I Don't Buy What Those Churches Are Selling
Carl Trueman on materialism.
In my theory of consumption, the act of buying itself is a form of distraction, indeed, the ultimate form of distraction in that it not only distracts the consumer from the question of mortality; it also attempts to fool the consumer into thinking that he or she is not only immortal, but even divine.
What are the implications of this theory? Well, it offers the church a critical perspective on the consumer-driven behaviour we see in society around us. Two implications seem immediately obvious. First, it would seem that we need to turn on its head any attempt to see the rampant buying of goods as some sign of spiritual yearning within individuals, and thus, in a strange sense, as a point of contact or hope for the church with the fallen world. What we see is not a rootless, valueless world crying out for meaning; but rather the latest manifestation of the age old problem. How did the serpent tempt Eve in the garden? By offering her the chance to be like God. And that is what out-of-control consumerism offers its willing victims.
Second, when the mentality of consumer-driven behaviour, social and economic, is put in this context, the church must surely not capitulate her prophetic role by accommodating to such idolatrous narcissism but rather speak out firmly against it. And what I mean by this is that she should not so much preach against greedy materialism and excessive accumulation (though this should be done as and when necessary); but she should dare to be the church, and allow the Word of God to set her agenda, to shape her worship, and to inform her message. As soon as she makes the mistake of playing the consumer game, and of offering her wares simply as goods to be bought in a competitive market place, she has failed to see that the powerful thrills in modern society come not from the goods bought but from the buying itself. The appeal of Christianity packaged and sold as one product among others will be as fleeting and as ephemeral as the buzz from buying a new car, or the hit from a sniff of crack cocaine. When churches start (literally, in some cases) to look like shopping malls, they have lost the plot; they have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of modern consumerism, seeing it as a value-neutral form of social behaviour; and lost the ability to critique culture while yet standing within it. They have become not so much places to worship God as sad participants in the oldest profession of them all.