Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Peterson on the Jesus Way

Eugene Peterson's note on how the American Way competes with the Jesus Way in our current culture. Penetrating words - read them slowly and chew on them...

"The great American innovation in congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn't even know we had. We are insatiable.

It didn't take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grow up on, the language we understand. We are the world's champion consumers, so why shouldn't we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus' salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, "deny yourself" congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

We can't gather a God-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start falling off the wagon. And they are falling off the wagon. We can't suppress the Jesus Way in order to sell the Jesus Truth. The Jesus Way and the Jesus Truth must be congruent. Only when the Jesus Way is organically joined with the Jesus Truth do we get the Jesus Life."

I've got thoughts on this, but I'll wait for you to have a chance to respond first.


Brent said...

What's to respond to? He's awfully hard to disagree with here.

There are some plusses to our culture regarding the way we do church, but Peterson has touched on the individual heart rather than the leadership of churches trying to find unique ways to serve.

However, my concern is the "watering down" of truth in order to do that...

...and I would think this would be of particular interest as you plant churches, because the question becomes one of planning the foundation will be how the rest of the house is built later on. And I'd think you'd want the earlies moments of any church to be Christ-centered rather than consumer focused. How that "fleshes out" will be one of the biggest struggles you'll have as you plant.

Which is why I pray for you guys...

Courtney said...

So true. That's one of the biggest reasons we left our church last year. It was turning into more of a circus/hour of entertainment to appease the visitors. And, suprisingly, most people in our home group liked it. If we had a guest speaker that left you feeling challenged, people would actually complain about it. We would be driving home from church, and I would ask Kyle, do you remember what verses we read today? And neither one of us could--we could remember the stories and jokes, but not the verse that flashed on the screen for five seconds.

What starts out as a good intention, quickly goes the wrong way when you try to "pump up" the Word. Since when did the Word stop being able to speak for itself?