The church, when it’s not seduced by consumerist spirituality, is in the business of cultivating ordinary Christians.
This is perhaps my favorite quote in the book I’ve been reviewing, Good News for Anxious Christians. This is not, however, the focus of contemporary evangelicalism. Who wants to be ordinary? “Come join us—be ordinary!” is not something you’re going to find on many (or any) church signs or websites.
In the remaining 1/2 of the book, Cary addresses cultural elements which have found their way into evangelicalism, such as emphasizing our motivations rather than our actions, separating “head” from “heart,” and especially consumerism. In adopting a marketing approach to spirituality—which is based on creating a need to fit in, or even be special—the church has lost any sense of true spirituality (becoming “ordinary” Christians).
The point of consumerism is to make you feel like you’re missing something, so you keep coming back. This requires that you stop thinking, and respond emotionally to the message. As Cary writes,
The new evangelical theology, like all forms of consumerist religion, really does need to keep you from thinking too much. It requires you to be afraid of engaging in critical thought, so that you’re easily manipulated and easily pressured into wanting to feel what everyone else feels.
Cary includes a chapter on why practical sermons are so boring (as we all know they are). The need to be practical and “relevant” shifts the focus from the Gospel (what Christ has done for us) to what we can do for ourselves (or for the church).
The last couple of chapters are perhaps the most important in the book, as he explains how this shift from a focus on external truth to one of internal experience is a step away from orthodox Christianity, and which will lead to a post-Christian future.
In closing, he tells us why the gospel is simply good for us, and why it should be preached as often as possible.
As I mentioned at the outset of this series, Good News for Anxious Christians is a great companion to my book The Gospel Uncensored, as it deals with many of the same attitudes, however from a different perspective. If church makes you feel anxious in the least, I highly recommend reading both of these (mind first, of course…).