By Skye Jethani.
Zondervan Publishing. 2009.
Reviewed by Dennis Stone, Regional Minister for Alberta & NWT
Here is a feast for the mind. Here is fodder for pastors and church leaders seeking to understand where the church has been in the past century and where it needs to go. Added components are useful paradigms and illustrations … but to get this book for your bookshelf for what it can do for you is to miss the point of the work. This book addresses how Christianity in our Western world has become like a commodity which is marketed, traded, branded, advertised, utilized, packaged, presented, and evaluated.
As I interpret Jethani’s work what the Western Church has become is due to the cultural influences, but much rests upon the powerful economic forces at work worldwide today. One illustration emphasizing our consumerist mentality in the book is the quote intentionally twisting Rene’ Descartes famous words to say, “I shop, therefore I am.” This author spends some time developing the fact that our human identity has been manipulated by invented needs of master advertising companies and schemes of profit seeking companies.
In the book an interesting conversation is noted with Jim Gilmore, a noted economist who speaks of the following economic phases: Agrarian, Industrial, Service and Experience. The reader is led into an assessment of how Christian society has moved from meeting needs and developing structures to servicing wants for a certain type of ‘experience’. Jethani becomes a critic of churches that overemphasize attendance results and the provision of religious positive-feel Sunday experiences. Consumerist attitudes toward and by the Western Church are fleshed out with illustrations and applications that give helpful introspection into the season in which we live.
I personally like the intentional playful illustrations to the loss of imagination in our age and the need to see again with new eyes. One of these is the story of Phil Vischer who created VeggieTales whose firm went bankrupt in 2003. Phil thought he needed to become the ‘Christian Disney’ to accomplish what God wanted, but is quoted after this experience as saying: “The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail – a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream ….”
The ideas of this book are worth exploration by new and seasoned pastors. The book is full of quotable phrases and clear representations of errors in our popular ways of thinking. There is substance here for board decisions when planning a second service or change to the worship style. The book speaks of Jesus not concerning Himself with what was popular. He showed genuine spiritual maturity by denying Himself and saying, “Not My will but Thine be done.”
We need to return to a worship and walk that is not about us, but about genuinely loving God and loving our neighbor. I recommend reading The Divine Commodity.