Here's another George Fox student question. This is from Josh: "On page 76, you ask, "Is there any way to consume more Christianly?" While I agree that Christians, by and large, fail to live by Christian standards in the marketplace and global economy is this really the question that we need to be asking? I agreed with many of your conclusions regarding suburbia and how it shapes and defines how we understand and define spiritual vitality; yet, is it not the suburban mindset that would lead us to ask, "Is there any way to consume more Christianly?" It seems that a more pertinent question that we should be asking is: How can we be consumed by Christ? In your opinion, what can we do to help people move from consuming to fully surrendering themselves to God, and thereby be consumed by Him?"
Good question and good point, Josh. You're of course quite right, that we should be asking, "How can we be consumed by Christ?" I think you can ask both questions side-by-side. One is more practical, one is more spiritual. My question "Is there any way to consume more Christianly?" was in the context of the discussion of consumption. Because consumption is unavoidable, we can't simply say, "Don't consume." We have to consume. So we have to ask how we can do it most Christianly.
And, as Andy Crouch points out in Culture Making, some cultural goods are meant to be consumed and received with gratitude. He writes, "There are many cultural goods for which by far the most appropriate response is to consume. When I make a pot of tea or bake a loaf of bread, I do not condemn it as a worldly distraction from spiritual things, nor do I examine it for its worldview and assumptions about reality. I drink the tea and eat the bread, enjoying them in their ephemeral goodness, knowing that tomorrow the tea will be bitter and the bread will be stale" (p. 92). But he goes on to say that Christians consume far more than we ought, and that consumption should not be our default posture. Consumption is an occasional gesture to be used appropriately, but it is not our fundamental stance toward all of life.
So consumption should not be the center of the Christian's identity, and I think you're getting at the question of whether even using the framework of consumption is in some way capitulation to consumer culture's values and worldview. That's a very good point - Christians should subvert and transform consumer language and find more thoroughly Christian language and vocabulary.
As far as the specifics of your question, "What can we do to help people move from consuming to fully surrendering themselves to God?" I think a starting point is a fundamental reorientation of rooting our identity as citizens of the kingdom of God as opposed to as consumers in this consumer culture. Our primary identity should be as followers of Jesus and heralds of his good news. Once that reorientation takes place, we can begin to resist the idolatry and competing allegiances of our consumer culture. We can employ any number of spiritual disciplines and practices to cultivate a deeper commitment to God, which of course can vary depending on your theological tradition and ecclesial background. (I point to disciplines of creativity, generosity and simplicity, but of course there's much more that could be said than just these.) We can affirm the theological truths that God truly is shepherd and that he is our fundamental source of provision. Trusting God as shepherd is a theological orientation that runs counter to our cultural consumer narratives that we need to provide for ourselves via our own consumption.
One quibble, though, with the language of "being consumed by Christ." Sometimes this comes across as an overspiritualization, that we are so caught up in adoration of Christ that it's all we think about, that he consumes our every waking thought and whatnot. The language of "being consumed" can imply that we're consumed in the sense of something being consumed in a fire - used up, extinguished. I'm not sure that's the most helpful metaphor or image for Christian devotion or ministry. Better, I think, to talk in terms of being equipped, mobilized and deployed for God's good works, not just to be consumed up in some private act of devotion.
When we eat food, we consume it, but not just for the sake of consumption - the food fuels our bodies for activity and good work. When we fill up a car with gas, we consume the gas, but for a purpose, of transportation and getting us somewhere. Likewise, if we are consumed by Christ, it shouldn't be just exercising energy for our own personal spiritual benefit. It ought to be deployed outward, with some sort of missional purpose, that God is using us and our resources for some good ends. Ideally, we should all be fully devoted to Jesus, to "be consumed by him," but in the sense of living actively for the sake of the kingdom, in whatever ways he has called us and gifted us to live.
Well, that's what comes to mind this morning. What do you think? Are there other ways to counter consumer culture and to be consumed by God in positive, constructive ways?