“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”
This is a beautiful verse. I have used it more times than I can count in the past two years to talk about truth. Jesus is The Truth. There is none greater. To think of truth in any other way is to think of a lesser truth. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was the highest revelation of God. Truth is found in Christ and through Christ. And it is only found through relationship. Truth is not a proposition, but a relationship. How else do you get to know Truth, Christ, except to be in relationship with Him?
While I enjoy the Truth, I had not spend time on the Way until I read Eugene Peterson’s book,The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, in 2007. The book is a conversation on how people go about following the way of Jesus (1) It peaked my thoughts and pricked my heart. I found myself falling in love with the Way in a new way.
The way Jesus loves and interacts with the world is personal. It is the incarnation. Flesh and blood. Relational. Particular. Local.
The ways of our Western culture are quite the opposite. It focuses on programs, organizations, and detachment. It honors numbers over names, ideologies over ideas, and abstraction over interaction. (2)
Unfortunately, so many who have embraced the Way and wish to follow the Way have given themselves over to the culture’s way of doing things. The way of Jesus is not a supplement; it is the highest expression of life. To live any other way is to live a lesser life. Just as Jesus is the highest expression of the Truth, He is also the highest expression of the Way. Again, the interaction with the way requires relationship. To fill it with anything else is to at best weaken the Way and at worst abandon the Way.
Culturally, we have moved into the realm of consumeristic capitalism where life is about transactions of devoid of personal interaction. According to Benjamin Barber, there was a time when “a productivistict capitalism prospered by meeting the real needs of real people…Today, however, consumerist capitalism profits only when it can address those whose essential needs have already been satisfied but who have the means to assuage ‘new’ and invented needs…” (3) America has become the most consumer-oriented society in the world according to Juliet B. Schor. (4) Is it any wonder, then, that when 9/11 happened, and President Bush was looking for a metaphor to help us gain a sense of normalcy, he focused on shopping? (5)
This move towards consumerism is a move that results from the loss of our identity and the filling of our felt needs with transactions. Even our most intimate moments relationally, have culturally moved from intimate times of oneness to sexual transactions. We are filling our lives with transactions while our real needs, our deepest needs of emotional health and wholeness are hidden behind a credit card payment.
The transition from the Jesus way to the culture’s way has become the “get me stuff to bring me short-term comfort and keep me from addressing the real needs” way. That is the Western way.
Now the great American invention now has turned the church into a similar consumer enterprise. We have embraced culture’s way, not the Jesus Way.
We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more and requiring more. It is about getting our needs met. As a result, we have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites and needs we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable.
It didn’t take long for some of Christian to develop a way to meet those needs. In doing so, they created consumer-oriented congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and more effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their felt needs and recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving are some examples. This is the language we Americans grew up on. It is the language we understand. We are the world’s champion consumers so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches? (6) Church now is about getting my needs met and having a non-boring experience.
Alan Hirsch, in Forgotten Ways, The: Reactivating the Missional Church, argues a similar point. He states,
In the modern and postmodern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services. And the end-users of the church’s services (namely, us) easily slip into the role of discerning individualistic consumers, devouring the religious goods and services offered by the latest and best vendor. Worship, rather than being entertaining through creatively engaging the hearts and minds of the hearers, now becomes mere entertainment that aims at giving the participants transcendent emotional highs, much like the role of the “feelies” in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where people to the movies merely to get a buzz.
Church growth exponents have explicitly taught us how to market and tailor the product to suit target audiences. They told us to mimic the shopping mall, apply it to church, and create a one-stop shopping experience catering to our every need. In this they were sincere and well intentioned, but they must have been also totally ignorant of the ramifications of their counsel – because in the end the medium has so easily overwhelmed the message. (7)
He goes on to say:
Speaking to the insecurity of the human situation, it was Jesus who said “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But first seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things well be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33, emphasis mine). Consumerism is thoroughly pagan. Pagans run after these things. (8)
The way of church is as important as who is behind the church.
In the wilderness setting of Matthew 4, we find the enemy trying to divert Jesus not from the end (or goal) but the way. Satan is not concerned with the end, because the end is not important if the way isn’t followed. In fact, the end is different if the way is not followed. Therefore, he attempts to keep Jesus from following God’s way.
His first temptation is to turn stones into bread. Jesus is hungry and Satan attempts to get Jesus to feed his own need. He urges Jesus to turn the creation into a commodity (stones to bread) and do something productive with it. The idea was that once he meet his own needs, he could then meet the needs of others in the same manner.
The temptation he uses for us it to do the same. We can follow Jesus but use Jesus to meet needs; our own first and then the needs of others. The temptation is “to deal with myself and others first and foremost as consumers. It is the temptation to define life in consumer terms and then devise plans and programs to accomplish them ‘in Jesus’ name.”. (9) We think people need to be entertained so they won’t be in a bored worship gathering so we meet that need by creating a production that rivals many rock concerts. We hope that the show will meet their need for entertainment and when that need is met they can hear Gospel. Or there is a program and organization for every member of the family so they get entertaining environments with good productions so that their needs are met and they can then hear the Gospel. Which leads us into the second temptation.
The second temptation was to jump off the roof of the temple. “The devil wants to use Jesus to dazzle the crowds of people on the street below with a miracle, to put a little excitement into their dull lives. ‘Jump, Jesus – these people will never forget it; it will change their lives…The temptation is to embark on a circus career in miracles. And what could be better than a career in God-miracles, religious miracles, entertaining crowds, supplying ecstasy on demand.” (10) Our temptation is to use Jesus as a commodity for weekend diversions. It is not a relational experience. It is a religious diversion that, for most, is in effect a transaction.
The third temptation was ruling the world. “The devil wants to use Jesus to run the world, take charge of the world…But of course it would have to be in the devil’s terms, a rule conditioned by the unholy if – ‘if you fall down and worship me.’ The devil’s way would necessarily be an imposed, impersonal way. The devil’s way would be absolutely perfect in its functions, but with no personal relations.” (11) The devil, according to Peterson, wants us to use Jesus to run our families, our neighborhoods, our schools and governments efficiently. But there is no love or forgiveness. It is the only way to have a just, peaceful, and prosperous government. Letting people have a voice will just cause problems. (12) So we use the words of Jesus to develop a smooth running organization devoid of the personal touch and spiritual investment. It is a way to achieve our goals of a growing (numerically) organization thinking we are doing great things for God.
What does this consumerism do to the church in America? Large churches are growing, medium-size churches are declining, and smaller churches are struggling. The larger a church grows, the smaller the kingdom grows, because in America, those larger churches are pulling from the smaller churches who cannot offer the same goods and services as the larger churches. The religious consumer, wanting the needs of their family met heads off to the big church where they are busy with activity and have entertainment for all ages. The smaller church suffers, to the point of having to shut down because it cannot sustain itself.
The churches who are surviving are trying to put together the right programs and activities that will attract those religious consumers. They are spending time, money and other resources on buildings and productions so that people will enjoy (or be entertained) by the show that is put on in the church.
But is this real success? The Jesus goal cannot be achieved unless the Jesus way is followed. The end does not justify the means. God’s goal is that we become like Him, conformed to His image and the image of His Son Jesus. The goal is not heaven, the goal is Cruciformity, or conformity to the Cross of Jesus. It happens through Faith, which for Paul was a “total response to obedience to the gospel (Rom 1:5;16:26). It is also…a death experience in which one enters into the experience of Jesus’ crucifixion.” (13) The Jesus Way is a process where God seeks to re-shape and re-form that person into his or her original identity, and to re-fill that person with His original purpose of relationship with God. In embracing the gospel of Christ, a person embarks on a journey out of brokenness and into wholeness that will only be complete as God works to restore all of creation. (14) The Jesus Way does not have as its goal the creation of people looking to have their own needs met. Why then perpetuate the climate of the consumer church in an attempt to see people conformed into the image of God?
Success then is not following the consuming way, but the Jesus way. Maybe our measure of success should be an expression of people being conformed to the image of Christ, obeying the Gospel, and living the crucified life that is an expression of Faith.
1. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, 1
3. Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, 9
5. Ibid, 41.
6. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, 6.
7. Forgotten Ways, The: Reactivating the Missional Church, 110.
9. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, 30-31.
10. Ibid, 31.
11. Ibid, 33.
13. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, 80.
14. The Doctrine of Humanity (Contours of Christian Theology), 50.
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