In my previous post I wrote that I could understand the perspective of Spencer Burke, who seemed to be articulating that the church was not consumer-driven enough, in that she isn’t offering the "services" Christians are requiring. But I go back and forth on this stuff, as regular readers may be aware.
In the first chapter of Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society he speaks of how Christians in the 18th century, in response to culture newfound obsession with reason and scientific knowledge, sought to show that Christianity was a "reasonable" faith, but that this was in fact a wrong-headed move, in the sense that instead of letting the Bible challenge the worldview that says "reason" is the only reliable path to knowledge, the apologists in fact condeded to the Enlightenment worldview, and tried to make Christianity fit into it, with mostly disastrous results. In short, those who sought to defend the faith against the attacks of the humanists largely accepted the assumptions of their assailants.
I wonder if the same thing can be said of our recent obsession with thinking of the church as an organization that provides services to its clients. When things aren’t working and people are leaving the church, we begin to think about how we can offer new goods and services to attract new clients. (This creates an interesting "us/them" split as well – the people leaving or coming are "them", and the people offering the goods and servies are "us" – a new clergy/laity differentiation?). But perhaps in trying to defend the church against the attacks of a consumeristic culture, we have inadvertantly accepted the assumptions of our assailants. We’ve looked at the situation and tried to make the church work inside the worldview of consumerism, simply because it is so prevalent. But I wonder if we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by accepting the assumptions of consumerism (attendance and financial support in exchange for goods and services). Perhaps attendance and financial support ought to be based on something entirely different from "what I get out of it". Perhaps a truly Christian worldview would subvert and challenge a consumeristic worldview, where I only engage myself in things that give me benefit in return. In this sense, the cross is the most anti-consumerism symbol there is. Perhaps Christians ought to be consummate anti-consumers.
Perhaps there’s a balance….there really *are* christians who are not gettng what they want from church, and are leaving. It’s not just ‘the world’ who is avoiding institutional church. Yet, what I believe lots of these folks are needing is not something that can be packaged and pitched. In fact, I know many churches are working on programs (products) that are intended to pull christians back into that setting, but the people who have left (just like those outside christianity) can smell a salesman at a hundered paces! :o) They don’t like being considered as ‘consumers’. That’s why they moved on in the first place.
Also, not sure which McLaren title you’re reading (I think I remember you saying you ordered one?), but he pulls a good bit from Newbigin’s stuff in NKOK. Really helped me clarify my thoughts…at least into questions I could actually articulate!
It appears to me at times that the church is a ‘product’ that needs to be marketed and sold in order to be self-sufficient (so that supposedly she can do the continuing work began by Jesus through his life and death). Perhaps those who leave the institutional form of church are not leaving ‘the church’, but simply leaving behind the ‘product’ that can at times stand in the way of living a sacrificial, authentic life in Christ. If the church was never meant to be consumed, but is pretty nearly being consumed these days, what actions do we take to make a change? Some disengage in the institutionalized forms of church life to look for more hands-on oppotunities to touch the world in our small circle of influence…..without ‘selling’ anything, but pouring out a no-strings-attached love at whatever opprortunity presents itself. Honestly, it’s hard work alone, though…
Many are praying and trying to work for a Church who sees itself as a resource for blessing (and not just getting people ‘saved’…their understanding of the mission of Jesus goes beyond praying a bullet-point prayer and getting them to church on Sunday). They are a people tired of the ‘production church’ who panders to a consumer-driven society (often with legitimately healthy motives to really do good in the world), a mass of Christ-followers who, as NT Wright says, wants to help God put the world back to rights.
As you said, the cross certainly doesn’t sell unless it’s presented as yet another thing to consume (ie: “Because Christ died, YOU TOO can be free and forgiven and go to Heaven! Act now and begin receiving your complete healing and abundant blessings!). But the cross represents not just the way we are saved, but the example of how to lay down our lives for others. In fact, it should drive us to do so if we have a well-rounded understanding of Jesus’ life and mission in the world. Again, that’s a hard product to pitch in our society. And it’s a message not many (non-liturgical) churches put out there without some serious sugar-coating…Just a spoon full of sugar and all that.