Christ and Consumerism: A Critical Analysis of the Spirit of the Age

(eds) C. Bartholomew & T. Moritz, Paternoster Press, 2000, ISBN 0-85364-987-1

Reviewed by Robin Parry

This wide-ranging collection of essays is a serious attempt to give a Christian analysis of consumer culture. Craig Bartholomew helpfully sets the backdrop to the discussion by charting the rise and characteristics of consumerism. Colin Greene considers models from church history for the interaction of church and culture (church resistant to culture, church married to culture, church capitulated to culture) and argues for the need to have a prophetic engagement with culture and to recover scripture by seeing ourselves as participants in its story which stretches from creation to redemption.

Gordon McConville sets out Old Testament perspectives on wealth and concludes that material wealth (broadly defined) is a good given by God but that God sets out clear ethical parameters within which it may be enjoyed and outside of which an idol is formed. Thorsten Moritz, in what was for me the most stimulating essay in the volume, considers how NT texts address the consumer society. Moritz has written an essay that is a very model of wise interpretational methods in applying the Bible to our context and the challenge of the NT to consumerism is clear.

Craig Bartholomew then draws attention to a recent danger facing the church. We desire to critique our culture from the perspective of a biblical worldview but there are streams within the academy that want to treat the Bible as simply another product to be consumed, thus pulling its prophetic teeth. Alan Storkey’s analysis begins in the mode of economic theory and then moves into a very powerful prophetic critique of consumerism. Good stuff.

Gordon Wenham argues that modern western societies have increasing tendencies to treat moral issues in a consumerist way. His case studies are Sunday observance, marriage, reproductive technologies, abortion and euthanasia. His message is that Christians must not capitulate to consumerist ethics. Nigel Scotland’s essay is a fascinating attempt to find a middle way between those who see any employment of ‘consumerist’ tactics in the church as virtual apostasy and those who uncritically employ marketing methods. Scotland argues that used with great care consumerist models do have something positive to offer the church.

Finally Graham Cray asks whether the Toronto Blessing is the product of a consumer culture. The answer, he thinks, is no.

The organization of this book is very helpful with some orientation, followed by biblical foundations, followed by broader issues. The essays were all very readable and constructive and the cover itself is worth the price of the book. Zak Benjamin and Gert Swart did one fantastic cover. Did the book achieve its aim of contributing to the ongoing gospel task of discerning and prophetically engaging the currents in Western culture? Oh yes.

(Robin Parry lives in Worcester, UK.)

Published in The Big Picture, Volume 2 Issue 2, page 27-28