Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Free-Market Christianity?

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has a book out about free-market small groups that someone showed me a few weeks ago. He also has one out entitled the Jerusalem Diet for how to reach your ideal weight . . . but I am trying to avoid my less-than-gracious urges to say more about that one.

Back to the first book: though I appreciate the desire to be relevant, I worry that we are too often treating Christianity like a belief system that can be communicated by any "effective" means. The idea is that Americans, who are people raised in and accustomed to a free-market society, must have their church small groups conform to that model . . . in order for the small groups to be effective. The belief is that the way to form our spiritual lives is along the lines of the economic models of our society. Economic theory becomes the guide for how to pursue spiritual formation.

I actually applaud the creativity, wholism, God-in-everything, and anything-can-be-holy concept that Ted is promoting, but I don't like the idea that we ought to pragmatically do life in whatever way our society endorses. Aren't there theological reasons for being creative, wholistic, seeing God in all of life, and reclaiming all sorts of activities as God-honoring? Do we do this only because it fits the free-market economics of our nation? Do we encourage creativity in forming small groups because our economy endorses the idea of a free-market, or because God is creative and our human diversity is by his design and ought to be encouraged?

Obviously, I think there are compelling out-of-the-nature-of-God reasons for what Ted talks about. But when we say we are encouraging people to be creative, to find God in everything because they live in a free-market society and like things that way . . . we put our economic system in the guiding role.

I know . . . we have to communicate the message in ways people can relate to. However, do I want to tie the message of the Kingdom of God to the principles of a free-market economy? Do I want to say that these two go together like hand-in-glove? Do I believe that these are wholly complementary? Is there nothing about our free-market economy that God's Reign questions?

This is actually a much bigger problem of the people of God losing their identity. It is the belief that all that is "good" about America is consistent with being the people of faith. Being a "good" American - supporting democracy, a free-market economy, free-trade, opposing big government, advocating low taxes, and such ("good American" as understood by the conversative right) - is part of being a good Christian.

The church that sells itself to people with the message of how appealing, satisfying, and relevant it is, and tries to build customer loyalty so expand marketshare is following the American ideal. The prevalent model of church in a free-market society where the competitive capitalistic values have become the norm for how the people of faith pursue a life of faith, has lost its identity. No longer can such a church call people to what is unpopular, uncomfortable, unaccustomed, or unlike the status quo. A free-market culls out whatever doesn't sell.

Don't assume that I am opposed to free-markets, or democracy, or that I like big government. I don't and I'm not. I just know that such things stand under the judgment of God, and are imperfect. I know that as the people of God we will never be completely comfortable nor in harmony with our society - whether we live in communist North Korea or in the Bible belt of the southern U.S.

If we stop being theologically-driven, and become pragmatically-driven, becoming the advocates of national political or economic policies and equating those with our faith, our identity in God is compromised.

I really don't want to take Ted to task, for I assume his motives are nothing but good. I want to offer a critique of an approach that his book perhaps exemplifies, in the hope that we might be formed by who God is rather than the ways of our culture.

1 comment:

Jim said...

If you think following Jesus can be in harmony (anywhere) in our society, a quick read of the Sermon on the Mount will cure you of that...