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Consumers vs. Disciples

This morning I was involved in a conversation about “consumer-driven” models of church.  Especially in a cultural context where churches find themselves competing for “market-share” with other churches, it becomes quite easy for churches to come to see themselves as “service-providers” in some form or another.  People come to us to have their “religious” needs met and we are expected to accommodate them by providing a package that is uplifting, inspiring, intellectually stimulating, or some other desirable adjective along with a whole host of articulated and unarticulated social needs.  If we don’t meet these needs appropriately or enthusiastically or sensitively or “relevantly” enough, well there’s a whole host of other churches that will (or will claim to).  That’s what churches are for, after all.

Or maybe not.  William Willimon’s is a pastoral voice that I have grown to appreciate over the last little while and I was pleased to recently discover that he has entered the blogosphere.  I’ve spent the last day or so chewing on his most recent post which deals with this very topic.  For Willimon, churches that understand themselves as service providers for religious consumers have fundamentally misunderstood their reason for being:

[T]his understanding has misplaced the true purpose of the church and distorted its nature. The point is not membership. The church does not have clients, members, or consumers of goods and services. The point is discipleship. The church exists to form and sustain individuals and a people who are followers of Jesus Christ, who are his disciples. Rather than buying into a consumer model of the church, where the customer is king and the church simply meets customers’ needs, the church does more; the church redefines our true needs. The church transforms people according to the life and pattern revealed by God in Jesus Christ. It unites them with others who are committed to this way of life.

Like Willimon, I have no interest in being a service provider of religious goods.  I have no desire to meet needs just for the sake of meeting needs.  Needs, as it turns out, are limitless and, as Willimon points out, the legitimacy of some needs ought to be challenged.  They need to be shaped and reoriented.  The job of the church is not to take whatever vague socio-religious sentiment/demand happens to be drifting about and set about to satisfying it in a “Christian” manner.  We must be sensitive to human need in all its forms, but we must also go beyond this to interpret and reshape these needs in light of a definite pattern and goal.  This, as Willimon points out, is what discipleship is all about.

I should be clear.  It’s not as though I think needs are unimportant or that the church shouldn’t be interested in them.  If I claim to believe (and I do) that the gospel is addressed to the deepest and most profound point of human need, then it makes sense that how we “do church” should reflect this.  But the church is not (or at least should not be) a market-driven organization that caters to the religious tastes of its consumers.  In fact, if we’re doing our job, the consumers should always be a little restless, a little unsettled, perhaps even a little confused, disoriented, provoked, or annoyed.

So are we, as churches, producing disciples or consumers?  It’s a tough question to wrestle with.  I fear that too often it is the latter.  We want to survive, after all.  As churches, we occupy space in a decidedly post-Christian cultural context where the we are often perceived to be antiquated and irrelevant at best.  And one way to survive in this context is to give people what they want.  To market ourselves to the “religious” segment of the population and make sure we keep our “share” of this (shrinking) demographic.  To meet people’s needs.  But if we do this, we end up as little more than a social club or charitable organization that happens to have a vaguely Christian veneer.

This isn’t useless.  But it also isn’t church.

34 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    I think the book your brother is reading by Charles Taylor may offer a different way of seeing what is going on. After all, protestantism, modernity and our business culture share the same historical and philosophical roots.

    Even the discipleship aim can be seen as consumer oriented. Perhaps Willimon is really fighting over which service or product is provided to the consumer rather than really mounting a protest against the idea that a church has needs to meet. I hear this in his words, “The church exists to form and sustain individuals and a people … ” As Taylor points out, in modernity production is highly valued. Based on Taylor’s analysis, I imagine Augustine might quarrel with Willimon.

    I know you have not devoted much attention to Taylor. Your brother’s postings inspired me to reread Taylor. It is worth it. But at the same time, I am finding Taylor (I am half-way through the book now) as unsettling this time as I did last time (ten years ago.) It is unsettling to consider the history of the self, and in that context to consider the history and evolution of philosophy and Christian thought. Nothing seems to be fundamental, unless one can speak of mere change as the fundamental – as Darwin saw. And not change as progress, but just change, just one thing after another.

    September 22, 2009
    • I think on one level we are all forced to be “consumers” of religion simply by virtue of when and where we live. The basic fact of pluralism forces a choice upon all of us (Peter Berger called this the “heretical imperative”). Christian discipleship must be chosen amidst other options.

      But I don’t think acknowledging that this is the context in which the church does its work requires accepting the “consumer as king” model of church practice. I think what Willimon is (rightly) criticizing is the tailoring of church to fit the desires/preferences (perceived or real) of those who pay the bills. I think he is right to make the distinction between “members” and “disciples.” As I said in the post, the church certainly ought to meet needs; but it must also be always asking the question, “Which needs and to what end?”

      I remember having some similar thoughts to yours when reading A Secular Age. I suppose I think of the evolution of the self in largely teleological terms. That’s not to say it’s just straightforward uni-directional progress; but I think Christian theology has room for growth and progress as well as lapses and regression—whether we’re talking about human conceptions of selfhood or something else.

      September 23, 2009
  2. “Like Willimon, I have no interest in being a service provider of religious goods.”

    The very reason why, when I do attend Church, Neighborhood is the one I go to.

    September 22, 2009
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Amen, brother.

    How I wish I could offer the gifts of my Catholic faith to you, without prejudice, without causing offense.

    Brother, if anything I have ever shared with you “speaks of truth”, hear me now. Ponder in your heart and in your prayer the proposal I am about to share with you.

    Engage with your Catholic brethren. Participate in their worship, invite them to participate in yours. Examine their teaching, as you examine all else; Intelligently, fairly, critically, pastorally. In the end let your conscience be your guide. You are a man of good morals. You seek the good in yourself and the good in others.

    It is my hope, that God invites me to extend you this invitation. It is my hope that through it He looks to further strengthen your purpose and mission. The” what” and “how” of it all is truly beyond my understanding. It is between you and God…

    If you take offense to my invitation, please accept in advance a humble and contrite apology.

    Yours in Christ,

    Paul.

    September 23, 2009
    • I’m not offended at all, but I don’t really understand what you are “inviting” me to do or for what purpose. With respect to what am I to let “my conscience guide me?” Are you trying to get me to become a Catholic? I’m confused…

      September 23, 2009
  4. Paul Johnston #

    I think I’m offering you something of a paradox, and on more than one level, but mostly I’m just trying to share my experiences of God with someone who has been so giving to me.

    Ryan, the Son is in our Eucharist, I have “tasted” Him. The Father is in our Tabernacle, I have encountered Him. The Spirit is in our Mass, prayers, and traditions, I have felt it’s presence.

    I don’t mean to say that this is my experience all of the time or even most of the time. I think it could be but something is lacking. A lacking that is mine not the Lord’s. It is that “lacking” that I am trying to address in my life. It is something you are helping me address.

    You give my spiritual intuits and experiences a deeper sense of reasonableness. A sense that there is at least some rational foundation for my hope. A foundation that I believe we all must ultimately abandon but a more secure and less crazy sounding, jumping off point none the less. ( If that makes any sense to you.)

    What I’m hoping to share with you in return, spiritual “quid pro quo”, so to speak ;), is a doorway to a deeper understanding and experience of the supernatural potentials of your relationship with the Lord. Iget a spiritual sense that, in spite of your academic preferences and their intendant scepticism, you are looking for a more personal understanding of a life, “into the mystic”.

    I think the Catholic church, at it’s best, has the right understanding and balance of both the life material and the life mystical for you to be assisted in this journey.

    I know that it sounds contradictory and somewhat disingenious to say that I would hope these things for you without neccessarily hoping for your conversion but irregardless that is the truth of the matter.

    As I opined earlier, that is between you and God.

    September 23, 2009
  5. Ryan, the Son is in our Eucharist, I have “tasted” Him. The Father is in our Tabernacle, I have encountered Him. The Spirit is in our Mass, prayers, and traditions, I have felt it’s presence.

    I’m glad to hear this. I, too, have encountered the risen Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and the prayers, traditions, and liturgies of the church.

    What I’m hoping to share with you in return, spiritual “quid pro quo”, so to speak 😉 , is a doorway to a deeper understanding and experience of the supernatural potentials of your relationship with the Lord. I get a spiritual sense that, in spite of your academic preferences and their intendant scepticism, you are looking for a more personal understanding of a life, “into the mystic”.

    Thank you for your concern for my spiritual well-being. As I’ve said before (perhaps even to you), the way I write and the topics I cover on this blog do not necessarily represent the sum total of my spirituality. My approach to faith may seem impersonal or overly rationalistic to you, but I would be careful about assuming that because you read certain things on this blog that I nicely fit into this or that category. I am skeptical by nature, certainly. I also place a high value on reason. But I do not in any way see this as being contradictory to a deeply personal life of faith.

    September 23, 2009
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Think I’ll stay on point with this one…well sometimes anyway…see what that’s like…

    Have you ever considered examining the dicipleship models of more established traditions. I dunno, say the Catholic tradition for example. You can go Anglican if it’s more comfortable for you, just don’t wait too long, they’ll be back home with us within the decade. First the end of Roman and Orthadox schism, then the return of Lambeth, exilarating times to be a Christian my friends…darn, I digress…

    Like the American Democratic Party (and the Liberal Party in Canada , for that matter) poisoned the pool for Catholics of shallow understanding and faith, so too american business models combined with the natural Protestant orientation towards division and decontruction, has led to the current malaise within the fraternity of “seperated bretheren”.

    The existence of an ongoing Apostolic tradition, combined with an ecclesiastic authority (magisterium) allows for church development that is dicipleship and not membership based.

    As an aside, unless the Communion Supper you participate in, is rooted Catholic sacramental understandings of “transubstatiation”, you are simply partaking in a symbolic act of “communion” with God and fellowship among your community; noble and worthwhile undertakings both.

    What it isn’t however, is the supernatural reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

    September 24, 2009
    • Wow, everyone’s coming back into the fold of the one true church, eh? I must have missed the memo 🙂

      On a serious level, there is much that I admire about the “high church” traditions (believe it or not, I have worshiped with Catholics and Anglicans before and I do know a few things about their theological distinctives). The liturgy and the reverence and the imagery certainly have the capacity to fire imagination and worship in a way that “four bare walls and a sermon” cannot (as Ken gestures toward below). I think that there is a growing appreciation in Protestant-dom of the good gifts that we can receive from our brothers and sisters in the high churches.

      However (there is always a however…), I don’t think it’s quite as simple as saying that the Apostolic tradition, the magisterium, etc insulates Catholics (or Anglicans or Orthodox) from the challenges of consumer approaches to church. Some might see, for example Vatican II, as a response to “consumer” demand (not to mention some of the abuses that were going on in around the time of the Protestant Reformation). I’m sure you can understand that, at least for some, the presence of a “magisterium” or an “Apostolic tradition” doesn’t magically solve all the problems.

      I suspect that we’re going to just have to agree to disagree about the question of transubstantiation. My better judgment tells me not to ask this question, but what can I say?—I’m a curious guy. What do you see your “lapsed brethren” as missing out on by not availing themselves of “the supernatural reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ” in our second-rate communion services? Are we less Christian? Less holy? Less obedient? Less spirit-filled? Less… what? Do we not encounter Christ as “authentically?”

      September 24, 2009
  7. Ken #

    Without question, there is a difference in the meaning and experience of communion in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. In addition, there is a altogether different view or theology of worship and of the church. I don’t think discipleship is the aim in Roman Catholicism the way it is in Protestantism. I think Protestantism for the most part, is more concerned with changing this world through discipleship, even where this is not explicitly affirmed. I think Roman Catholicism offers a gateway to another world, mediates a connection between heaven and earth, time and eternity – and it is through the Eucharist.

    My own sympathies are with Roman Catholicism, even though I am no longer eligible for communion, and even though as an American I am as much a Protestant with reformed theology and an atheist with no theology as I am Catholic, and even though my study with Jews has shown me yet another way, a beautiful way, of communion with God – a way through the Torah and the Sabbath.

    As I think about this discussion I realize that I don’t want be made into a disciple. I would rather just sing hymns and read the Bible – something like Isaiah 38:20. And I don’t really want to be a member either. I just want to taste eternity, and to believe that life is more than matter in motion, if only for a few moments. I just want to pray something like Psalm 38, verses 9, 15 and 21.

    September 24, 2009
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Fair question Ryan and as always a thoughtful and intelligent response.

    Regarding your concerns with an Apostolic tradition and the Magisterium, I would agree they are not a “cure all” for every condition and in turn present some problems unique to themselves, as our history can well attest. Still concerning the matter at hand, it is my contention that a central authority espousing a uniform ecclesiology, based on long standing traditions, is better able to defend itself against the vageries of popular consumer driven culture, than other forms of worship.

    With regard to Vatican II, hmm…you be mocking. A council that took some four years to complete, that was in of itself a continuation and completion of the incomplete expression of Vatican I, held a century earlier and engaging a worldwide bishopric, overseen by both Protestant and Orthodox prelates, hardly constitutes a modern response to “consumer demand” by any reasonable interpretation of the phrase….

    With regard to your question, though it be fair, the hyperbole surrounding it is unfair and innaccurate.

    I meant what I said when I called your communion, “noble”. I was not being faciteous. In fact I have participated in them in the past and will continue to participate in them in the future when time and opportunity allow. While I would describe it as less, in accordance with its own self definition, I would never refer to it dismissively as “second rate”.

    No sincere expression of communion with God and fraternity among the body should ever be described in this manner.

    With regard to what makes it less, our friend Ken again offers wonderful insight when he says,…”I think Roman Catholicism offers a gateway to another world, mediates a connection between heaven and earth, time and eternity – and it is through the Eucharist.”

    This beautifully expressed sentence, says it all. Not just an intellectual understanding of God grounded in the rational materialism of modernity but rather a “gateway” to a personal and experiential relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    How can any serious seeker of fellowship with the Lord not seek to experience what the Catholic church outrageously claims to offer?

    Ryan, I believe you encounter Christ authentically but in a more limited, humanly mediated context as is consistant with your Protestant heritage. I think as a Catholic I have the opportunity to experience an authentic relationship that further explores the potentials of devine revalation. A relationship that is more on Christ’s terms than ours.

    I want you to have what I have.

    September 24, 2009
    • With regard to Vatican II, hmm…you be mocking. A council that took some four years to complete, that was in of itself a continuation and completion of the incomplete expression of Vatican I, held a century earlier and engaging a worldwide bishopric, overseen by both Protestant and Orthodox prelates, hardly constitutes a modern response to “consumer demand” by any reasonable interpretation of the phrase….

      I absolutely agree that there is an institutional solidity that makes the Catholic Church less susceptible to the reactive marketing flights of some Protestant churches. This is one of the things I admire about the high churches (really, I mean it).

      But regardless of how long it took or how it built upon previous councils or how many bishops, etc were involved, Vatican II still represented an “updating” of Catholic practice to more effectively communicate in the modern world, did it not? You’re not hearing the liturgy in Latin any more are you? Well, as you know that’s a pretty significant difference from the overwhelming majority of Catholic history. I’m not saying the decisions reached at the council are wrong or bad or anything like that; but unless my reading of history is horribly mistaken, they do represent an attempt to make the Catholic Church and its worship more at home in the modern world. On one level, the “consumers” weren’t happy and wanted change. And the church responded.

      I meant what I said when I called your communion, “noble”. I was not being faciteous. In fact I have participated in them in the past and will continue to participate in them in the future when time and opportunity allow. While I would describe it as less, in accordance with its own self definition, I would never refer to it dismissively as “second rate”.
      No sincere expression of communion with God and fraternity among the body should ever be described in this manner.

      I absolutely agree. But you certainly seem to imply that what goes on in Protestant communion services is less authentic, less substantial, less theologically correct than at the Eucharist as you understand it. It is an inadequate imitation of the “real” thing, correct? We Protestants are just symbolically honouring what is an experiential reality for you. That is the sense in which I use the term “second-rate”; it seems in accordance with your own self-definition.

      [Ken’s] beautifully expressed sentence, says it all. Not just an intellectual understanding of God grounded in the rational materialism of modernity but rather a “gateway” to a personal and experiential relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

      Again, do you see these things (i.e., a “personal and experiential relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ) as not being on offer in oh, say, a Mennonite church?

      Ryan, I believe you encounter Christ authentically but in a more limited, humanly mediated context as is consistant with your Protestant heritage. I think as a Catholic I have the opportunity to experience an authentic relationship that further explores the potentials of devine revalation. A relationship that is more on Christ’s terms than ours.

      That’s an interesting couple of sentences. I would be extremely hesitant in suggesting that someone else encounters Christ in a more “limited” or “humanly mediated” way than I do simply because I do not attend the same church they do. With all due respect, popes and bishops are just as human as the humble country pastor; the worshiper in a tiny rural non-denominational church has no poorer access to the risen Christ than someone contemplating the splendors of a medieval cathedral. “Christ’s terms” are quite simple: he gives of himself to all who ask and who call on him.

      September 24, 2009
  9. “You give my spiritual intuits and experiences a deeper sense of reasonableness. A sense that there is at least some rational foundation for my hope. A foundation that I believe we all must ultimately abandon but a more secure and less crazy sounding, jumping off point none the less. ( If that makes any sense to you.”

    “If’ anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.”
    – Augustine

    Avenues to truth can’t run parallel. Reason is definitely not something that weakens or lessens someone’s faith. To be honest, I would argue, it creates a stronger, more convincing faith. A reasonable foundation is essential to faith as Augustine so bluntly points out. Never does he abandon his reason, but rather he abandons his will in order to receive grace. While the Eucharist may be an important aspect of one’s faith to acknowledging thanks, or having mystic experiences important to viewing divine light, they are simply not essential to receiving grace and ultimately salvation. No more than Gucci shoes are.

    ““Christ’s terms” are quite simple: he gives of himself to all who ask and who call on him.” Yes! Not just those fortunate enough to be able to have rare human life experiences.

    ”I think Roman Catholicism offers a gateway to another world, mediates a connection between heaven and earth, time and eternity – and it is through the Eucharist.”

    I think Christ himself, not just a practice, offer this the most.

    September 25, 2009
  10. Ken #

    I think the Roman Catholic Eucharist and the Protestant sacrament of communion are different, both in their intentions and in their effects. I think the reformers had objections to the Eucharist and intended to treat the sacrament of communion differently. We have inherited their concerns, and I think most of us would experience them as being different.

    I enjoy Protestant communion most when the eschatological meaning is emphasized, meaning to me that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper anticipating the heavenly banquet at the end of time, in the Kingdom to come. I enjoy the Roman Catholic Eucharist in a different way. It seems to provide a deep, intimate, immediate contact with Jesus or God. I think it must have something to do with the idea of the Eucharist being a sacrificial rite at an altar. And, although I can identify a meaningful difference, I think each breaks us out of our time and place and carries us away into eternity.

    I think Protestantism above all affirms our freedom, and, as Charles Taylor observes, the value of an “ordinary life.” It is a great affirmation. I would not willingly give it up. But the price of freedom has been to lose something of the experience of holiness or the sacred, something that is preserved in the Eucharist and in the Jewish observation of the Sabbath.

    September 25, 2009
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Compelling comments, all.

    Ken, let me first thank you for mediating this discussion. Your experiences combined with eloquence and objectivity are invaluable here. In many ways I feel you are making the point(s) that I am trying to make. While my tempraments have improved there is still an adversarial nature to my discourse that requires further refining. Thank you for the assistance in this regard. Further thanks for expressing so succinctly the sum of the distinctives that make Protestant worship both Godly and compelling. I know I sometimes seem to infer that Protestant forms of worship are in some way heretical. I don’t really mean that. To tell the truth, I don’t know enough about the theological differences to honestly or accurately make the claim. If a do speak of heresy and I do believe I do, it is to suggest that the fractured and fragmented nature of Christian expression is heresy in of itself and is a problem in desperate need of a solution.

    I wonder what the Lord thinks of us and our state of disunity. I wonder how we are ever going to be able to make disciples of all men when we can not even get our own house in order. The distinctives that prevent us from being the family of people that God calls us to be, have to go. Whatever their origions or denominational expression.

    Ryan, I still think with regard to Vatican II you overestimate it’s “consumerist” intention. The very term I think is antiethical to Catholic expression. The “Holy See” as I understand it would never allow a popular sentiment or desire (the essence of consumer driven agenda?) to motivate a change in doctrines of faith and/or morals. In simple terms I would distill it’s philosophy thusly: “We discern what God wills for His people not what His people will from their God.”

    While I agree that after centuries of rigidity much was changed, the intention was a liberalization and accessability that would enhance sacredness and Apostolic succession, not weaken or dilute it. The ambition was greater revalation through greater relevence (the evangelical imperative) and not the heresy of greater relevence (humanly speaking) at the expense of revalation. (If not an active consumerist imperative certainly a benign consequence)…

    …It has taken me quite some time to get this far. (Yikes an hour and a half!!) Writing doesn’t come easily for me. Much less writing honestly, or heaven forbid that I might one day in word, hint of a guy, who knew a guy, who had a sister, who was once rumoured to have told a truth.

    There is more to answer, I know. (I haven’t forgotten you pinnocchio, Brown!!)

    For now, I have to get ready for work.

    Yours,

    Jiminy C.

    September 25, 2009
    • Ryan, I still think with regard to Vatican II you overestimate it’s “consumerist” intention. The very term I think is antiethical to Catholic expression. The “Holy See” as I understand it would never allow a popular sentiment or desire (the essence of consumer driven agenda?) to motivate a change in doctrines of faith and/or morals. In simple terms I would distill it’s philosophy thusly: “We discern what God wills for His people not what His people will from their God.”

      As I’ve said (or at least implied) before, I’m not directly equating Vatican II with some of the consumer-driven models of church in Protestant-land. I’m simply saying that Catholics are not immune from some of these issues simply by virtue of having a magisterium. Change may come more slowly, it may be more tightly controlled, etc, but it does happen. I simply brought up Vatican II because the changes made there were at least partly in response to the wishes of ordinary Roman Catholics around the world (surely you can admit at least this much?).

      And as you are not doubt aware, not everyone shares your confidence in or admiration for the Holy See. Some people look at some (not all) of the historical decisions made in by the Holy See and see decidedly less than holy intentions (one thinks of popes and antipopes furiously excommunicating one another from Avignon to Rome and back again in the middle ages; somehow, I doubt what “God wills for his people” was uppermost in their minds). To suggest that the Holy See never allows popular sentiment or desire to influence their decisions seems historically untenable to me.

      I’m not anti-Catholic (far from it!); as I’ve said, I there is much that I admire about the high churches. But I strongly resist your suggestions that those who do not fall under domain of Rome encounter Christ less authentically than those who do or that we are interested in what we want from God not what he wants for us, etc. To imply that we would be rid of our consumer approaches to religion if we would all just become Catholics seems a bit simplistic to me. There are powerful cultural forces at work (that impinge upon Catholics, Protestants, and everyone else) as well as plain old human sinfulness that contribute to the human desire to make God fit our demands rather than vice versa.

      September 25, 2009
  12. Ken #

    I think that you are right about the history and the all-so-human aspect of Vatican politics.

    I don’t think that Paul can give ground on his belief that in some sense the Roman Catholic Church has a superior claim to legitimacy over Protestant churches. It is part of Roman ecclesiology to see it this way. At the same time, for Protestants to yield on this matter would be similarly shattering to centuries of Protestant theology and ecclesiology. It is a very difficult issue to solve in ecumenical relations.

    For those of us born to one Christian tradition or another, we have inherited this conflict or obstacle to church unity. For those of us, like me, who have been part of both traditions, the conflict becomes internal and is just as unresolvable. As I read the conflict in the discussion here, I am reminded of the conflict inside of me. What I found that helps is to remember the old jokes I have heard about the differences between Catholics and Protestants, like the one about the little boy and girl playing in a sand box who took off their clothes and compared their bodies. They went home and told their mothers and said, “Mom, there really are big differences between Catholics and Protestants!”

    September 25, 2009
    • Well said Ken. You’re right, the differences on some issues run deep and seem virtually intractable. Luckily, I don’t think ecumenical relations depend on solving some of these questions. As you say, it is a conflict we are born into and there is a lot of historical baggage that seems unlikely to be easily shed. But I think progress has been and continues to be made. I’ve heard from my dad that he grow up being taught that the pope was the anti-Christ (a teaching he had his suspicions about even as a child!). Needless to say, only a generation later, things look very different. I know very few people from my tribe who wouldn’t embrace Roman Catholics as their brothers and sisters in Christ.

      (I like the joke, by the way!)

      September 25, 2009
  13. Paul Johnston #

    I’m going to try again and I only have 1/2 an hour before work.

    1. The Holy See has been as guilty politically as any other human institution of it’s tenure. My contention is that with regard to the dispensation of faith and morals the” products” they offer their “clients” and potential clients, so to speak, they are not “consumerist” driven. The problem as you origionally observe it is uniquely Protestant.

    2. My contention with regard to a deeper, but no more authentic, relationship is this; Sripture evolved from tradition, tradition was developed through an ecclesiastic order, Scripture, tradition and a ecclesiastic order offer a fuller interpratation of revalation.

    Revelation not limited to scripture creates a space for an ongoing dialogue directly with God. Miracles still happen, visions still occur, angels still intercede. The supernatural foundation upon which our belief system ultimately rests is alive, well and ongoing in Catholic tradition. We do not seek to strain a former fixed history through the grate of modernity exclusively. As well we continue the same intimate relationship as or forefathers did, directly through the sacraments.

    The Church is not quick to authenticate the miraculous, it is slow and scrupulous in so doing but when it does, it authenticates the real active presence of God, not just then but now and throughout history. Miracles happen, Fatima happened, Lourdes happened our Lord himself appeared to Blessed Sr. Faustina.

    Does this not intrique you? Do you not want to at least examine the cases? Surely Scripture speaks to you of these or other similar potentials?

    3. What I am not trying to do is affirm a superior relationship with God. What I am trying to do is offer to you, and any other, what the Lord has given to me. As a Christian, it is all I can do.

    September 26, 2009
    • My contention is that with regard to the dispensation of faith and morals the” products” they offer their “clients” and potential clients, so to speak, they are not “consumerist” driven. The problem as you origionally observe it is uniquely Protestant.

      So all Catholics are disciples, as described by Willimon? None of them would self-identify as “members” or come to mass for religious “goods/services” and pay little attention to the living according to the pattern of Christ throughout the week? I remain perplexed as to how you see this as an exclusively Protestant thing.

      The supernatural foundation upon which our belief system ultimately rests is alive, well and ongoing in Catholic tradition. We do not seek to strain a former fixed history through the grate of modernity exclusively.

      As opposed to Protestant land, where the supernatural foundation upon which our belief system ultimately rests” is not alive and well and ongoing? As opposed to (all?) Protestants whose faith is filtered exclusively “through the grate of modernity?”

      Re: miracles, I don’t recall saying that I disbelieve in them, nor do I recall saying that I am not “intrigued” by how God might work in unusual ways.

      September 26, 2009
  14. Ken #

    The Roman Catholic Church does struggle with these things. Many of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI address this subject and show his concern about them. One summary of this topic can be found in his book, God and the World, in the last chapter, titled “The Future.”

    “Are we consumerist driven?” is a question that I think troubles every pastor and priest. It is an inevitable question in an age where almost everything is consumerist driven.

    I do think it is plausible that to some extent Protestantism struggles with this differently than Roman Catholicism. I think Taylor, also Roman Catholic, might say this too. I think the difference has to do with the ways that Protestants and Catholics treat the value placed on “ordinary life,” as Taylor calls it. I think it is true that Protestants place a higher value on that set of values Taylor calls “ordinary life.” One of those values is “production.” It is the idea that a good life is a productive life. And with production goes consumption and the idea that what we produce should meet the needs of people living ordinary lives. I think that Protestantism has embraced this idea more than has occurred in Roman Catholicism. It goes along with embracing freedom and equality. I think this makes us more vulnerable in Protestantism to the associated pressures. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church exists in the world, and the world, at least in the West, is modern, so it ultimately faces the same pressures.

    September 27, 2009
  15. Ken #

    What has been the Mennonite response to modernity? I have had the impression that Mennonites have responded with more resistance than many other Protestant churches, just as the Roman Catholic Church has, but I don’t know whether my impression is right or not.

    September 27, 2009
    • I’m not sure there is or has been a uniquely “Mennonite” response to modernity. I suppose Mennonites have traditionally focused on the person of Jesus and his call to radical discipleship. In that respect, there has been a tendency to avoid the abstract theological speculation and systematic doctrinal statements found in other denominations. As far as I understand it, Mennonites have not been particularly concerned to understand faith in terms of some kind of a rational “system” or body of knowledge. Their emphasis has always been on the God’s historical action in the person of Jesus Christ and what following him means. Everything else is a luxury at best or a dangerous distraction from the gospel at worst.

      (It occurs to me as I look back on this paragraph that some might see me as a very un-Mennonite Mennonite :))

      September 28, 2009
  16. Hello Ryan.
    I really appreciate this post. As I read it I was reminded of a book I read not long ago that you may already be aware of.

    ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness’
    By Eugene H. Peterson

    It’s an excellent book worth reading more than once:)

    September 27, 2009
    • Thank you for the kind words Deborah. I’ve read Under the Unpredictable Plant and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve learned a good deal from Eugene Peterson’s writings over the last few years (Working the Angles is another excellent one) and I anticipate returning to him often!

      September 28, 2009
  17. Paul Johnston #

    Ryan, my reference to the problem being uniquely Protestant was with regard to the institutional authorities, such as they are, within the Protestant faiths, and not the faithful.

    Given that the historical legacy of the movement has been to perpetually divide itself into one sub sect after another, it’s churches are, in my humble opinion ;), systemically unableable to offer an authoritatively coherent response to the overwhelming seductions of secular living.

    (To be fair and honest nowhere in my last post did I make this distinction. Your seemingly mild annoyance with me is warranted.)

    Conversely, though many, many Catholics struggle with issues of modernity, (as you have correctly surmised), Papal authority continually offers the faithful morally infalable alternatives. The choice is ours.

    Personally speaking, most of the Catholics I’ve known who saw themselves as consumers of a theism that better spoke to their own tastes, left the church a long time ago. They either stay at home and bitch about the church they left or they became involved in other movements that speak more directly to their personal intuits.

    The Catholic church can be accused of a lot of things but being “seeker sensitive” along modern evangelical/corperate/consumerist lines, ain’t one of them.

    As for my references regarding the supernatural, I thought I took care not infer that such understandings were exclusively catholic but rather that the way in which we do church, makes them more accessable. Apparently I failed in that regard.

    I kind of like the term “Protestant Land”. It’s a little archaic and unimaginative but it sounds a lot more authoritative and inclusive than churches named after streets, communities, dogmatic differences, cultures or countries.

    Keep trying me boyo, you’ll get it eventually. 🙂

    September 28, 2009
    • What, exactly, will I “get” eventually?

      September 28, 2009
  18. Paul Johnston #

    Mr. Brown, sorry for the delay, sir.

    With regard to St. Augustine, as far as I understand the quote, I quite agree. Accordance with natural law is a fundamental in so far as “Holy Writ” (read canon law) is concerned. What I’m trying to say is this. At some point in the relationship with Jesus, it is my experience, that a person can become engaged with the Lord in such a way as to transcend their material faculties. It is this that phenomena that I am describing as a departure from “reasonableness”.

    Though I could never bring myself to consider this experience as being analogeous to a pair of gucchi shoes, you are right to warn me of self deceits and errant judgements.

    To that end I am reading the collected works of noted mystic and Dr. of the Roman Catholic Church, St. Theresa of Avila. As well I have purchased the works of St. Bernard of Clairveaux, a man I’m told brings as thorough an ecclesial examination and apology of such phenomena as exists within our church.

    Something is going on in my life, sir and it is more profond and pure than anything I have ever known or experienced.

    I feel the presence of God within me and I am hungry for more.

    September 28, 2009
    • Paul, I do respect the value mysticism, however, I don’t find is a gift endowed to all. Similar to tongues. On the contrary, reason (when not ignored), appears to be endowed to all humans. For the sake of this argument I wish to leave aside mental handicaps.

      So, with this in mind, I feel it is safe to say that mysticism is not required for a stronger or more real divine experience. It merely is a blessing. Where reason is a blessing to all. I think Augustine is warning us about placing experiences above reason. He does continue to say that because we don’t understand something doesn’t make it unreasonable.

      Sorry for the Gucci shoes comment, it just really rubs me the wrong way when the Papacy has inflated expenses. But, this is another topic.

      September 28, 2009
  19. Paul Johnston #

    Hey Ken,

    As I understand it, if Papal authorities struggle, with regards to faith and it’s right moral application, it is in the discerning process. Once discerned the struggle is for the faithful to accept revealed truth or not. There is no middle ground. Conjecture leading to disagreements in practice, is not an option. It is scandal.

    September 28, 2009
  20. Paul Johnston #

    I was just having a little fun with you, Ryan. Though I don’t know you personally and I have clearly become your catholic nag, 🙂 I admire your writing and this forum very much.

    I am thankful for the opportunity to participate.

    September 29, 2009
    • My Catholic nag, eh? I can live with that. Thanks for your contribution to the conversations.

      September 29, 2009

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