July 29, 2017

Recommendation and Review: Consuming Jesus by Paul Metzger

consumjesus.jpgThere’s been a bunch of detailed reviews of Multnomah Bible professor Paul Metzger’s book Consuming Jesus already out there. (Be sure and check out the Scot McKnightDarryl Dash debate for one.) I’m not going to try and weigh in on the issues better people are discussing. I may sound a little “Joel Osteen on Larry King” on this one: “Well Larry, I really never thought about that…”

The fact is that Paul Metzger’s premise that evangelicalism has become a consumer movement and that consumer movement has made it a sick movement is about as fundamental a premise of the seven year history of the Internet Monk web site as anyone could state. I called evangelicalism a niche market the first year I started writing, 2000, and haven’t quit. Those of you who have appreciated my own critiques of evangelicalism will probably join me in underlining most of this book, standing up and cheering, dancing on furniture, weeping, cussing and generally having an old-fashioned revival meeting from cover to cover. In fact, if you are like me, you’ll be complaining that the book is too short and you’ll be asking Metzger to double the size of this baby in the next edition. (And those of you who call me a whiner should stop reading now and go have some egg nog.)

Metzger says that evangelicals are mostly white, middle class consumers and their way of doing church substantiates and perpetuates their materialism, their consumerism, their racism and their ultimate failure to evangelize. You don’t say? Sure there’s a lot more to say, but Metzger is correct that evangelicals have become almost completely blind to this situation. So I say a bit of cold water is in order.

In fact, he’s so right that I can’t tell you that many of my readers will not learn a lot from Metzger’s conclusions. What you will hear, I believe, is substantiation that evangelicalism is probably so sick it won’t recover, and if it does, maybe that’s not a good thing. The whole movement has become a carrier of deadly infections, and we’re in that stage where the disease is taking over the body, recreating itself so that the original organism, whatever it was, doesn’t really exist anymore. Just an empty shell. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only done creepier.

I liked a lot, but I especially appreciated three things:

1) The lengthy discussion of the Lord’s Supper and its role in the church was a joy to read. That there are younger evangelicals out there who can see the multiple levels of meaning and influence in the Lord’s Table in an evangelical setting is heartening. I highly commend Metzger for this.

2) His courage to say that evangelicalism’s small group fetish is no more the answer to its problems than “education reform” designed by public school academics is the answer to the problems of public education. Metzger believes that many small group programs are the perpetuation of the kind of insular thinking and living that have made evangelicalism the mess that it is.

3) Metzger boldly suggests that the use of the Bible by many conservative evangelicals- those people talking about exegesis and verse by verse exposition, etc.- are actually reducing the Bible’s powerful influence in the church. Mrtzger suggests that the use of the Bible in the African-American tradition had real power to challenge our consumer mentality, while preaching/teaching in suburban evangelicalism seems to ignore issues of classism, racism and consumerism.

There’s a bit of a ranting quality to this book that probably annoys some scholars, but let me suggest something. Listen closely: Many of you will read dozens and dozens of books the next few years that will be entertaining and informative. Most of those books will fail in one way- they will not bring you deeper into the transformation of character and life choices that go along with following Jesus. Every so often there is a book that, in the hands of the Spirit, affects that experience. You are made uncomfortable. You know you can’t just stay the same. You don’t want to add a few facts to your collection or write a review and say the Puritans would have liked it. No…you want to read in a way that is like sitting around a fire with Jesus or meeting him on the seashore. You want to be affected and changed.

You know what I mean? The Cost of Discipleship. Why We Can’t Wait. The Irresistible Revolution. Blue Like Jazz. For me, Between Noon and Three, Jesus and The Victory of God and The Shack.

Consuming Jesus may be one of those books for many of you. It has its failings. It could have been better by a lot of standards. But you won’t put this down and see being involved with Jesus the same way. It might make you mad, it might make you useless or it might make you useful. I can’t say, but it is a book you need to read.

Now that you’ve got some Christmas cash, buy this book. It’s not another waste of shelf space and good money. This is fresh, real and provocative. Take the medicine and be better for it.

Comments

  1. I don’t think you’re a whiner. EVen as a Catholic, I agree that Christianity in these United States has become a market. It is not unusual to hear it openly discussed as such. There are Catholic writers and theologians that believe the way to counter Catholics leaving the Church in Latin America is by us marketing ourselves better, finding out what the customer wants and doing it. Let there be no doubt there is much in the Church that needs changing, especially in Latin America, but not along those lines.

    Anyway, I still think I’ll have some ‘nog. I love it so.

  2. Trying to decide what book I need to move off of my shelf as I type.

  3. Michael,

    I like much of Metzger’s book or I wouldn’t have blogged through it, but it is time to move from “the church is consumerist” to demonstrating what that means — some solid facts, some significant implications — and all I’m hearing is sweeping comments and theoretical implications. We need to get beyond this. And I’m not seeing concrete enough proposals that are genuinely making a difference.

  4. Michael,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I deeply respect Dr. Metzger as a mentor and friend – he had keen and timely, prophetic insights into race, class, and socioeconomic divisions in the bride of Christ. I sat in his class when he was editing this book and it, and his life, has profoundly impacted me personally as I plant churches… this book is a must read.