(I read an invitation to get a copy of Paul Louis Metzgerâ??s Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church on another blog. I wrote for a copy and received a copy of the â??first corrections draft.â? My formative years in ministry took place during the â??heydayâ? of the â??Church Growth Movement.â? I found myself reading and attempting to employ much of the literature of the day. Having what some would consider mild success I became uneasy with the consequent lack of living out the Gospel. Certainly some of the culpability is personal â?? a person must count the cost when giving himself or herself to follow Jesus. Sadly some only count for a moment. However, those of us who lead churches, develop leaders, and mentor young people need to accept our role. We may well be complicit in the matter when our challenge to follow Jesus ignores the implications of reconciliation. Scot McKnight notes the various ways cracked â??eikonsâ? need to be reconciled in a recent talk to small group leaders in Atlanta. You may also be interested in McKnight’s, A Community Called Atonement. I will offer a review of Metzgerâ??s work in a series of posts beginning with a look at his Introduction. I will give a post to each chapter and then offer some reflections on his conclusion.)
Images communicate, powerfully. Spencer Burkes, in Making Sense of Church, suggests we are in need of metaphorical shifts in our understanding of â??Church.â? For example, in his chapter on ministry Burke notes the need to shift from â??Consumerâ? to â??Steward.â? So entrenched in consumer culture, the church needs a metaphor that helps deconstruct its uneasy relationship with dominant culture, reconstitute around its role in the â??missio deiâ?, and re-orient Jesus followers outward.
Paul Metzger utilizes image to challenge those in the church, its leaders and participants alike, to explore the ways consumer church linked inexorably to consumer culture fails to address issues of race and class. In the Introduction Metzger suggests trading coffee bars with stone altars. The image draws from C.S. Lewisâ??s Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan takes his place on the stone altar for another.
Rather than coffee bars, Metzger will argue for Scripture and the Lordâ??s Table as the stone altars for the Church today. He notes, â??First, the book is about consumerism and how it affects the church in reinforcing the race and class divisions of society, and how it distorts our view of Jesus and his call for our lives.â? (p.11) Metzger adds, â??Intentionally or not, many evangelical churches are guilty of setting up structures of church growth that foster segregation, such as appealing to consumer appetites and the like..â?(p.11)
The title encompasses Metzgerâ??s grand project for the church, â??Being consumed by Jesus reorients us so that we can clearly sense his call in our lives. Jesusâ?? all consuming vision and prayer to remove divisions and make us all one, as he and the Father are one, should consume us. As we consume Jesus through his Word, and his body and blood through the bread and wine of the Lordâ??s Supper, he consumes us. And as Jesus consumes us, he graces us with a nobler vision: to remove disunity from his body the church, including race and class divisions.â? (p.12)
Dr. Metzger draws inspiration from John M. Perkins whom he quotes,
The only purpose of the gospel is to reconcile people to God and to each other. A gospel that doesnâ??t reconcile is not a Christian gospel at all. But in America it seems as if we donâ??tâ?? believe that. We donâ??tâ?? really believe that the proof of our discipleship is that we love one another (see John 13:35). No, we think the proof is in numbers â?? church attendance, decision cards. Even if our â??convertsâ? continue to hate each other, even if they will not worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, we point to their â??conversionâ? as evidence of the gospelâ??s success. We have substituted a gospel of church growth for a gospel of reconciliation.
And how convenient it is that our â??church growth expertsâ? tell us that homogeneous churches grow fastest! That welcome news seems to relieve us off the responsibility to overcome racial barriers in our churches. It seems to justify not bothering with breaking down racial barriers, since that would only distract us from â??church growth.â? And so the most segregated racist institution in America, the evangelical church, racks up numbers, declaring itself, â??successful,â? oblivious to the fact that the dismemberment of the body of Christ broadcasts to the world very day a hypocrisy as blatant as Peterâ??s at Antioch â?? a living denial of the true Gospel. (p.9, quoted from With Justice for All,p.107-8)
Coming of age in ministry during the heyday of the â??Church Growth Movement,â? Metzgerâ??s Introduction spurred me to read further.