Discussions concerning race and class divisions in the Church always lead me to the following thought: My son’s grade school class is composed of white, black, and brown kids that have absolutely no problem putting together pick-up kickball teams on the playground at recess. Race is not even an issue; economic class is not a factor. Yet, the church and all of her “sanctified” adults seem to be unable to move beyond race and class. The consequence of this short-sightedness is that we - the larger Body of Christ - rarely work together in meaningful ways. I can’t help but wonder which of these two groups are more pleasing to God. Is it possible? Could it be that a elementary school kickball game brings more glory to God than most churches? Maybe.
I get excited when I am introduced to solid thinking concerning issues of race and class reconciliation in the Christian Church. Why? Because I pray to God that Christ’s Church can put a smile on the Father’s face as wide as my son’s elementary school class does. The book recently sent to me by The Ooze Blog Network is exciting because it tackles this issue head on, and from an evangelical perspective. Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class in a Consumer Church is written by an evangelical insider who loves his faith expression. Paul Louis Metzger loves the rich history inherent to classical evangelicalism. He is neither bitter, nor angry at the Evangelical Church, but he is not wearing kid gloves either. Make no mistake, this author offers readers a harsh and prophetic call to an evangelical world that prefers on-site latte bars and thin definitions of church growth “success” that has more to do with consumerism and very little to do with a gospel that exists to reconcile people to God and to one another. It’s a bitting read, to say the least. It’s also one of the most important reads for Christians today.
I was sent this book to read and review it on my blog by the folks at The Ooze. Usually I read the books sent to me for review by publishers and produce a brief overview of the entire read all at once. I will not be doing that this time. This book is far too important. I’ll be reading it chapter by chapter and I’ll review and offer commentary on each chapter, as it is read. It’s that important.
In this post, I’ll simply offer a quote from the introduction. Incidentally, the introduction of this book is better than most complete reads I have logged in recent years. The most moving aspect of the introduction is the story about Dr. John M. Perkins, an African American Evangelical who consumes Christ alone and is consumed by Christ, and consequently expresses a much broader evangelicalism. Dr. Perkins was born into a family of Mississippi sharecroppers in the 1950s. His brother was murdered by white Mississippi police. Later, and after he somehow saw beyond the “white” definition and expression of God and Christ to convert heart and soul to Jesus, Dr. Perkins was arrested and beaten and tortured because of his Gospel-infused civil rights work to African Americans who were smothered by poverty and injustice in Mississippi. Do not misread hyperbole into my use of the word torture. The police officers went as far as to shove a fork in Dr. Perkins’ nose and down his throat. He received medical treatment for the injuries he sustained in this arrest for the next year. His faith in Christ remained strong, even prophetic.
In 1982 Dr. Perkins offered the following challenge to his Evangelical Church in a work titled With Justice for All:
“The only purpose of the gospel is to reconcile people to God and to each other. A gospel that doesn’t reconcile is not a Christian gospel at all. But in America it seems as if we don’t believe that. We don’t really believe that proof of our discipleship is that we love one another (see John 13:35). No, we think the proof is in numbers - church attendance, decision cards. Even if our ‘converts’ continue to hate each other, even if they will not worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, we point to their ‘conversion’ as evidence of the gospel’s success. We have substituted a gospel of church growth for a gospel of reconciliation.”
Dr. Perkins continues:
“And how convenient it is that our ‘church growth experts’ tell us that homogeneous churches grow fastest! That welcome news seems to relieve us of the responsibility to overcome racial barriers in our churches. It seems to justify not bothering with breaking down racial barriers, since that would only distract us from ‘church growth.’ And so the most segregated racist institution in America, the evangelical church, racks up the numbers, declaring itself ’successful,’ oblivious tot he fact that the dismemberment of the Body of Christ broadcasts to the world everyday a hypocrisy as Peter’s at Antioch - a living denial of the truth of the Gospel.”
That was just the introduction of the book. Paul Louis Metzger’s introduction also reveals his goal for the book. Metzger writes, “In this book I aim toward a theologically guided sociological engagement of practical religion. IN specific terms, I wish to confront the ways evangelical-consumer or niche-church Christianity fosters racial and economic divisions, and I wish to offer an alternative theological paradigm to the one that is so often embraced in the evangelical subculture” (11). So far, so good. grab this book and read along with me.
Lest anyone mistakenly think that this is mere spiritual reading material, or abstract and useless thoughts or philosophies meant only for cognitive exercise, I will simply say this: the Christian brothers and sisters ministering beside me in our city are totally dedicated to a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural ministry. If it were not so, I’d go hang out with my son and his elementary school friends on the playground. It’s there that one can feel God’s smile.
Metzger, Paul Louis. Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.