Friday, April 22, 2011

Drew G. I. Hart has to very good little blog entries about Barabbas

Seeing as I have places to be and errands to run much of this weekend this is going to be my last post for the weekend. I believe that if we forget that Jesus was essentially crucified on trumped up charges of being an anti-Roman terrorist opposed both to the piety of his homeland and presented as a rival king to Caeser then we will tend to only interpret Christ's accoplishment in individual soteriological terms. I'm not saying that's not important, of course, but that we often find it easier to "skip that part" in favor of getting to the nuts and bolts of how to deploy the Holy Hand Grenade to blow up thine enemy into tiny bits ... in thy mercy.

three musical recommendations for Good Friday

Matthew Passion by J. S. Bach (of course)
Passion According to St. Luke by Krysztof Penderecki (of course)
John Passion by Arvo Part (also of course)

You won't find three more greatly contrasting works of sacred choral music. They are all in various ways extremely demanding and time-consuming works but they are all worth listening to and deeply involving music. I've seen a few contemporary church services that attempt to convey the agony and suffering of Christ on the Cross. All puerile over-ambitious child's play compared to Penderecki's brutal, harrowing yet grimly beautiful Luke passion. Bach's passion is so brilliant I can hardly say a word about why you should listen to it. Part is, compared to the other two composers, so wild in his understatement and restraint you could scarcely believe he is writing music about the death of Christ.

At the risk of invoking a purely personal and unprovable way of describing what I find compelling about each Passion and going with the spur of the moment I would say the following:

Penderecki's passion setting is unmatched in using every avant garde technique available in 20th century music to portrary the agony and suffering of Christ, suffering brought about by seemingly unlimited human capacity for evil. Yet the end of his setting is a simultaneously harrowing and beautiful remembrance that the suffering of Christ is for the salvation of those who believe and I swear that the closing chord (and I won't spoil the text setting for you) is nothing less than shattering both for what it says about the nature of Christ and His disposition toward us for those willing to endure 70 minutes of atonality. It has a lot of what Thelonious Monk might have called "ugly beauty" and is all the more beautiful for taking the ugliness of the avant garde and putting it into musical service to a sacred purpose. I've seen a few Mars Hill services attempt to hit people hard with the suffering of Christ. They mean well in their way but Penderecki has the last word, musically speaking, on musically emulating what crucifixion "might" sound like.

Bach's music, by contrast, plumbs the emotional depths of Christ. Where Penderecki focuses on the physical torment of Christ Bach explores the spiritual torment of Christ embracing the Cross out of love and the spiritual torment of those disciples of Christ who come face to face with the significance of their sins sending Christ to the Cross yet those sins being the reason for which Christ was willing to go willingly, out of love for us.

Part's Passion is different. I can only attempt to describe his strangely sedate setting as a kind of attempt to look beyond the passion as a work accomplished chiefly by Christ and more as, well, perhaps as a work accomplished through the whole Trinity. Maybe his being Orthodox influences this whole approach but the paradoxically impersonal vibe his Passion setting has with respect to describing the death of Christ, I believe, has a purpose to it. We are invited not so much to have our emotions directly and deliberately manipulated, which Penderecki is clearly going for and even Bach is obviously willing to do. Part approaches the whole task of setting the passion according to John in a context where he seems to assume a shared capacity for introspection. We already should know our sins put Christ on the Cross. We should already know that this was borne by Christ for our salvation. What Bach and Penderecki frame in visceral personal terms Part seems to frame in distant, even cosmic terms.

Yet this emotional detachment ironically lends Part's John Passion a peculiar emotional power. A musical setting of the story of Christ's death that does not ramp up emotional guilt or attempt to musically depict the suffering of Christ reveals an often overlooked aspect of the Passion, which is to say that while you benefit from the gift of salvation as an individual the work of salvation is universal in scope and in a way it is, no offense, not really about YOU and YOUR salvation but the redemption of the cosmos.

For those possibly ad hoc and personal reasons I consider these three passion settings by great composers to be treasures of Christian sacred choral music. You realistically won't have time to listen, perhaps, to even ONE of these on Good Friday, let alone all of them, but I would encourage you, as time allows, to eventually listen to all of these works. I would also say go get your hands on the musical scores if you read music and perhaps you will see what I mean more easily than if you were to listen to the music. You'll hear things, for sure, but there are thematic relationships and motifs in each of the works that won't be so easy to hear as they will be to see in the scores.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is it just me or is Xtra Normal a great way for people to say "Thank God I'm not that stupid"?

I've seen a few things from Xtra Normal by now and while some of the stuff is genuinely funny (I'm partial to the "stuff your Lutheran pastor loves" series myself) I also have the distinct impression that a lot of these "real" conversations are not as real as advertised. The capacity for whomever is in the right to express death wishes and the like is, as it were, a trope straight out of apocalyptic hyperbole. And the fire of their burning will go up forever and ever and all that. :)

And in the end a lot of it comes off as a comprehensive realization of the great Pharisee prayer Jesus referred to as "Thank you, God, that I am not like that tax collector over there."

Remember, friends, no matter how funny that imaginary or possibly real person being made fun of for their blithering idiocy looks and sounds on Xtra Normal, there is always some way and some place in which you and I are the same kind of idiot. We just disguise it from ourselves well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Internet Monk: Demythologizing radical Christianity part 2

Now having at one point been "plugged in" to Mars Hill where one of Mark's first books was called Radical Reformission I admit I am burned out on the use of "radical" in Christian talk. I think I know what is hoped for, aspired to, and intended by the use of the term but I am no longer comfortable with the implicit judgment made on brands of Christian faith and practice that are not "radical". I have seen people who used to be at Mars Hill go another path that was not really less "radical" so much as less high profile. Some people went to the Episcopal church, others to Eastern Orthodoxy, others to Baptist churches, others to non-denominational congregations, still others (like me) to Presbyterianism.

What one former Mars Hill member shared with me once was that he and his wife were pretty content at their PCA church because the church did some things to help people in the community and he didn't get the impression that one of the main ways to serve in the church was chiefly to give money. Of course this is a simplified account of a single perspective from a former member but Mars Hill is nothing if not an embodiment of attempts to recover a "radical" and "real" Christian faith. The more church history and theology I studied the more I began to realize that as well-intentioned as a lot of stuff at Mars Hill has been they're essentially Reformed Baptist without the denominational label. You don't have to be a Calvinist to be a member of Mars Hill but you'd better be one if you plan on participating in any leadership role.

Unofficially, if you don't consider plugging into a ministry in some capacity that can be construed as a potential consumerism. Now I've already written elsewhere about how serving in ministry can, paradoxically, be a kind of consumerism. You can get sold out to participating in a movement you believe will change the Christian faith in a region. I know, I'm one of those people who bought into that in the early days of Mars Hill. The neo-Reformed evangelical world can imagine it has somehow recovered a sense of vocation but at least in my neck of the woods I am not sure that there is a realistic sense of how mundane that vocation will be in daily life.

A title like "Radical Reformission" is the sort of thing a guy in his twenties imagining God will use him to shake up American Christianity from its conformity and dead traditions would write. I was that kind of young man myself once only I didn't plant one of the fastest growing churches so perhaps I became disillusioned with my potential for changing the world for Jesus a little faster than I hope Mark has. Mars Hill is not going to revolutionize anything. I don't say that as condemnation, I say it because if they preserve what is best about the Christian faith then they can't revolutionize anything. The most they can (or should) aspire to is going to amount to merely reinventing the wheel. I think it is far more dangerous that we in the new Calvinist camp buy our own hype than we get criticized for anything by outsiders, whether believers who are not Calvinists, or not megachurch people, or even unbelievers.

When Mike Gunn said in a sermon he preached this year that looking back on his days with Mars Hill he realizes that they had a lot of good intentions but a lot of naivete and arrogance I'm inclined to say, "Amen!" In fact I'd venture to say that for those of us who were there we couldn't even BEGIN to fathom the level of our arrogance. I have a dim guess of it now and it is profoundly sobering for me! I have not gone the route of just bailing on everything connected to it. I am, after all, still at a Reformed church, but I came to realize over a decade that all the "distinctinctives" of Mars Hill were, in the grand scheme of church history, not only not special, but that we as a whole and I in particular were guilty of a massive case of believing our own hype about ourselves as a spiritual community. Even people who were there at one point who left and went to this, that, or the other still display aspects of that superiority complex.

Rather than damn them as being smug know-it-alls who think they're better than other people I have to recognize that there are various sinful forms of exceptionalism and I have been at least as guilty, if not more, of these things than other people. So when Mike Gunn talked about his arrogance and Mark's arrogance and Lief's arrogance I don't just say "Amen" because I entirely agree with him but also because I realize I have been part of the same weakness myself.

You might think that having spent about a decade connected to one of the fastest growing churches in America with one of the rock star pastors of the new Calvinism that I'd either be awestruck at being able to be part of something so special (I was) or entirely cynical about it all (sometimes I am). But what I am passionate about is that the account of Mars Hill is not a hagiography. I don't want to skate over the bad parts (which can be, honestly, pretty bad) or ignore good parts. Obviously if I had no problems whatever with Mars Hill I would still be there but I spent a third of my life there at one point so the place and the people will stick with me.

I have grown accustomed to the idea that immersive ambivalence is basically the way life is. I have not attempted, as so many people I know have, to decide firmly in one direction or another. I am skeptical about "radical" Christianity and about "legacy" for many reasons but the most important reason is that when times are good, be thankful to the Lord, and when times are bad consider, for the Lord has made one as well as the other so that a man may not know what comes after him.

Too many people who have advocated "radical" Christianity of any stripe, whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or other, have done so because they already have a vision in mind of where this "radical" Christian practice will lead. They know what "should" happen if a great revival of whatever it is they want to revive happens. The Second Great Awakening brought forth great passions about what christians ought to do and within a decade or two the American Civil War happened. Even though I consider the claim that wars have been fought in the name of religion to be deliberately ignorant in light of the real reasons wars get fought, for which religion is often the excuse (i.e. religion becomes the motive for claiming resources that could, were,and will be fought for on other grounds). Let us not deceive ourselves as to the worldly legacies for which we frequently endorse a "radical" and "real" Christianity.

Part two of the Superman essay is up at Mockingbird

David proposed that we dedicate the Superman series to the memory of the great writer and Justice League Unlimited story editor Dwayne McDuffie. Actually, it was McDuffie's passing that catalyzed my passion to write about Superman because it was McDuffie's brilliant writing of Superman in the first season of Justice League Unlimited that sold me on the character. I'll have more to say about that later on. Despite my willingness to put in spoilers in all sorts of settings I don't want to spoil everything. I want you, dear reader, to go to Mockingbird and read my essay and all the other stuff over there that they publish, after all. :)

Link: Reformation 21: The Price of Everything [The believer and apocalyptic hyperbole]

Carl Trueman manages to summarize things well. I don't know if I would say it's exactly cynicism and pessimism but realism to observe that most things trumpeted as major game- changing and history-changing events aren't. Wait a minute ... does that make me a pessimist and a cynic? It might.

To see the value of the historian's cynicism, one need only look at the bombastic rhetoric which permeates the modern world. Mainstream news media rarely let a week go by without some reference to a `defining moment' or a `watershed', yet most of this is simple hyperbole. Even 9/11 which was meant to have changed the world forever has not had much of an impact upon most of us. Those affected by the tragic loss of loved ones and those who have military connections would be obvious exceptions; for me, the only time I really feel the impact is in the slight indignities and extended time now imposed as I pass through airport security. Far less is the election of a particular individual or party to power a `defining moment,' given the global forces that really drive national economies and domestic policies.

Yet this hyperbole continually rears its ridiculous head in the church. Some years ago, Phyllis Tickle likened Brian McLaren to Luther and the Emergent Church to the kind of paradigm shift that happens only once a millennium. The amazing thing was not that she said this; in a world shaped by the continual escalation of sales rhetoric, this kind of language is to be expected in advertising. No. What was truly amazing was that people actually took her seriously, friend and foe alike. Such people are in urgent need of help to stop them saying or believing things that are very, very silly and absurdly self-important

It is true that we manage to inflate our importance the importance of events that have happened to us. We can cast relatively mundane events in terms that give cosmic scope to things that are really local in their immediate import. In crucial ways this can even be said of events in scripture. Compare David's account of God rescuing him in 2 Sam 22 and Ps 18 to what David actually did between 1 Sam 16 and 2 Sam 1. He kept himself blameless? Might need some unpacking there. I think I have some guesses as to why the Psalms can be tough for some Reformed preachers to preach. How do we account for David declaring how blameless he is when we look at his multiple wives of political alliance and convenience? How do we account for David being so confident he's blameless when we can see that he killed so many people and shed so much blood? Liberals can just chalk this up to David being a bloodthirsty deceptive cretin who claimed divine approval of anything he did. But if we go back and look at all the events David could be taken to describe in 2 Sam 22 and Ps 18 we can see that the actual events, in the global scope of things, can be seen as far more prosaic.

So even though there's a lot of what Trueman says I totally agree with I want to ask if maybe we've got ourselves a challenge as Christians. David presents some interesting challenges for us. David was both a king and prophet, as the apostle Peter noted on Pentecost. Yet he seems to have been habitually guilty of various sins we would never consent to let continue in contemporary church life. Yet David confidently said he was blameless. Now I'm aware of imputed and imparted righteousness discussions and justification and so forth. What I'm wondering about for this blog post is David's capacity to speak hyberbolically about the importance of events that arguably did absolutely nothing in themselves to change the course of history. I agree we as Christians should not spend so much time trumpeting people as being more important than they are but it would seem that gushing with praise is something we can't resist doing with the things and people we like. You know, maybe a Pointer Sisters reunion wouldn't be such a bad thing, Carl. Not that I like them personally but it would not be the sacking of Jerusalem if it happened.

In popular culture we love to invest apocalyptic hyperbole to all sorts of mundane things. Justin Bieber is one of the horsemen of the apocalypse and all that. So how much can we fret about apocalyptic hyperbole from fellow believers if we can see even David, who contributed so much to the scriptures by way of what he wrote and what was written about him, seems to have been spectacularly prone to this habit himself? Arguably apocalyptic hyperbole is one of the literary legacies David has given us (even if we assume, from a cynical rationalist perspective, that David didn't really write anything attributed to him within the scriptures). It's one thing for us in the neo-Reformed camp to wave all this off as David being a whiny emo boy as I've heard some new Calvinist pastors do, it's another thing to actually contend with the significance of this impulse in David's work.

Part of the historian's task is to see how much we repeat ourselves despite our claims that we won't make the mistakes our forebears made. When we know this is a temptation in each age of believers it won't prevent us from succumbing to its temptation entirely but we can at least be humble and remember that our hope is not that we will somehow change the world but that we serve the true King.

Carl Trueman writes about the American neo-Reformed world

The challenge of being neither cynical nor a fanboy amongst the neo-Reformed is a constant struggle. Really I would say that the struggle to not fall into either of these ditches on the roadside is pertinent regardless of what path you're traveling as a Christian. Carl Trueman has written some stuff recently that makes me think that some of this trouble is a trouble with Americans. Americans are apt to embrace personalities and particular leaders regardless of their church affiliation. American Catholics have these heroes, American Baptists have others, American Orthodox have still other heroes, Pentecostals have this, Wesleyans and Lutherans have that. Even when we profess to be above all that we tend to demonstrate it in invisible ways just after we thought we established our bona fides for being above all that. Trueman refers to how this American habit distinguishes itself in the conference circuit:

First, the conference [in the UK, not the US] was built around content not speakers. In fact, I was almost refused entry to my own final seminar because I could not find my armband. I was unrecognized by the steward even after speaking three times. Fantastic. In the UK, people come to hear what is said; they do not particularly care for who is saying it. This is subtly evident in the way events are marketed in the two countries. It also points to a major cultural difference. In the US in general, there is great suspicion of institutions yet huge and often naïve confidence placed in individuals. This is part of what makes celebrity culture so important, from politics to the church. In the UK, there is an often naïve trust in institutions but far more suspicion of individuals. I make this point as an observation; but also to flag the fact that US culture lends itself more readily to the problems Paul highlights in 1 Corinthians.

Carl Trueman notes with disappointment:

Second, no speaker made reference (almost obligatory when speaking at trendy Reformed evangelical conferences in the US) to how gorgeous his wife is. That is an odd and most distasteful American phenomenon. As one friend recently pointed out to me, such men are actually boasting about themselves, not honouring their wives. It amounts to little more than the old rugby changing room protocol where the male of the species draws attention to how virile he is on the basis of the bird/babe/chick (choose your demeaning noun) he has been able to 'pull.' One wishes that references by American speakers to their wives focused a little more on their godly characters and a little less on their vital statistics.

Ah, so I'm not the only one who has noticed American Reformed types must all speak about how lovely their wives are! I pointed out in an earlier blog entry here that among the neo-Reformed it is paradigmatic for a guy to say he is a Christian, husband of X, father of Y and Z, and pastor at such and such a church. If Reformed preachers and teachers get any more zealous in trumpeting the hotness of their wives I expect to see measurements, dress size, and shoe size trotted out as proof of how hot the pastor's wife is.

Yes, I do sometimes wonder if some of these Reformed pastors shouldn't just list the measurements and dress sizes of their wives for good measure. Does that, by chance, signal that I struggle with being a cynic? I wouldn't want to be too subtle about that, now. But this observation of Trueman's really sticks with me because I often get the sense that mentioning the invariably "lovely wife" and the brood really does end up being praise of the man in the blog entry or by-line rather than being praise of the actual wife and children.
Now I do know at least one pastor in the neo-Reformed orbit who will praise his wife but he does not tend to talk about how hot she is but about how loving, patient, kind, and smart she is. I'm not going to name names but I can say in response to Trueman's second observation that I do at least know ONE American neo-Reformed pastor who has said more in public praising his wife's character than her "vital statistics". Maybe Trueman would say that proves his point. Well, maybe there's no point in attempting to cite exceptions if they're going to be taken as proving the rule. :)

But to grant the sharpness of Trueman's point, let's reverse the observation and look at women bloggers or speakers. One of my favorite blogs to read is Practical Theology for Women and I can't say as Wendy has the same kind of formula listing exactly who she has been married to for how many years and the names of her children. These things are valuable to know if she is your friend but if you simply follow her blog it's stuff that you kinda, sorta don't exactly need to know. Just from her blog entries you'd find out she is a wife and mother without her having to announce the vital statistics. Seriously, go and look at any Christian blog written by a woman and tell me if she raves about how hot her man is. Maybe there are a few out there that I just didn't spot because I only read so many blogs.

Perhaps the most cutting observation Trueman makes is in "What Hath Jerusalem to Do with Hollywood? In it he recounts an email from a European who visited the Gospel Coalition conference, showed up early, and got some good seats about 10 rows from the front. When the person returned after a break it had turned out that the seats had been cordoned off as for VIP guests only. Ten rows from the front is VIP seems like a big conference to me. It would seem that while we pay lip service to just preaching what's in the Bible we can be guilty of breaking precepts taught clearly in the scriptures while finding ways to defend our breach of apostolic instruction. Sure, I know all sorts of things can (and maybe should) be said about false dichotomies and so on. I wonder, though, if trotting out the "false dichotomy" defense is what we do to make sure we innoculate ourselves against certain kinds of criticisms that could touch a nerve. Just throwing that out as an idea, for what little it may be worth.

P.S. I sympathize with Jared Wilson's pushback some because, well, I'm a Tim Keller fan myself. :) Keller's lecture/sermon about how to preach Christ from Old Testament texts is very good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Christian consumerism? Is it just "consuming" or can it also be ministry?

A few people (specifically people at City of God, Internet Monk, and Out of Ur) have written about how the cure for consumerism in American Christianity is not going to come about through "radical" anything. I agree. I was at Mars Hill in the early years and one of the things I heard quite a bit was that Christians should not merely be consumers. This was specifically the sharp end of the wedge I got when I was told I needed to become a church member. If I attended a church every Sunday but was not a member who was participating in church life I was a consumer. Ironically the person who most ardently made this case to me left Mars Hill years ago and left Protestantism altogether. There's plenty of room to change one's mind in life.

But I would suggest, in that person's defense, that it's possible to discover that church membership as an alternative to "consumerism" (whatever that is) reveals itself to be consumerism. That you tithe a certain amount of money and show up at church every week to hear preaching and so on may appear to be an alternative to "consumerism" but if through these experiences you believe you are a better person than someone else, more spiritual, more pure, more possessed of the right doctrines and concerns that make for a true Christian then, tell me, how are you NOT approaching life in the Church as a consumer?

It doesn't matter whether or not your spiritual experience is a high liturgical or low liturgical one (though high liturgy fans invariably convince themselves low liturgists don't HAVE a liturgy as much as low liturgists do the same!). It doesn't matter, to some degree, what doctrines you do or don't propound. To the extent that you use your embrace of doctrine X or Y as the basis for determining that you are a better Christian than others, more serious, more sold out, more truly a Christian, you can, paradoxically, still approach following Christ in an utterly consumerist way. The product you purchase as a consumer is spiritual superiority. That too many Christians who don't bother to observe Lent also think that all that stuff is dead ritual and legalism doesn't make them any better.

I've met Christians who think that a read sermon is not really a sermon. I've met Christians who think that reading ANYTHING in a church service is probably dead formalism. Yet some of these Christians have had no problem reading Rebbeca Brown books and "cutting soul ties" and doing other rituals that don't change anything about a person's day-to-day life. I've met Christians who put stock in sacraments without realizing that they do. I have met Christians who think that because they are on the right team that they are not consumers even though they may deploy any number of cultural elements about the species of Christian faith they practice as a way to delineate the "real" Christian. They do not realize that this can be just as consumeristic as the Christianity they supposedly left. You could be Baptist or Orthodox or Catholic or whatever and still have a consumeristic mentality about that church even if the church itself doesn't. All it takes is for you to say in your heart, "Thank God I'm not like THOSE people."

Last week I attended a memorial service. A friend of mine had died and her husband was speaking. A mutual friend of ours, a pastor, was sharing that the husband said, while he was helping his wife in the midst of her cancer, that he wished he could help people, be useful to people, be able to minister to people and not just spend all his energy helping his wife. He wanted to be able to do more. My pastor friend suggested to the man that perhaps that was what the Lord wanted his ministry to be, to minister entirely to his wife in her time of need. Is being an ambassador of Christ to one person too small a thing?

To borrow an observation from C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, consumerism may be compared to pride. Just when a person is about to become truly humble you tempt that person to consider how humble he or she is being and, bingo, they are even more proud than they were before they tried being humble! So it is with avoiding a "consumer" mentality in church. You are even more in danger of being a consumeristic Christian if you think that because of your immersion in church life through activity that you are not as consumeristic as those people you see who just show up, go through the motions and aren't, say, leading or hosting a community group; attending the special services; wearing the right clothing as a sign of committment; or fixating on the approopriate bits of shared church history and social lingo.

Now I hope I don't have to make it clear that I have no problem with people participating in their church. I have no problem with people participating in ministries. I think that's a good thing. I would like to think that's clear already but since the internet is what it is and people are what they are it never hurts to make a few statements that you may, as an author, consider redundant.

I think that in some ways so much rhetoric against "consumer" Christianity ends up being spiritual snobbery. Even megachurch pastors like Mark Driscoll can talk about how bad it is to be a consumer. If a megachurch pastor can speak against consumerism then pretty much any American Christian can. But attending a tiny parish of a traditional church with high liturgy that you like because it has more old school high art than the shoebox megachurch experience isn't any less consumeristic, is it? In fact I'd say in my observation the anti-consumeristic stance is often precisely how many consumeristic Christians convince themselves they aren't consumers. They believe that by their vibrant and authentic spiritual activity in a community group or an accountability group or serving in a ministry that they are keeping it real.

Some of them do, I know, but those that do tend to be able to do so because they realize they are tempted, they are weak, they have sins to confess. They are not thanking the Lord they are not like those other consumeristic Christians. At this point in my life a person who admits they go to a church for what might be considered "consumer-driven" reasons may be more honest with themselves than the man or woman urging us to be more "radical" in our Christian practice. I've seen men supremely committed to a radical Christian expression transform, over twenty years, into looking pretty much like most other Christians I've met. The fuel of our walk of faith that sustains us is neither our principles nor our goals but our King. I can't say I am not a consumeristic Christian.

When I was most involved in the widest variety of ministries I may well have been the most consumeristic about my faith? WHy? Because I let those roles in different ministries become my identity. My church life became the entirety of my social life. Those who say the local church cannot be idolized have simply forgotten how Jesus rebuked those who thought that God's people were defined as Israel and ISrael's concerns. They were wrong then to have that view and we are wrong now to imagine that the local church is the be all and end all of the Christian experience. We'll tell ourselves that we're rational and know this could be a problem but we won't examine our hearts as we reflexively consider other flocks and other Christians as lesser than ourselves and what we have. The most insidious thing about this mentality is that it can most permeate our hearts when we are sure we don't have this vice in us.

I can't say I am a better Christian than anyone and in several ways I am probably much worse. So I don't have the place to say that someone else is a consumeristic Christian, especially if in the process of saying this I exempt myself from the verdict. We are told that if anyone is caught in a sin those who are spiritual should gently correct them and carefully so as not to fall prey to the same sin themselves. Somewhere it is written for our benefit. Leaders, whatever they lead, can lead well if they lead first in repentance so that others can follow their example. You or I could just tell someone "You need to repent" but if we want them to live out that repentance it helps if they can see us living the life of repentance we keep telling them they should have. We as God's peopel can repent together as well as individually. Rather than thank God that I am not a consumeristic Christian I am glad the blood of Christ was shed for consumerism, too.