Mimicking the Culture For the Sake of “Growth”


This piece from James K.A. Smith’s latest book is something of an expose on the “Church Growth” movement, or it’s more unapologetic and unabashed culture-adopting and affirming “mega-Church” cousins, who emply seemingly every device to create a “religious version” of Starbuck’s, Barnes and Noble (I prefer Border’s books, B&N coffee and seating (soft chairs are more plentiful in most B&N).

If our worship simply mimics the disciplinary practices and goals of a consumer culture, we will not be formed otherwise. Conceiving of the church as a disciplinary society aimed at forming human beings to reflect the image of Christ, we will offer an alternative society to the hollow formations of late-modem culture.
—James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? p. 107

It seems as though what the mega-churches consider to be “alternative” is the “religious flavor” of the same values. Yes, the SAME values. They don’t recognize the “metanarrative” that constitutes the “conservative culture” that they champion. (Smith would argue, along with Hauerwas that there’s a bit more “Liberal democracy” culture adopted and assimilated than there is “conservative” politics. At least that’s my take) The “metanarrative” of the Bush Administration seems much closer to the surface than prior administrations. The neocon ideology represents what I see as a more immanent threat to even a surface peace than many in recent history. The aggressive and hubristic swagger with which they conduct themselves on the “world stage” makes it obvious to me that what they “espouse” in their stump speeches and what their ideology drives them to do are at such a distance as to obscure from the culturally accomodated churches the obstacle that is posed by this “worldy and violence-dependent metanarrative” to their being able to recognize an “alternative telos” . When it comes down to it, it’s the “way of life” thing that is the obstacle. The materialistic aspects are to be unquestiongly protected, and so the churches in America give implicit (and many times EXPLICIT) permission to the United States of America to tell them a story about “the way it is” that supercedes that of the Biblical narrative, and the Jesus story. But douse the cultural trappings and underyling “working assumptions” about “the way it is” with “Biblical” language and they’ve constructed for themselves the “alternative” that simply props up what the culture at large wants them to support (capitalism, war as THE mechanism for seeing to its further spread)

I got in to a rant there about the Religous Right again, but where are the churches that offer any real alternative that espouses a “different” theology? I may feel more ideologically/theologically at home with a “Progressive” theological crowd, but there is a disturbing lack of formative structures amongst them as well. Simply offering up theological “groupings” to approximate the political left in the same fashion and debate as what goes on politically, is also guilty of shaping the church in the image of a “culture war”; in the fashion of what we see in the “public square”. I think this is behind the thinking that cuased one person to tell me that they thought what they read in an interview with Gordon Cosby “sounded pretty conservative”, because in this particular interview (as in with nearly every one with Gordon or Church of the Saviour people), Gordon stresses the “life of the Church” and “being shaped by the Spirit” and the church being as the People of God who pay attention to “an alternative reality”; a “deeper reality”. That Progressive churches and Liberal Churches have lost this language of the faith is something of a betrayal of who they are called to be. The fact that calling on the narratives of the church and talking incessantly about “formation” asnd “discipline” is associated with “conservative” highlights this sad fact.

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