Before you even read the book you have to say it’s pretty encouraging that it even exists. Not long ago a book on consumerism from a mainstream American publisher was a rare thing indeed, there still aren’t many in existence and this one deserves to be near the top of the pile.
In nine chapters Jethani unpacks how consumerism has leaked into the church. American is at the forefront of a consumer society, its leading edges are all in America and American Christianity is at the forefront of consumer shaped religion. There are lessons to be learnt simply from the descriptions of the church that the author provides.
American Christianity continues to fascinate me, it is part car crash and part inspiration. Some of my best teachers are Christians birthed, taught, shaped and formed in the cradle of American Christendom. At the same time there is a side to the church there that I simply cannot grasp or comprehend, I have no idea how this monstrosity came to be and how it relates to the Christ I follow. Fortunately that’s not my problem to solve and our God is a gracious God.
In response to this monstrous creation birthed by the illegitimate union of the church and the shopping mall, Jethani uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh to help us rediscover the spiritual disciplines of silence, prayer, love, friendship, fasting and hospitality that have both stood the test of time and served the church well as gifts from God.
The use of Van Gogh is interesting and certainly served as a useful reminder of both the genius and the spiritual zeal of the Dutch artist, although I’m not sure how successful it always was as a bridge between the poison and the antidote.
Jethani understands the power of consumerism well and sees how pervasive its influence is on the American church, his insights hit the mark time and time again and his journalist background shows through. After such a clear diagnosis I wanted a sharper response, I wanted the battle lines drawn more clearly, the solution more boldly proclaimed but, perhaps he’s right, that to do so would have fallen into the trap of offering another option, another choice to be consumed if you feel like it or not if you don’t.
There are plenty of ways in which the church context differs from the UK to the US but there are more than enough similarities as well for this to be a useful and helpful book for the discerning reader. If you want to see the logical outcome of consumer Christianity read this, if you want to know the traps that await us if we follow that path read this, if you want encouragement that consumerism in the church and in us can be defeated read this. If you want to know that an alternative vision exists read this. Highly recommended.