Today is the blog tour for Skye Jethani’s new book The Divine Commodity. Jethani is managing editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, which, depending upon your impression of LJ, may belie just how counter-cultural to the consumeristic church the spirit of his book really is. The book, simply put, is phenomenal. Jethani does an excellent job of merging matters of practicality and contemporary church culture with an imaginative aesthetic missing in a lot of ecclesiological diagnostics. The book is artful, penetrating, and important. (I recommend it as a companion piece to Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. Read the two together and get a firm grasp on the problems facing the flashy yet impotent American church.)
Those of us participating in the blog tour each submitted a question to Jethani inspired by our reading. Here’s mine and his response:
JW: What specific advice would you give the churchgoer who is growing more disillusioned by the moment with the deadening consumerism of his or her church? The closest you come to prescription in the book is saying it is about personal transformation as seed-planting, but imagine someone is telling you personally that their church has lost all sense of the gospel and discipleship in community and that they don’t know what to do about it. What would you say to them?
SJ: This is a potent question, and the last thing I want to do is enflame someone who is already about to storm out of the church. First of all, if you believe the church has “lost all sense of the gospel and discipleship” then it isn’t merely a lukewarm community needing to be spit out—it is acidic. For the sake of constructive conversation, let’s assume the church isn’t completely heretical.
You are right that my book does not advocate a radical coup within the church or call for a revolution in the church’s structure. It’s not about strategy, systems, or programs. In fact, if nothing ever changes about the way your church operates, you are still able to engage and employ the lessons within The Divine Commodity. I don’t believe we can (or should) overturn our consumer culture. Nor do I believe churches (from the mini to the mega) should just radically revamp their structures. That wouldn’t solve the threat posed by consumerism—it’s a far more elusive foe because the battlefield between consumerism and the Kingdom of God is not external, but within the heart and imagination of every believer.
As consumerism’s grip over you begins to loosen, and you experience the transforming reality of “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” the way you worship, serve, and relate will begin to change. In time, through resources like The Divine Commodity and others, perhaps others will join you in your quest for a richer Christian life. The gospel has always been an incarnate reality, transmitted life to life across the medium of relationship. As this begins to take root within your church, regardless of what the leadership or programming is doing, the message of hope, liberty, and fullness in Christ will spread like yeast through a lump of dough. So, rather than criticizing those still enraptured with Consumer Christianity, save your energy and simply let your life reveal a fuller glory which does not fade.
If, over time, it becomes apparent that there truly is no one within your existing community that desires this deeper life, I would seek another place where the encouragement of fellowship where believers spur one another on toward love and good deeds may be found. But this would be my last, rather than first, choice. Believing a change of circumstances or setting will deliver us from consumerism is a deception. It is a deliverance that must come, by God’s grace, from within.