis suggests, has the strategic power to stir Christians blessed with a critical vantage of the church to consider anew what it means to be loyal to the church, and to ask how (and why) sharp criticism and faithful loyalty can (and should) be united.  He concludes the essay with a call for the proliferation of conversations and resources concerned with appropriate applications of critical loyalty to modern evangelicalism.

Critical Loyalty

Drum Majors for Love, Truth and Justice

March 12th, 2008 by admin

Another recording of Drs. Perkins and Metzger speaking at Imago Dei Community, in Portland, Oregon.

Introduction- Part 2

March 1st, 2008 by Kelsi Johns


“One must bear the burden of reality with all its crushing weight.”

– Jon Sobrino

Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino believes that the mystery and glory of God is revealed in the poor, the oppressed, the destitute. To the extent that this is true, and to the extent that identifying with the poor is to bear the burden of reality with all its crushing weight, I wonder to what extent I am truly bearing this “burden of reality.”  Or perhaps, if I were to attempt to quantify it, what percentage would it be? 10% maybe? 5%? On a good day–or especially crushing day–maybe 25%?

There are days when I feel I am in The Truman Show–or The Kelsi Show rather.  Screaming and fighting for reality to break through. Screaming and fighting for that voice of truth within that tells me something isn’t right; things feel too light, too sunny. Things occur in neat, disconnected dispensations that seem a little too portion controlled, a little too refined and polished, and I wonder, what happened to the grit of reality? I know it’s there; I just don’t come across it very often, and that scares me. It makes my soul ache. Out of sight, out of mind?

But the thing is, Christ who became poor so that we could become the riches of God (2 Cor. 8:9) tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  So really, the “crushing weight” of identifying with him in his poverty and identifying with those with whom he identified is actually liberating weight. It’s freedom. It’s the understanding that we are designed to bear this “burden of reality,” and when we don’t, we are cheating ourselves–and others–of experiencing this light and easy burden. 

In the Introduction to Consuming Jesus, Metzger discusses an article published in Portland’s Willamette Week titled, “The J.Crew: Meet Portland’s Evangelicals” (p.4). The reporter, Zach Dundas, discusses not surprisingly the commercialism and paraphernalia of the Christian life: DVDs, strip-mall churches, Sea of Galilee-sized parking lots, Christian romance literature, etc.  Dundas’ article is a sincere attempt to understand the evangelical movement, especially given the major role it played in the re-election of President Bush in 2004 and the passing of the ballot measure that resulted in banning same-sex marriage.


Metzger takes special note of the Willamette Week writer’s observation that one is “more likely to find a state-of-the-art sound system than a handcrafted altar” (p. 5), then goes on to talk about the prominence of the coffee bar in many of these churches and the neglect of the altar or table. Coffee bars and stone altars and tables have symbolic meaning. The former connotes “pleasure and leisure (good things in their own right);” the latter connotes “joy through suffering: the bloody grapes of wrath have become a river of life” (p.5). Sound systems replacing stone altars represents a similar shift: impressive performance, but a decrease in the symbolic reconciliation and humility that stone altars and tables provide for the congregation every Sunday, reminding us of what our Christ did for us (which of course we should be continually reminded of, not just on Sundays). I think this speaks volumes of the shift that is taking place in churches today: consumer comfort is sneakily taking precedent over the vision of what these altar tables represent.


Metzger raises a question, in light of this dominant voice among evangelicals that Dundas explored in the article: “…how effective has the movement been in engaging human suffering, including race and class divisions in the church and society?” (p.5)

My guess? uhhh, not very. At least not lately. Metzger gives worthy, much needed acknowledgment that evangelicals have, in the past, played key roles in addressing social evils, such as the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and the United States (p. 7). This further supports why his concern for the evangelical church is “not the angry and cynical attack of an outsider; rather, it is the criticism of one who loves the evangelical church’s historic values of piety and holistic outreach and mission, but one who longs for reform” (p. 7).  This is a compassionate, empathetic, sober love–the kind of love that is imperative to have as Christ’s body. 


Because of the disconnect between theology and practice, I often feel like the church is trying to convince or remind Christians that there are indeed “missional” opportunities–real needs and places to go and show Christ’s love. But it’s as if the church is describing another land, another reality that the congregation doesn’t see, hear, or touch. Like the preacher is shaking one of those snow globes in our faces, and describing the darkness and details and this “far off land” to which we must embark. I often feel like I’m in an incubator as a full time Seminary student, being equipped to bring light to the “big, bad” world out there–once I have my diploma in hand and a theology which has “conquered” and “mastered” that esoteric realm of divinity. A degree which states that I now have the biggest questions in life mastered. But that is so wrong to me on so many levels. Jesus didn’t raise up disciples in some manicured, disinfected school, apart from “the others.” Jesus didn’t protect his disciples and teach them theories and methods and hypothetical responses to “real life” situations. They all–Jesus and his crew–were in the MIDST of society–the pain, the suffering, the angst, the confusion, the NEED.  They didn’t sit in a classroom, discussing how good their God is and go home, dreaming of the day they would actually embark, leaving their safe island and daring to make–albeit awkward, unnatural, and inexperienced–contact with the “rest” of the world. I by no means am dissing the Seminary experience, but I am arguing it takes conscientious, intentional, and renewed effort to be in community, relation, and real engagement with those outside “the bubble.” 

This is what frustrates me, and I believe this is why the students at Reed College (p.8) gave Dr. John M. Perkins a standing ovation in 2001 when he told the real, raw story of the consuming love of Jesus manifested in his life, even after he was beaten within an inch of his life for the color of his skin and the courage of his convictions. He didn’t tell a story of saving souls, or converting people, convincing a body of thinking, critical, intelligent individuals that his way was better than theirs. He told a story about a love that exceeded the depths of his soul. A love that didn’t stop at staring at the hate in the demonic eyes staring down at him as he was beaten, but a love that blazed through that hate and could only have compassion on these individuals wreaking of hatred. A love that bred grace and justice and mercy. A love that was and is REAL. A love that experiences. A love that embraces the challenges, the injustices. A love that fights the oppressive system, and a love that overcame humiliation, suffering, and prejudice. The Reed students saw something REAL in Dr. Perkins. Not a person masquerading as enlightened because he has this Jesus fellow in his heart. Not a man who pointed fingers and ostracized. But rather a man who lay on his back, with a fork shoved in his nose and down his throat, who tasted the compassion that Jesus tasted. A man who ached out of this thing called love. 

That’s what we crave, no? I don’t want to be in an incubator. I don’t want to be one of those babies that has a weak immune system because I’ve been isolated my whole life. I don’t want to go out into this world, an alien to the pain and suffering that permeates humanity to its very core. I want to lie there, on my back, staring hatred and division in its stone cold eyes. And when I do that, I don’t want to squeeze my eyes shut. I want to stare back, the love of Christ burning its way through those scared, hateful eyes. 

I fear that Christians today are being raised up in incubators, completely terrified and unaware of the very real and very grave injustices and oppression which comprise this world. I fear that we are being taught to accept and not question. To swallow but not chew. And if we do hear of the alleged oppression, slavery, injustice, and racism, it is implied that it is “not ours to deal with,” not our problem, and certainly not something we perpetuate! I want to be able to question my faith, just as John the Baptist did while in prison. He questioned. And not only did he question, but Jesus honored that. Jesus honored his doubt, because he was doubting so that he could understand the truth. Questioning in order to truly understand is, I think, not only honorable but necessary. Truth has nothing to hide! I will examine this truth I profess. I will ask freaky questions, questions that I may or may not be ostracized for asking. I will sometimes wake up and think I’m a delusional nutcase for believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died, rose three days later, and who is miraculously the manifestation of God’s love for us. Who is our atonement. Who is our salvation. I will do this so that I will be able to press on with fear and trembling, so that I will draw near to my Creator for his gracious understanding, his mercy, his revelation.  I will do this so that the hard questions are answered. So that the beautiful mysteries are explored.

Just as it was not the religious elite who truly embraced Jesus’ pure and undefiled teaching, but rather the poor, the bottom rung on the social ladder, so I see the same pattern today (Matt. 21:16, Psalm 8:1). While those of us who are full time seminarians or in full time ministry have our morning “quiet times” with “our Lord,” I see the danger in being the religious elite, who are rejecting Christ’s teachings and only fooling ourselves that we are truly following after him. Meanwhile, it is often the weary, the oppressed, the silenced who dare to see the liberating Christ in his glory. Who dare to see him in his mercy and all-consuming love and power. I fear we miss out on that because we are so busy doing “our” ministry and teaching others about “our” religion within our comfort zones.

I guess the question I’m grappling with is, why is it that so often our “reality” is only our immediate surroundings? Those hungry, stoned, and weary in the city dump in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, competing with vultures and cows for scraps of food in the mountains of waste are just as real as seminary students, teachers, lawyers, painters, or supermarket clerks. Their pains are as real as our pains. Their tears are hot and salty, just like ours. Their minds wander before they go to sleep about the upcoming day just like ours do.  They hiccup and sneeze and laugh and fear just like us. And my deep, deep sorrow, due to our extreme isolation, detachment, and division from “them” is that they are not as real. Their pain is not as legit. Their eyes are not as clear. They are sort of “half-way” human.

This is not the heart of Christ. This is tragic.


The Reed College students applauded the reality, the compassion, the very truths that were screamingly obvious in Perkins’ life. They were applauding a life of Jesus Christ. But no doubt if one would have articulated it this way to them (hey, let’s give a big round of applause to Jesus!), they would have quit clapping.  This only reinforces the tragic disconnect that exists between the genuine love of Christ and the church. The Church truly is a whore, but man, we must tend to her because she is the one to whom Christ has chosen to reveal his love and compassion.  But if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.  This truly is life or death we are talking about. What is stifling and silencing the compassion of Christ? Dare I, dare I say, in many ways, the church herself?  And I bear responsibility, because I am part of this broken but beautiful church.

Steven Spielberg, in response to his resigning as artistic advisor for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing because of China’s involvement with the tragic oppression and crimes being committed in Darfur, said: “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual.”  Although resigning from the church is not an option-my identity is bound to this church and it exists within and through me- I can repent and respond redemptively, thanking God, and so can you.

My prayer is that, as the heartbeat and conscience of the church, we throw out the “business as usual” structures.  I pray that we dare–with creativity, sincerity and responsibility–to grasp ahold of the lives among us and across the world from us, and allow them to grasp ahold of us as well, in the name of the all-encompassing, loving Christ who knows no division in his body.