Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Commodifying Jesus

Written by: on March 30, 2022

Certainly, the purity of true religion and faith could never be distorted by the variants of the dominant culture, or could it? Vincent J. Miller, a professor of Theology at Georgetown University, wrote Consuming Religion to reveal the unavoidable impact consumerism has had among the people and structures of faith. Giving a nod to Bebbington and Weber regarding the impact of Christianity on capitalism, Miller did not write the book to be “about religion against consumer culture,” but rather, “a book about the fate of religion in consumer culture.”[1] In summarizing his intentions for the book, Miller writes,

This book has shown the downside of consumer culture: a situation where culture is deprived of political friction, where each individual is free to pursue his or her own religious synthesis, whether ingenious and inspired, or banal and conforming – but all of these are imprisoned in the private realm of individual insight, while globalizing capitalism goes about its business unopposed.[2]

In thinking about Dr. Clark’s dissertation and the heart of uncommodified religion, or shall we say – worship of the Triune God – he speaks of the power of story and narrative. Clark quotes James K.A. Smith who says,

In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story. And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment—by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world. Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.[3]

As I consider both Miller and Clark, the authors address the impact of capitalism and economics in the life of a person of faith, thus, the people of God as the Church. Whereas Miller provides a sociological, economic review to expose the challenges posed by consumer culture, it is my opinion that Clark takes the matter a step further to say consumer culture creates bondage and strips individuals of their true form of worship and enjoyment.[4] In reading both texts, I could not help but consider how consumer culture has undoubtedly dominated our culture and quietly influenced and distorted the essence of our worship of the One true God. Sadly, neither the Church nor my own life has gone unscathed. Thankfully, Miller and Clark offer hope that this religious commodification can be overcome. For Miller, a fundamental tactic is simply being aware that this is a problem.[5] Clark looks to Smith, who advocates for the restoration of right worship by maintaining a kingdom mindset.[6]

In Kayli fashion, I will highlight a few key concepts that were of particular impact in my consideration of the commodification of religion:

  • Miller speaks to the problem of religious leaders’ use of secular media and the unnecessary ways they expose themselves to difficulties.[7] I immediately thought of the 2021 podcast, Who Killed Mars Hill? Pastor Mark Driscoll was on the cutting edge of the use of media as a platform for massive church growth and popularity. Yet, sadly and ironically, this growth of popularity ultimately led to narcissistic tendencies and the implosion of the church.
  • I was blown away in considering the impact of consumer culture in the “single-family” home. Miller writes that the single-family home, as opposed to the multigenerational home, “provided the infrastructure for the emergence of the modern nuclear family,” which ultimately led to the nuclear family becoming “increasingly autonomous.”[8] Having traveled many times to the Middle East, the multigenerational homes of Muslim culture are always very noticeable to me. In reflecting on this consideration, I agree with Miller that the nuclear family has led to further isolation, ultimately leading to the deficit of so many multigenerational and familial blessings.
  • Lastly, as a nonprofit leader, I was challenged to consider the negative implications of media and marketing. Miller writes,

media attractiveness is not a bad thing in itself. The problem lies in the abstracting effects of commodification that accompany it. Stripped of their traditions and practices, religious figures are more readily made objects of consumption, ready to signify whatever sentiments we need.[9]

Miller says that religion is just as susceptible to becoming a commodity as anything else. As a result, our religious beliefs and practices “are in danger of being reduced to abstracted, virtual sentiments that function solely to give flavor to the already established forms of everyday life or to provide compensations for its shortcomings.”[10] As our organization has grown these past twelve years, I have felt the tension of proclaiming the good things the Lord has done (and is doing) in the South Side of Billings. Still, just the same, I have sensed the pull to commodify a story or situation as it is a compelling narrative that will woo the masses to believe in, champion, and financially support the work of CLDI. Lord help us!

[1] Vincent Jude Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Religion, (New York: Continuum, 2013), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Clark, “Evangelism and Capitalism,” 212.

[4] Ibid., 236.

[5] Miller, Consuming Religion, 192.

[6] Clark, “Evangelism and Capitalism,” 226.

[7] Miller, Consuming Religion, 7.

[8] Ibid., 47.

[9] Ibid., 98.

[10] Ibid., 105–106.

About the Author


Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

9 responses to “Commodifying Jesus”

  1. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Eric!
    Thank you for highlighting key concepts. You wrote about the impact of consumer culture in the “single-family” home. Can you share more on differences in faith in single family homes vs multigenerational family homes from your experience?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Honestly, my experience is SO limited. Today is the beginning of Ramadan and what PrayerCast highlighted was the centrality of FAMILY for Muslims. And not just mom and dad and the kids, but the entire multi-generational family. This weekend we celebrated my daughter’s 13th birthday and we were blessed to have many family members present (siblings, both my parents and Shelly’s parents, nieces, grand-nieces, etc.). It was so awesome as they ALL spoke a word of affirmation and truth over my daughter. I realized what a gift that was for her, for me, and also how rare.

      So, while my own experience has been SO limited, and I really function more as a “nuclear family guy,” if I had to give a word to the difference it would be RICHNESS. I believe there is something that can be gained (generationally) in the larger multi-family context. And while the US is different in how we do “family,” I think there is room to incorporate both.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Eric: Nice job discussing Miller and Clark, and making connections with Bebbington and Weber. I finished writing about Miller and before I could include comments about Clark’s writing this week, I noticed my word count was already maximized. Lots of dense material to be read this week, and all of it was interesting to me. I, like you, thought a lot about my future ministry as a ministry leader in the non-profit/Christian ministry world and how to navigate our culture while trying to contribute to the Kingdom of God. How can we NOT commodify our ministry, but at the same time be efficient, effective, and streamlined in the services we perform?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      It is a fine line, Troy, at least for me. On one hand, I want to proclaim loudly all the great things the Lord has done and is doing, and can do, but at the same time, whether intentional or not, people often associate the works with a leader or organization. Just last week a Board member said, “Eric, when I think of CLDI all I see is you… you are CLDI.” I find discomfort in that for so many reasons, but namely in that I desire to give praise to the King and not be placed on the center-fold.

      How do you think you will navigate those waters?

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, such a great post! Thank you for the many connections to other writings. I also had thoughts about “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” in this reading. In your opinion, do you see the modern phenomenon of Christian celebrity as a byproduct of commodification? You also write about multi-generational homes versus nuclear families – taking that idea one step further, what do you see as the impact of single-parent homes?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Hey there Roy. There is a lot in those two questions! I will be brief. In my opinion, I do see the Christian celebrity as a byproduct of commodification. It is what has “worked” to draw people in, and on one hand that is excellent, but in the process I fear we have largely lost discipleship. What do you think?

      As to the other question, that is a good one! Not only is the single-family unit something of low-income communities, but it really has crossed all economic barriers. My opinion is that it further erodes the biblical concept of marriage, sex, and family. However, I believe there is great hope for restoration for those coming from single-parent families. Both of my sisters were single-parent families for many years as they rightly divorced their abusive husbands. Many years later, after much healing from a relationship with the Lord, they are both happily married to men who also love and follow Jesus. It is awesome to see, and their kids are following in the same path. So, while it is hard and problematic in its own way, there is also great hope.

      • mm Roy Gruber says:

        Eric, yes, I agree with your thoughts about Christian celebrity. In addition to losing discipleship, I also believe it’s contributed to some high-profile falls as was portrayed in “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” The veneration given to the pastor was frightening to hear and seems connected to a culture that has come to worship fame. That’s a hypothesis brewing for me right now. About single-parent homes – I have mad respect for them, especially the majority that are single-moms. One my favorite things we’ve ever done in ministry is called God’s Garage. We ask people to donate cars, volunteers fix them up, and we give them away (no strings attached) to single moms. In many ways, I see the church as an opportunity to fill in some of the gaps and serve as extended family for single parent homes. I remember way back when I started ministry, divorced people were excluded from serving. I held a seminar on divorce recovery back in the 1990’s and one of the staff members challenged it saying, “That will communicate that we support it.” I naively responded, “That we support helping people?” He said, “No, divorce.” Wow. I’d like to think we’re doing better than that today!

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Eric, I so appreciated your reference to Clark’s dissertation. That quote resonates with me as well. I heard that quote in the context of the nature of co-creation…which leads me to…..

    I wanted to hear more about this: “Miller speaks to the problem of religious leaders’ use of secular media and the unnecessary ways they expose themselves to difficulties.” If God is God and the Creator of all, are there ways to have theological conversations that stem from secular media? What blind spots do we create when we build a wall between secular and religious?

    On a different note…on reflecting on your final paragraph, what narrative would unfold if we were to say Jesus commodified faith…..the exchange wasn’t money but life….?

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I appreciate your skillful weaving together both Clark and Miller. I too, was particularly drawn to the insight about the single-family home and its negative impact on our society. Do you see any way to regain the positive aspects of a multigenerational family?
    Also, as a donor supported mission worker, I can relate to the tension between the need to advertise the work and the cheapening that work by the same advertising. How do you walk that balance?

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