Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Buyer's Market

Stanley Hauerwas wrote:  in most places because [religion is] basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want...

Albert Mohler commented:  When Stanley Hauerwas talks about the buyer’s market for religion in America, he’s onto something that evangelicals ought to notice and notice very carefully. And that is in fact that that is indeed an apt metaphor for our society at large, but it also, if we’re not very careful, a dynamic that is experienced by many churches and denominations, not only in the Protestant mainline, where he mentions all those brand-named denominations jockeying to retain their membership and a declining membership base, but it’s also the case that there are many in American evangelicalism who basically think of the gospel as something to be packaged and sold.  

Larry Peters says spot on!!  We live in the age of consumer choice and consumer happiness.  Religion in American society (but not limited to America) has become a competitive market where the Gospel has become one of many products, the church staff the marketers, and the bottom line driven by results (earthly success).  Joel Osteen is king of this market but for how long.  You see that is the challenge -- for the purveyors of the religious goods to stay ahead of the market and keep their produce new and fresh and their marketing hungry and well targeted.

The mainline denominations came and went because they presumed their brand names were enough to keep them ahead of the game.  In the end, these big box religions got caught behind the curve and the next Wal-Mart of the religious world came up with a better product, better marketing, and a better price to lure away the itchy consumer so devoid of any real loyalty except to self and desire.

Religious distinctives (like doctrine) were pulled from the marketing plan to promote a generic religious ideal (nominally Christian) that was designed to appeal not to the God of the Scriptures but to the primal deity of desire, choice, and personal preference.  Even those denominations not normally identified as mainline (the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) have been infected with the bug, succumbing to the idea that you do what you need to do to sell the product first and then worry about the character of what is sold or integrity lost to how it is sold.

Again, Hauerwas:   I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired.

Larry Peters comments.  Buried under the weight of its own success, evangelicalism has created a monster that cannot be satisfied.  Religion that is consumer driven means that sooner or later you will have to be reborn, rebadged, and recreated as the taste of the marketplace shift and change.  The post-Christian age is not simply the time in which society becomes openly unfriendly to religion (Christianity in particular) but is the age when the product no longer needs to be true to its source and ends up being defined as need, want, and circumstance direct.  Most Evangelicals are already post-Christian.  They are not only non-creedal but do not recognize the God of the creeds, faithful to the Scriptures and tradition.  And they don't want to.  Listening to Joel Osteen talk to Fox News about his Night of Hope stadium appearance in NYC, I noted that everytime the reporter ventured something about Christ, Osteen responded by talking about God.  In other words, he was distancing himself from the Trinity and its nomenclature and choosing to speak in the generic language of a deity.

Right now evangelicalism is as much fueled by the cult of personality, the charisma of the purveyors, and the culture of celebrity as it is the consumer idea.  As soon as one or the other cools, one version will fade and another will be reborn to take its place.  Is that all the Church is?  For Lutherans, it is time to get off the merry go round, to stop drinking the koolaid, and to give up the fight to be king of the hill.  The only sure and certain way to survival is to be faithful to the Word, faithful to the truth, and faithful to the worship of Spirit and truth centered on the means of grace.

If you are one of those Lutherans tired of rewriting the liturgy every Sunday, of finding the next worship diva and pop gospel song to hit it big, of inspiring people to come back next week, come home... to the liturgy, to the Confessions, to the Scriptures, and to the tradition once delivered to the saints.  It is freedom -- the only freedom that counts -- the freedom of the Gospel!  Today we commemorate two dinosaurs of Christianity -- oh that we were more like them!!  Happy Sts. Peter and Paul Day!!


Joseph Bragg said...


Anonymous said...

I disagree. It is a seller's market, and there is one, and only One, seller with the real goods. That would be the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. All other offers are bogus and should be reported to the FTC for fraud.

This sort of "market analysis" should be beneath those who say they represent Christ, but then I have long had doubts about Hauerwas (I went to school with him as an undergraduate). I thought he was a phony then, and I think so now.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest