Heavenly Bills: Consumer Christianity, Your Church, And You, by Jeffery Glatus and Fletcher Rhoden
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Author’s Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
One of the best aspects of this book is that it is small (running at only slightly over 130 pages). Given that this book is basically an attempt to critique consumer-driven churches as being ungodly in the hope that people will be attracted to more progressive and emergent “small” churches that do not have the same sort of social conservatism that is present in many mainline churches, it is fortunate that this book is fairly transparent. That does not mean that the book is transparently right, only that it is transparently clear about its purpose.
The title of this song is one of the many ironic (and a less kind reader would think hypocritical) aspects of this book. Coming from The Eagles’ hit song, “Life In The Fast Lane,” the authors seek to pin consumer Christianity (which they see as being driven by the combination of doctrinal compromise, replacing God with man as the center of worship, and using contemporary business marketing aspects to promote their works). This condemnation, to some extent, is just. There are many who seek to appeal to the unchurched by downplaying the name or commandments of God, to ethical and moral requirements that God calls upon believers. The authors are right, if a bit heavy-handed and harsh, in critiquing the contemporary American church for this failing. (They are certainly not unprejudiced in considering among either the isolationist Amish or themselves as so-called Progressive Christians an antidote to the supposedly hate-filled nature of American Evangelical Christianity, as this book is full of prejudice against conservative Christians).
Where this book fails primarily is in failing to note that the authors themselves, and their proposed solution to consumer Christianity, is itself an aspect of the same consumer Christianity that they seek to condemn. In condemning the shallow megachurch mentality for its attempts to pander to crowds seeking entertainment, or in the shallow and tepid sort of entertainment that passes for secular attempts to appeal to Christians (movies and television shows and theme parks and the like), the authors do not realize that they too are a part of this same phenomenon. Notably, this book uses contemporary marketing techniques in an attempt to sell the book (giving it a clever title from a secular rock & roll song from the Eagles, and taking advantage of the distribution networks available to non-traditional authors through online publishing), represents doctrinal compromise (through its refusal to stand up for biblical standards of morality, labeling them instead as hateful behavior), and places man instead of God at the center of worship (through its adoption of politically correct left-wing mindsets, taking the name of God in vain by masking them as if they were godly perspectives, and in its failure to correctly defend the historical validity of the Bible, instead choosing to promote bogus and unhistorical views of the canonization of the Bible that fall below the Kitchen line and that do not recognize the authoritative nature of the example of apostolic Christianity ). In short, the authors themselves represent merely a different type of consumer Christian than the right-wing ones that they seek to condemn so harshly, in that their shallow biblical understanding comes with a left-wing political agenda instead of a right-wing one, which is hardly anything in its favor.
This is especially lamentable because if this book was not such a transparently politically biased book, it would be far easier for a fair-minded reader to draw some very valid points that could be made. For example, there are very troubling elements in contemporary Christianity in the linking of political power and religion that focuses on personal morality to the exclusion of social justice . Furthermore, there are serious and deep connections between the Sabbath (that is, the seventh-day Sabbath and holy days and the Sabbath and Jubilee years) with aspects of freedom and social justice that are vitally important for Christians who wish to follow a godly example of modeling God’s just and righteous ways in our wicked world . One does not need to participate in a false dialectic between social justice and personal morality, as God’s ways require both. Given the remarkably easy target of false prosperity gospels and shallow entertainment and a lack of biblical literacy, this book manages to miss its target by practicing what it claims to condemn, merely from the opposite partisan perspective. Truthfully, the Gospel of Christ does not need such false friends as these authors, and others of their ilk. Thus, this book stands as a mercifully short but representative example of a book whose criticisms are just, but also point squarely at the authors as well, and negate the value of their putative and self-serving conclusions. In the end, this book gets it half right, making valid criticisms against a false form of Christianity but failing to present a genuine apostolic Christianity that combines love and concern for others with the ethical demands of biblical righteous conduct.
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