Consumerism and the Church

A great quote from David Wells:

Churches which preserve their cognitive identity and distinction from the culture will flourish: those who lose them in the interests of seeking success will disappear.

In our churches we may have made a deal with postmodern consumers but the hard reality is that Christianity cannot be bought. Purchase, in the world of consumption, leads to ownership but in the Church this cannot happen. It is never God who is owned. It is we who are owned in Christ. Christianity is not up for sale. Its price has already been fixed and that price is the complete and ongoing surrender to Christ of those who embrace him by faith. It can only be had on his own terms. It can only be had as a whole. It refuses to offer only selections of its teachings. Furthermore, the Church is not its retailing outlet. Its preachers are not its peddlers and those who are Christian are not its consumers. It cannot legitimately be had as a bargain though the marketplace is full of bargainhunters.

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word…” II Cor 2:17

No, let us think instead of the Church as its voice of proclamation, not its sales agent, its practitioner, not its marketing firm. And in that proclamation there is inevitable cultural confrontation. More precisely, there is the confrontation between Christ, in and through the biblical Word, and the rebellion of the human heart. This is confrontation of those whose face is that of a particular culture but whose heart is that of the fallen world. We cannot forget that.

David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, pg. 308-309

HT: Reformation Theology


2 responses to “Consumerism and the Church”

  1. This is definitely a good quote, but we are a voice of proclamation only by being appropriate practitioners. It appears that he is dividing the two, at least from this quote in which I have zero context, nor do I think he desires to divide the two, but it appears from these statements to be a division. The reality of our culture is that while we are not to be its marketing agent or sales agent, we play that role because the consumer mentality looks at all things in this way.

    Even Christians travel to various churches to find their favorite brand of packaged Christianity. How does Wells suggest we approach that? Is there a way to change that?

    The church benefits and hurts from the consumer mentality that pervades our culture. It benefits in that people come to a venue to hear a speaker and music because they are used to attending a venue where they are entertained and not engaged personally.

    The church hurts because people think it stays there. That they are constantly to attend a venue without ever having to engage and it’s Free! I wonder what Wells or you think about transforming the consumer mind into an active participant.

  2. Much of Wells’ writing stems from his in depth analysis of the devolving of consumer culture ultimately to narcissism and self worship. He does a great job through the rest of the book of painting the cultural form of post-modernism in America, which is the fulfillment of the consumer mentality, and the resulting churches who have accommodated this culture.

    His call is to recover a Christ that speaks to this post-modern generation, and his argument is that it is not done through the medium of cultural assimilation as the seeker churches have done, but through the clear preaching of Christ that is calling individuals to deny themselves and take up their cross daily.

    The typical phrase is “what you win them with, you win them to” comes to mind…

    This is not to say that God will not use these forms of church who have adapted to the culture for a time, but Wells’ assertion is that they simply will not last, and I would tend to agree. Seeker churches will ultimately succumb to sinking farther into culture and lose sight of the Gospel if they do not recover a Gospel that calls them out of their means.

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