(RNS) — Two new books challenge Christians to restore their faith to its true mission and forsake a consumerist mentality that some churches adapt in a bid to meet members’ needs.
“Churches can better shape the faithful by recovering a sense that the life of faith is supposed to be a challenging experience,” said veteran journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald. “I think that this may start with a new consumer ethic for this new religious marketplace.”
MacDonald, an ordained clergyman and a correspondent for Religion News Service, takes on the consumerist gospel in his recent book, Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. He criticizes the easy gospel doled out by some congregations, arguing that faith loses its flavor when watered down.
MacDonald says churches should remember the words and lives of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., two 20th century martyrs who died when their public Christian activism challenged the status quo.
“American history would have been completely different if Martin Luther King had stayed inside his comfort zone,” he said. “He put himself at ultimate risk and paid the ultimate price.”
University of Texas journalism professor Stephen D. Reese approaches the challenge from a more personal perspective, but reaches similar conclusions in his new book, Hope for the Thinking Christian.
Reese, who’s active in Austin’s Oak Hill United Methodist Church and is the author of several academic books, pushes readers to explore what’s required for modern believers to discover an active, grounded faith.
“I wanted to emphasize the everyday-life aspects in the book,” Reese said. “I wanted to get beyond the notion that you have to have a serious personal life crash in order to have a testimony … . I think we have all faced the spiritual drama of everyday life. What it means to be a father, a husband, a teacher, a friend — multiple situations.”
The rapid pace of modern life, combined with people’s constant connection to technology, limits essential time to withdraw and be still, Reese says.
“The difference between work and home is no longer there,” he said. “We’re so distracted in our world with demands on our time. There are difficulties in pulling away from work to have some kind of Sabbath moment. That’s probably more challenging than ever before.”
Since the book’s publication, Reese often finds himself speaking and reflecting on the “traditional division between the intellect and the life of the heart.” He sees a lingering uneasiness within academia over such a conversation, despite “more acceptance now of faith in the public square.”
Both Reese book and MacDonald highlight the world’s need for hope, and lay the responsibility for developing an intentional spirituality — ingrained in both Christian and congregation — at the feet of the faithful.
MacDonald worries that churches, pressed to please a fickle clientele, are failing their principle mission to edify, noting that the nation’s greatest social movements — from 19th century abolitionists to 20th century women’s liberationists — achieved their goals with roots in the church.
“What we’re talking about here is whether churches in America will be capable of producing a prophetic voice in the present or in the future,” he said. “The muscles that the church has at its disposable to shape people who know the heart of God and can bear witness in a prophetic way, those muscles are being eviscerated by consumerism.”
— Cecile S. Holmes
© 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Posted Aug. 20, 2010