A Re-Lived Theology
This week we explored Consuming Religion by Vincent Miller, focusing on the disconnect between religious belief and practice and the corresponding narrative by Jason Clark’s Evangelicalism and Capitalism. While I could find little about Miller in the way of a biography, he is an academic that is currently at the University of Dayton serving as a professor of theology and culture. Consuming Religion, classified under Religious Studies and Economics, provides the reader with a balanced approach to consumer culture and the relationship of Christianity to and within it. Admittedly not a work with an overt theological narrative, Clark surmises that “with Miller, we saw how commodification rips signs and symbols away from originating beliefs and practice, such that the articulation of ‘better’ beliefs does not lead to ‘better’ practice.” Both works explored this week discuss the inherent complexities of consumer culture, desire, and the role of (or perhaps disconnect between) the body of Christ in all of it.
As Clark states, “fallen human beings are prone to disordered love, and to loving the world wrongly. Capitalism, and the mechanisms of commodification, leverage that ontological reality and identity, such that even the worship of Christians becomes commodified into dispensing religious goods and services. Here is the atrophy of resistance that takes place through moments of co-creation with capitalism.” The Christian is not immune from commodifying the beliefs they practice simply because they believe. There is a felt tension of engaging within consumer culture in a manner that is authentic while not establishing a rooted identity in it, replacing, or diminishing that of which is in Christ. Clark continues, “there is a kind of ‘bondage’ to create a self in consumer culture – the sheer scope of what self-creation means in capitalism is a type of suffering. The self, understood within the recapitulation of the Christ-event, might find needed relief from the perverted liturgies of capitalism. And Evangelicals might find a more faithful living of life for Jesus Christ.”
What I found I connected to most in the reading this week was the implications for academic theology that Miller provides. He distills his three lessons for theology as:
“If it is to respond to the challenges posed by consumer culture, theology must attend to the structure and practices that connect belief to daily life, attend to the lived, everyday theology of believing communities, and adopt the task of helping communities preserve and sustain their traditions in the face of the erosions of globalizing capitalism.”
For me, he is emphasizing the need for a theology that is not simply believed or preached about once a week from the pulpit, but one that is actively engaged with, lived with in the context of community, and challenges consumer culture for the benefit of the soul. I found this incredibly fitting with my NPO and the goal of engaging real-world and Kingdom needs. As Miller states,
“Academic theology can both draw from and contribute to the everyday theology of lived religion. By attending to everyday theology, academic theology can gain an understanding of both the practical problems the Christian community faces and its intuitive theological response to them. These can serve as touchpoints for academic theology’s own analyses and constructive proposals. Academic theology possesses resources and methods that can contribute to and strengthen popular religious agency in a number of ways.”
The aim of my NPO and the prototype I am testing is the development of a comprehensive curriculum that allows higher education institutions to embed programs into existing courses, aiding them in moving assignments from the theoretical to the practical. For example, having Liberal Studies students develop lesson plans or teacher development tools that can be utilized with an international school in Ecuador; mobilizing Business Administration students to utilize technology in connecting with emerging entrepreneurs in Tanzania to develop a basic business plan; or leveraging Engineering students to provide solutions to solar-powered desalination needs for field missionaries working in the Philippines. The goal is to provide an equitable and accessible high-impact global education to students that does not require travel, extensive costs, and the other barriers that traditional models pose.
In essence, it is helping students begin to wrestle with the question Miller poses of “what similarities and distinctions function in the lived religious practices of believers in consumer culture?” This model is attempting to counter-act the consumer culture by training students at the undergraduate level to utilize their skills and education to meet real- and kingdom-needs around the globe in a model that emphasizes service. Like all of us, this upcoming generation will encounter the tensions between religious beliefs and practice and I hope that my NPO will serve a small part in bridging the gaps that exist and are sure to emerge as globalization, consumerism, and technology continue to expand.
 Clark, 205.
 Ibid., 228.
 Ibid., 236.
 Miller, 226.
 Ibid., 178.
 Ibid., 227.
9 responses to “A Re-Lived Theology”
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Your NPO and prototype sounds exciting. I believe it will help and connect many people in building a better global community. You mentioned about development of a comprehensive curriculum. What are some principals that helps you in development of curriculums? Please do suggest any helpful books on development and building curriculums.
Kayli: That’s a great NPO you’re developing. The readings this week speaks directly to what you are trying to accomplish. All of us have to ask the questions how to live out our faith in the culture where we live. And for those of us doing ministry we have to take the next step and ask how can we best do the ministry God has called us to within our culture. Not easy! But it seems to me that you’re on the right track and you’re asking all the right questions.
Kayli, thanks for bringing the academic perspective into view for those of us who do not “live” in that world. It is exciting to hear about the potential of your NPO with students and the positive results of serving on a global scale. It seems like there would be the need to develop trusted relationships to make the kind of partnerships you describe become reality. Do you think those relationships develop organically in the process of engagement or is there a way to facilitate that?
Great post, as per usual! It seems like you really got a lot out of this read, which is excellent.
Regarding your NPO, we had a similar model in seminary (Denver Seminary) regarding theology + practice. While it was quite weak, in my opinion, it was a good attempt to at least connect faith to the every day life. The concept of PREACH/HEAL (or WORD/DEED) has been an essential element to my own theological understanding and practice. In fact, it is this drive that led me to live in poor communities the past 20 years and engage interns in a meaningful context to provide both theology and practice together.
I look forward to what you develop!
I loved reading this post and learning some aspects of the book that I did not intersect.
I like the model you have laid out and how it connects to a lived theology. This sounds more holistic than the old school metallurgy of Christians to create a Christian company rather than a Jesus approach to how your company develops and sells products, hires and treats its employees, and goes about making a profit.
Kayli, thank you for your thoughtful post and for how you connected Miller’s insights to your NPO development! Very intriguing! As you develop this curriculum, I’m curious how you will (or if you will) engage the dynamic of USA based students learning from the communities they seek to engage through service? I ask this because I’ve experienced a more subtle form of consumerism in some of the church ‘mission service to others’ I’ve experienced…that we as USA based Christians have what others around the globe need.
Kayli, do you think that there really is a disconnect between belief and practice that Miller asserts? How might another truth that could be claimed that if action/practice doesn’t match belief than that belief isn’t really ones belief?
I also counter my question with scripture ….Romans 7:15-20…..are these words a complete affirmation of Miller?
Kayli, your NPO sounds so exciting; a deep reflection of the kingdom of God expressed in every day life. This would significantly add to the effort to break down the sacred-secular divide that has crippled the potential of the church for world evangelism. More grace to you!!
I appreciate your analysis of the readings and your practical implementation within your NPO. I would be interested to hear more about the specifics of your curriculum as I am attempting to do something similar within the context of discipleship practices within the local church.