Consumerism is a huge stumbling block to Bible engagement. It’s a stumbling block because the perspectives, values and attitudes that inform the essence of consumerism (selfishness, self-centredness and entitlement) are the antithesis of the perspectives, values and attitudes that connect us with Jesus and His Story.
Consumerism is the dominant worldview of the Western world. It can be defined as having the right to explicit, implicit, technological, personal, interpersonal and situational expectations being met. For consumerists, the protection or promotion of their interests is paramount.
And herein lies the problem. Bible engagement is a hit or miss affair in a consumer culture because it only gets traction when it’s seen to be newer, better or more, i.e. what people want.
So how do we deal with consumerism among God’s people? Here are two suggestions:
Teach God’s people to be counter-cultural
God’s Word exists for us to meet Jesus in and through it. Meeting with Jesus should never be a hurried affair. Bible engagement occurs best when there’s a long obedience and humble deference to the Word over many years.
Because Bible engagement isn’t instant, it’s counter-intuitive to consumer-oriented people. Consumers want everything now. Yet the composition of the Bible is designed to slow the reader/listener down. That’s why we must tell people that connecting with God’s Word isn’t like a fast-food restaurant. Bible engagement doesn’t jive with a give me an “instant fix” attitude. The Bible has to be engaged on God’s terms, not ours.
Taking the Bible on God’s terms doesn’t come naturally to a consumerist. That’s because the hold that consumerism has on people isn’t outward but inward. The consumerist’s perspectives, values and attitudes are rooted in pampering the flesh, pleasing the eyes, and feeding the desire for position and power. So along with teaching a biblical worldview and urging people to come out of the world (cf. John 15:19, 1 John 2:15-16), we must pray for a Spirit-directed, gospel-shaped, radical reorienting and renewing of the consumerists heart and mind (cf. Romans 12:2).
Stay true to God’s Word
In the belief that it has to provide an on-demand type experience, the church is increasingly responding to consumer culture by adapting and accommodating its message and methods. Author and journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald says, “I’m concerned with the fact that churches are growing in many cases by serving up something that people seem to want, but something that’s not holding fast to the calling of the Gospel.”
Note MacDonald’s concern about churches “not holding fast to the calling of the Gospel.” Consumerism is corrupting the soul of the church. Tragically, the church is becoming more inclined to worship self-indulgence rather than Jesus! Little wonder that author C. S. Lewis commenting on Christmas and consumerism asked, “Can it really be my duty to buy masses of junk every winter?”
So where to from here? Quite simply, we must stop giving people what they want, and inspire them to “hold on to what is good” 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
The best things in life aren’t things! We must challenge the values of consumerism and biblically rectify situations where it’s gained a foothold in the church. A good way to do this is to preach and teach all of God’s Word (rather than the selected pieces we think people want to hear).
And finally, if people are going to “hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), we must encourage and equip each other with the practical tools to personally and communally read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word.
Much more could be said. What are your thoughts on consumerism and Bible engagement?
© Scripture Union Canada 2019