We’re living in the midst of an earthquake. . . and unless we step back and look really really hard, we probably don’t even know that the ground and everything on top of it is shifting in major ways. That’s right. . . most of us don’t even notice what’s happening. Instead, we have willingly yet unknowingly jumped on board for the ride. For those of us who are consciously endeavoring to follow Jesus while leading others to do the same, we need to be regularly stepping back, looking, evaluating, discerning, and responding. That’s the only way that we will embrace a lifestyle marked by being in but not of the world.
I’m thinking about this today as a result of some thought-provoking reading I’ve been doing in preparation for our upcoming Doctoral cohort in Ministry to Emerging Generations that’s meeting next week at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. One of the texts we assigned to students is Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Don’t let the title scare you. This book offers one of the best descriptors and analysis of the modern to postmodern to post-post-postmodern that I’ve ever read. In essence, this book offers a bird’s-eye view of the earthquake that is shifting the cultural landscape and changing all of us in the process. Transforming Worldviews describes our culture, our kids, our institutions, and our selves.
About that earthquake. . . Hiebert quotes Peter Drucker’s description of history and the times: “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. We cross what. . . have been called a ‘divide.’ Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. . . . We are currently living through just such a transformation.” Read that again. It’s significant. Our role is to figure out which changes to embrace, and which to resist. That’s what discernment is all about. If we aren’t discerning, we tend to nonchalantly accept “what is” as the status quo, or the “way things should be.”
One of the main changes that we have to understand and confront is “consumerism.” Hiebert offers a compelling analysis of how the postmodern turn has fostered a consumerism that is driving our lives and perhaps even more so, the lives of the kids we know and love. Consider these little snippets from Hiebert:
- The pursuit of pleasure through consumption of commodities and services has become the dominant cultural value of postmodernity, replacing the deferral of gratification and self-denial.
- Consumerism offers people meaning through buying and living the good life in a world in which they feel increasingly meaningless, insignificant, and unreal.
- Consumerism is nourished by human dissatisfaction and craving. Once existing needs are adequately met, new needs must be created to keep the market going.
- People who are relatively happy with their lives, enjoy spending time with their children, enjoy walks and times of prayer, meditation, and silence, and have a peaceful sense of who they are, are not good for the market. But those who are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives, live in anxiety, and are unsure of their identity and their relationships to others, want more, and the market promises to fulfill these ever-expanding needs and wants.
“lulled into a new religion where the mall … becomes the church.”
Perhaps even more insidious is the church becoming the mall.
Are the quintessential orthodox Christian virtues of “sacrifice” and “death to self” being replaced today by a full menu of church events and activities and a Plan of Salvation for us to consume?
I’m currently in the process trying to reconcile Jesus meeting “felt needs” during His earthly ministry with our local churches providing congregations with programs and services, but wondering out loud how His call to “go and do likewise” after washing His subjects’ feet is now so hard to hear.
No doubt, living in a consumerist culture, orienting our faith communities primarily around the needs of those with only a minimal interest in actually living as apprentices of Jesus, and our inherited bent towards serving ourselves, all work to make it increasingly difficult to fill the sanctuary of a place called “Come and Die Church” these days.