Archive for the ‘Consuming: Section by Section’ Category

Evangelicalism, re-visited

May 14th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns


After returning home from living in Central America for 6 months, something shifted inside me. Throughout Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica, I witnessed extreme poverty, need and neglect. Prior to that trip, my experience as an American Christian and those in my Christian sphere seemed so disconnected from the Central American people’s plight in the midst of overwhelming structural evil and social ills. It seemed as if because we couldn’t hear, smell or touch them and their pain, we were exempt from responsibility. After returning from that trip, I was convinced that my friends and I back home were in certain ways guilty for the perpetuation of this broken state and that we also had a responsibility to do something about it.



Growing up, poverty and related issues were not “issues” in my Christian sphere. So, when this shift occurred, I felt as if I had some dirty little secret. I started to wonder if my increasing concern about our solidarity in sharing blame and taking responsibility for the injustices that blanket the world meant that I was straying away from my “true blue Christianity”–whatever that is. I felt like I had to hide my Sojourners magazine under my pillow, and listen to NPR in the safety of my own car. I feared that if I mentioned listening to public radio to fellow Christians I would receive a look of disappointment and concern. In my circles growing up, undefiled Christians listened to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Those were acceptable names to drop at the dinner table.

In Chapter 1, Metzger discusses the fact that American evangelicalism was “the dominant force in American culture and politics in the 19th century and up through the early 20th” (pg. 15). He explores that although evangelicalism was heavily involved in “just about every major social movement” back in the day, from “abolition to Prohibition”, it essentially lost its social zeal, so to speak, after that time. Evangelicalism ended up becoming a culturally disengaged and reactionary religious movement around the time of the Scopes-Monkey trial. It focused almost exclusively on the personal and individual realm to the exclusion of the social and structural. Personal issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and family values have generally overshadowed concerns over racism and poverty in Evangelicalism in recent memory. This is exactly why I was horrified of what others might think when I became concerned for these other issues. I don’t want to undermine the seriousness of the aforementioned, individually-driven issues, but I do want to emphasize that our concerns should far exceed our individual realms and that we are responsible for addressing structural and cosmic dimensions of evil, which are then reflected back to us as individuals. I believe that it is devastatingly nearsighted for Evangelicals to look at the sin within our own sphere and in our small group circles, and disengage from the sin that thrives corporately and systematically–sin for which humanity as a whole race is responsible.


As Metzger discusses on p. 16, one of the reasons why evangelicalism lost its way as a force in the 20th century was because it lost sight of an extensive, over-arching social conscience, which was bound up with its privatization of spirituality and dissolution of public faith. Metzger discusses that one of the dominant characteristic traits bound up with the rise of fundamentalism within Evangelicalism was the movement’s rejection of a social dimension to the faith given its reaction to the social gospel. While the social gospel is theologically suspect, so too is an asocial gospel. The gospel has social dimensions, for it is the good news of God for the salvation of the whole person through personal faith in Jesus, making communities whole. In seeking to get beyond these distortions and extremes, some Evangelicals today rightly put it this way: the whole gospel for the whole person (soul and body) in the whole community throughout the world.

After the missions trip, it became very difficult for me as I witnessed in my own Christian community a lack of passion for the whole gospel. When I sheepishly spoke out in favor of the whole gospel with Christian friends, I feared that they would see me as one of those who strayed toward what they see as liberalism–being concerned for peace on earth at the expense of concern for peace with God, concern for the earth, but not concern for people’s eternal state. Why must we be forced to choose between the two?

After seeing mothers carrying babies through garbage dumps in Honduras, after seeing teenagers passed out on the ground from sniffing too much glue to relieve the pain of their hunger, after seeing 6 year old boys flock after us on the streets for bits of food, and after barely being able to breathe because of their stench, something in me snapped. No longer do I separate concern for the individual’s eternal soul from his or her social environment, for we are not disembodied ghosts; we are embodied and social souls.


What do you think? In your opinion, should we be concerned for both, or should we only be concerned for one or the other? Biblically speaking, is God pleased with our evangelistic efforts of “reaching people’s souls”, if we’re not also addressing people’s physical and social plight? And from the opposite end, is God pleased with our outreach efforts if we focus exclusively on people’s social condition and physical needs without also concerning ourselves with their eternal state? Let me know your thoughts.

Jesus’ Platform

April 11th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

In the first part of Chapter 1, Metzger sheds light on the history of the fundamentalist-evangelical movement in America and the the ways in which both the left and right have used the political platform to tout their own agendas, which only foster “walls of separation, not bridges of redemption” (p. 14). Their respective hopes are in legislation rather than the cross. Historically, conservatives and liberals alike have “used power politics to build moral utopias” (p. 13).

I think this is right on. So often when I’m talking to friends, colleagues, whomever, their concern is: Who is going to run our country next? Who’s going to, in a sense, save this wreck and put the pieces back together? Another republican? Doubtful, they say. A black man? Maybe, but he doesn’t have much experience. A woman? Well, she is a bit abrasive. So who will it be? That’s the hot topic right now, right? And I wonder, is Jesus left in the corner with his hands open? What about his agenda? What about his public discourse, his experience, and his oh so gentle demeanor? And it is interesting to me that this is how the candidates are typically discussed: by their status as minority figures. A black man. A woman. The lone republican. First and foremost, they are not described by their values, morals, faith, etc. They are first qualified by what they are not. (The woman that’s not a man, the black man that’s not a white man, the republican that’s not a democrat.) This makes sense, as that is how things are often distinguished, but it further enforces the mindset that political orientations and decisions are often rooted in polarization and separation rather than in reconciliation and unity.

Metzger says that those on the left and the right often “use power politics to promote the agenda of their special-interest groups” (p. 14), which then leads to these walls of separation. “They are consumed by the wrong priorities”.

If politics only serves our special-interest groups and as a means to further ostracize and divide, then how and where does that fit in to the vision of Christ?

With the goal of achieving a non-divisive “patchwork quilt” body of Christ (set forth in the conclusion to the book), how are we to interact with politics and legislation in light of and out of respect for the various differences in religious and social convictions, and socioeconomic and racial backgrounds in our country? Furthermore, I wonder how the church and government are to co-exist, without one squandering or manipulating the other. I think that we often (mistakenly) view the connection between the government of our secular nation to the body of Christ as seamless–as if the government or the church is simply an arm of the other.

In what ways do you think we as Christians have mistakingly replaced the power of the cross in the church with power politics in the realm of the state when it comes to promoting and enforcing our moral ideals, and how might you find it harmful to reconciliation?

And really, whose moral ideas are we touting–our own personal hot buttons, or Christ’s through and through–regardless of whether or not they personally ignite us or line up with our political stances?

So really the question is: as Christ followers who desire reconciliation and unity, how are we to engage politics of the state in a redemptive and effective manner? What would that look like?

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?

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. 


Drum Majors for Love, Truth and Justice

February 22nd, 2008 by admin

In Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s last speech, “Unfulfilled Dreams,” which he delivered the night before his assassination, King talked about how he wanted to be remembered after his death. He talked about wanting to be remembered as a drum major for justice—the leader of the marching band for justice. In this sense, King followed in the footsteps of Jesus, the ultimate drum major for justice. The Lord Jesus led people to the beat of a different drum—to the drumbeat of love, truth, and justice as he journeyed to the cross. He proclaimed the whole gospel of the kingdom in word and deed to make individuals and their communities whole.

Today, there is an urgent need to proclaim the life-changing and society-changing Gospel in word and deed. Dr. John M. Perkins and Dr. Paul Louis Metzger consider themselves drum majors for love, truth, and justice: love because our world is full of hate, and people desperately need to know God’s love through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom God sent to save the world; truth because individual and community life is often built on the shaky foundations of hearsay, fads, and whatever feels good, and people desperately need to build their lives on the authoritative and unshakable teaching of God’s word; and justice because equity is often a commodity that can be bought and sold, and the marginalized desperately need to see that there is justice for all.

As drum majors, Drs. Perkins and Metzger want to inspire people across the nation to pursue a biblical vision of love, truth, and justice where the all-consuming love of Jesus revealed in the Bible consumes those things that divide us, like race and class barriers. They will be speaking in different locations nationally, working with churches and community groups to raise up well-trained and educated Christian leaders who are passionately engaged in proclaiming the whole gospel of the kingdom in word and deed through the church, to the whole person, in the whole community.

They view their roles in this Drum Majors partnership as instruments of inspiration and consultation, helping to mobilize communities to take ownership and address the issues they are facing, impacting their cities and towns. Thus, they are not looking for those who stand by and clap as the band passes, but for those who will join them on their march, playing their parts in the love, truth, and justice band.

More information on the Drum Majors Partnership

Introduction- Part One

February 6th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” which Metzger refers to in his introduction (p. 2), paints a hopeful picture of a young, eager nation, ready to open her doors and give relief, freedom, and hope to the “homeless” and “wretched refuse.”

But something happened along the way, which affected these bright, optimistic ideals.

Greed happened. And along with it oppression, vicious cycles, barriers, and injustice.

Fallen human nature happened. Sin happened.

I realize that this is our country I’m discussing, not the church. But our church is in many ways a by-product of the nation to which she belongs. I can’t deny the parallels: both in the optimistic, passionate foundation and the broken reality which we experience daily, even though we still long deep down inside for those foundational ideals to be realized. That is where grace comes in, thank the good Lord, but that’s also where a careful, honest response and reform need to come in to play as well.

And now I see us, the church, trying to put the pieces back together—frantically, hurriedly, and ashamedly. When I talk with fellow Christians, I sense a weariness, a mutual acknowledgment that yes, something is deeply broken, but that we’re not quite sure what the remedy is, or what exactly is broken. That, to me, is discouraging, but also, in light of that, it is reassuring and irresistibly motivating. I am confident that this is where our sovereign creator has called us to be: discouraged so that we can respond. Upset so we can redeem. Disrupted so we can reconcile. But it will take time.

We all want quick fixes: quick meals, quick results, quick answers. But there’s no slow cooking oatmeal on this American stove. And if there is, the entire camp has left to find the closest McDonald’s. Can you blame us? With all of the opportunities, ideas, and limitless boundaries we have acquired with technology, mass communication, and globalization, we now have that much more at our fingertips. That much more to respond to, that much more to fit into our Blackberries. And with all the pollution in the air these days, who knows how long we’re going to be able to breathe to get it all done?

That’s the sense I get with the American culture at large as well as with the church. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the church is full of authentic, genuine people who love God. I don’t think that’s the issue. And just that fact gives me hope. I believe the issue is how we—myself included—view this thing called the church. How we view this faith we profess. How we view the Biblical concepts of redemption, reconciliation, restoration (reminiscent of John M. Perkins’ vision of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution for the church, which is discussed in the Afterword, p.176).

In Metzger’s introduction, he makes the connection between the disillusionment with the immigration clerks he and his wife experienced, and the church we find ourselves in today. “I have been sensitized by these and other similar encounters with structural coldness and insensitivity to the issues before us: race and class divisions in the consumer church. For we are also speaking here about those who are in and those who are out” (p. 2).

I often cringe when I watch church scenes in movies. A movie I watched last night portrayed the typical stereotype: an uptight, all-white, stuffy congregation, afraid to cough, laugh, or sing off-key. It paints the picture of a religion where people go to hide, to pretend to be un-human, or perhaps super-human. It breaks my heart, because that is not reality. That is not what the brokenhearted crave, that’s not what the poor need: a place to pretend, a place to deceive themselves and others. A place where you must look, dress, and think like those sitting on each side of you.

I believe this is partly what perpetuates the “culture wars” and “consumer culture” that Metzger refers to, which stifle our ability to communicate a truly loving, all-inclusive, compassionate Jesus (p.2). That is not what our culture sees in the church. I saw something entirely different when I was not a Christian. I saw ignorant, closed minded, oblivious, rich people who knew no true cares—and if they did have any, their problems were shallow and quickly resolved. Judgmental on my part? Yes. But that is what the church and her messages portrayed to me on a consistent basis.

The loud, dominant messages that carry the voice of evangelicals seem to be those of or similar to Rev. Jerry Falwell (p.3 ). Although he did apologize for ostracizing and blaming homosexuals, secularists, and materialists for 9/11, the damage is loud, clear, and pervasive. And once spoken, it’s out there for all to cling on to, reject, or accept as “the voice” of evangelicals. I look forward to a day when the strong, pervasive message among Christians is justice, compassion, and equality (similar to what the prophet Amos anticipates in Amos 5:24). Not polarization, homogeneous units or seeker-sensitive messages. The message of our Messiah is uncomfortable. It is scary. It’s risky. And I can’t help but get the feeling that so often when I am in a room of Christians singing worship songs that ask our creator to use us, and to help us “die” to ourselves for him, that we are failing to truly seek that. I can’t help but get the eerie feeling that we are begging, begging, begging with our mouths, but resisting, resisting, resisting with our hearts. That we are crying out with our words, but shutting down in our souls. I can’t help but get the feeling that the words we sing are empty. That we know the right things to say, but we don’t really want to be captured and led into the depths of reality and an abandoned pilgrimage, because maybe it won’t be pet friendly, or low-fat, or non-smoking. Our preferences will neglect us, our options will betray us, and suddenly, we will be going into unknown, uncharted territory. The control we are addicted to will no longer be in our hands. We would have to surrender all control to the Lord—the sovereign, almighty, compassionate Lord. But as scary as surrendering control and comfort to our creator can be, desiring the all-sovereign Lord is liberating and life-giving, and truly comforting. We can trust him with our lives.

If I don’t trust someone fully, I won’t follow that person into a forest. So the question that haunts me is, do I even trust my creator to lead me into his territory? Or do I simply want him to walk beside me and guide me in my own charted, plotted, temperature-controlled island and give me comforting words of affirmation? What does that do for his kingdom? If I truly believe that Yahweh acts out of love, then what do I have to fear? What do I truly believe, not just say I believe? I want to break free from my self-absorbed, homogeneous island and take off for distant lands right next door and down the street and across the track in search of peace and reconciliation. The flight and journey will be awkward, uncomfortable, and humiliating. But I want there to be unity in God’s creation, not millions of lonely, segregated islands. Just as America is supposed to be that land where those from distant lands and islands come in search of hope, longing to be free, so too is the church to be a haven of rest for all God’s children so often “tempest-tost,” longing to find home, longing to be free. But unlike the statue of liberty of which Lazarus’s poem speaks, the church is a people, not a stationary statue, waiting for the masses to come. The church must go to them.

Are we willing to go? Are we willing to move outside our comfort zones? The thing that breaks my heart is that Christ’s soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34 NIV) and yet still he earnestly prayed that not his will, but his father’s will be done—knowing full well that meant intense humiliation, suffering, and death. And not only did he accept the cup, but he drank it. He didn’t politely decline the offer.

Metzger argues that “all forms of disunity in the church can be traced, in the end, to an absence of practical love, an absence that hinders our outreach to the world” (p. 4). The thing that strikes me is that Metzger hopes that the all-consuming Jesus and his John 17 prayer will not only change the reader’s life, but more importantly, that it will change the church, so that “the world may come to know that the Father has sent the Son—not just for some, but for all” (p. 4). I believe this is an appropriate admonishment. I have been convicted that, like Hugh Grant’s character in the movie “About a Boy,” we live and view our existence as isolated islands, occasionally coming into contact with one another, but really, our existence is autonomous from everyone around us: millions of islands with our own appliances, gadgets, dreams, and hopes. This entirely undermines our social responsibility and our influence on structures and systems which make this country and world function as a whole. If the change stops with each of us, what good is that? We can sleep more soundly? Maybe, but it must go further than that for change. It must go further than our family or our social network. Jehovah is bigger than individuals in isolation. Jehovah is bigger than a neighborhood, a school, a city, a country, a nation. And he’s bigger than the powerful structures and oppressive systems which have deceived us, controlled us, and exploited his children.

My heart yearns for a day when I can stand in church as equals with others from different ethnic, economic, and equally diverse backgrounds, with our hands wide open and our hearts truly daring to enter into the “good, but not safe” narrative (referencing the beaver in C.S. Lewis’ Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Our hearts deceive us, pretending they don’t really hear his gentle pleading for us to go so much further than this. I pray we dare to enter into our creator’s story with fear and trembling, faith and reverence, awe and joy.

A friend of mine used to always say, “Without him we can’t. Without us he won’t.” It’s his story, and we are those whom he chose to be the messy characters. Let us be those characters, and dare to break past the barriers, systems, and structures that keep his children segregated, detached, and oppressed.


January 15th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

“…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?