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Signs of Spiritual Consumerism: Do You Recognize Them?

What shapes you? James K. A. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, contends:

Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices of the mall–the liturgies of mall and market–that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world.

What if Smith is right? If rituals of consumerism are shaping and molding us, how might that impact our approach to spiritual life?

Spiritual consumerism believes the customer is always right.

Customers expect vendors to appeal to their authority. If the customer is in any way unsatisfied, the vendor (if he’s wise) will bend over backward to satisfy him or her. Consumers are confronted rarely. Almost never are they told they’re wrong.

God is God and we are not. Jesus is Lord. As His disciples He calls us to follow Him; He does not follow us. He calls us to submit to His authority. Who has authority over our lives?

Spiritual consumerism insist it’s the customer’s choice.

In the marketplace the customer always knows best. Whatever she wants, she gets–so long as she can pay for it. If the consumer has a desire, whatever it might be, there’s always a product to fulfill it. For consumers, few desires go unmet. Whose vision of what is truly good for us a human beings reigns supreme? Ours, or God’s?

Spiritual consumerism assumes it’s all about goods and services.

The consumer approaches the church as a vendor of religious goods and services. There is precious little commitment to people; much less to beliefs. Such things don’t matter to the consumer. What matters are the goods and services, whether coffee bars, children’s programs, or worship style. Life is safest when you don’t stray beyond the external or below the surface. Is our affection for religious good and services, or for God, His truth, and His people?

Spiritual consumerism insists the customer is king.

The consumer is at the center of the marketplace. Stores exist to sell things to customers. Without customers the stores couldn’t exist. Spiritual consumers approach public worship with the familiar sense of  being at the center. Worship exists to appeal to their tastes, their desires, their aesthetic sensibilities, and their perceived needs. If the consumer is at the center of worship, who is really being worshiped?

Now I have to be honest. I see these spiritually subversive attitudes in myself. The truth is that I’ve been profoundly shaped by the mall. I need to be reshaped by the liturgy of the Triune God.

Do you operate on the basis of any of these assumptions? Have you observed them at work in the church? What do you think is the antidote?

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