Other Highlights from Phillip Cary’s Book

Just thought I’d share some more tidbits from Cary’s “Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Thing You Don’t Have to Do.”  The purpose of his book is to present the Gospel in contrast to some of the not-so-recent trends in popular evangelical Christianity.

“The new evangelical theology [i.e. consumerist theology] is essentially a set of practical ideals or techniques for living the Christian life.  They ‘work,’ but in a peculiar and not very Christian way.  They make you anxious when you don’t use them, which makes you use them.  That’s their real success: they reproduce themselves like a virus, until everybody has the virus–until everybody is using the techniques, saying the same things, participating in the same programs”

We live in a time when churches are competitors in the marketplace of spirituality, selling themselves, trying to improve their numbers, and trying to hang on to market share–which means hanging onto you.  And that means anything that makes you easier to manipulate counts as an advantage.”

“The new evangelical theology, like all forms of consumerist religion, really does need to keep you from thinking too much.  It requires you to be afraid of engaging in critical thought, so that you’re easily manipulated and easily pressured into wanting to feel what everyone else feels.”

“Since the new evangelical theology serves the needs of consumerist religion, it’s not about teaching the truth but increasing market share–which means getting people to come to your church and stay.  The cheap and easy way to do that is to draw people in with various kinds of church-as-entertainment, and then make them feel guilty for not having the right feelings and experiences   That way they’ll feel the need for your programs to help them get the right feelings and experience.  But of course this isn’t likely to work very well if they get in the habit of thinking critically, asking how much of what they’re being told is really true.”

“People who are content to stay within their comfort zone are not very useful to the many organizations that are intent on expanding their share of the market.  So if you’re one of those people who like to be faithful and hang on to old things–old doctrines, old people in your life–then major cultural forces will be marshaled against you in the attempt to make it seem obvious that there’s something wrong with you.”

“In consumerist spirituality, the new stuff on offer is mostly new experiences, ‘transformative’ experiences that you’re supposed to get if you don’t want to miss out on something special in your spiritual life…  Which means… that if you’ve never had the experience they’re selling, they’ll do their best to make you wonder what’s wrong with you…  You’ll be told that without you’re just an ordinary, plain Christian, lacking the extraordinary power and blessing that God wants you to have in your life… Whereas what we have, if we are nothing but ordinary Christians, is greater than all the experiences in the world.  We have Christ himself… Everything else is inessential.”

Consumerism wants to convince us that the kind of thing Christ has to give us–the same person, himself forever–is the last thing in the world we could possibly want…  What the church is doing, when it keeps preaching the same old gospel to produce ordinary Christian lives, is profoundly counter-cultural.  It is a form of resistance to our culture of ever-shifting, ever-changing, desires for new stuff, and an ever-transforming self that’s always getting a spiritual makeover.  What the consumerist churches understand is that they must compete for attention with all the flashy electronic media, the sensory overload and distraction of a vast and sophisticated technology of entertainment.  But they fight fire with fire, worshiping in front of giant TV screens and offering life-changing experiences with every new program, they can only win on consumerism’s own terms: competing for short attention spans rather than developing lasting attachments, offering new experiences and a multitude of choices rather than forming the heart in on enduring pattern of faith, hope, and love.”

The crucial way to fight against false teaching is to preach the gospel of Christ well.  The people caught in the web of consumerist spirituality do not need denunciations of the way they’re living but permission to live differently.  This permission is rooted in the gospel itself, which is good news for anxious Christians as well as for everyone else.”

As I said in a previous post, I didn’t agree with everything Cary presented in his book, particularly his points about how God does/doesn’t guide us.  This said, what I love about the book is how he poignantly shows the way in which the church has sold  out to some unchristian ways of doing things.  His work forced me to make take an inventory of my own ministry to see where I have unconsciously used manipulative tactics.  Finally, my favorite thing about the work is how address everything from the good news of the gospel: because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, we no longer have to worry about these things.


One thought on “Other Highlights from Phillip Cary’s Book

  1. Good stuff – I struggled in the college ministry environment for some of these very reasons . . and it left me a bit disillusioned well into my mid twenties (still working towards a healthy view of the church/ ministry) I’ll have to check the book out.

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