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

Consumerism is like Red Hot coal hidden under Ashes.

Written by: on April 4, 2022

Vincent Miller is a North American Catholic theologian, author and the Gurdorf Chair in Catholic Theology at the University of Dayton, USA. Miller is the author of the book “Consuming Religion” in which he tackles the topic of consumerism and expresses his concern that little is covered of this topic in contemporary theology.[1] He provides a detailed account of the historical development of consumerism and the various forms of its manifestations of religion as commodity. It all started with the commodification of culture where cultural objects have been extracted from their original contexts and now serve as consumables, regardless of their intended significance. The marketing system encourages and creates these objects and encourages consumers to view them as their identities. These include “cultural objects from global ethnic cuisines and aesthetics to the interests and concerns of contemporary lifestyles subcultures (urban black youth, Gay and Lesbian, evangelical Christian, and so on) provide both market segments and treasure troves of symbols that can be utilized in product designs and marketing.”[2] In a similar way, religion and religious artifacts have been made to serve the same purpose in the market place as commodities. According to miller the problem with consumerism, is not the consumption of consumer goods but the way that it makes us treat everything, including religion, as an object of consumption. Miller says, “This is not a book about religion against consumer culture; it is a book about the fate of religion in consumer culture.”[3] The book is about the Christian faith and practice in a consumer culture which Miller says that the problem is not the consumer culture in itself, and it is not also a false belief the consumerism breeds in people, though, granted, it can and often does. The problem lies at the level of practices and not at the level of beliefs.

The problem according to Miller is how the structures and practices of a consumer culture domesticate religious beliefs and practices. He says that commodification of religious beliefs and practices serves to disarm religion, “When consumption becomes the dominant cultural practice, belief is systematically misdirected from traditional religious practices into consumption…Traditional practices of self-transformation are subordinated to consumer choice.”[4] It is interesting that Miller delves into Capitalism topic and shows how consumerism is disarming religion. Dar Jason Clark, in his thesis on evangelicalism and capitalism also touches on this topic from a different approach in giving a reparative account and diagnosing the problems in the relationship between the two.[5] Jason particularly shows how the rival ascetics of commodification leverage the nature of human agency around imaginations for providence which agrees with Miller’s assertions.[6] Jason portrays the rival desires associated with the capitalism markets which is consumerism as the problem, as they directly rival the desires of the ecclesial life. He portrays the two sets of desires are not a dichotomy but problematizes capitalist markets as modes of resistance, resonance and co-creation. He sees weakened resistance to, and further co-option to, the deforming forces of capitalism by evangelicalism.[7] From my reading and interpretation, the two authors agree on the disarming of the Christian practices by consumerism which is dangerous to the Church and its image as the light of the World and the salt of the earth.

From our previous reading of Weber’s book, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, we trace capitalism as a product of Evangelicalism.[8] Jason also shows from his thesis that Evangelicalism and capitalism are closely inter-related. In his reparative and diagnostic work, he traces the problems in the relationship between the two which, he sees the possibility of a solution where Evangelicals should trace the problems in the relationship and take corrective action. While the context of the two authors is in the Western Hemisphere where the impact of consumerism on religion is more discernible, the story is not different in my African Context. We are living in a globalized world where the Western Hemisphere easily influences the rest of the World, especially through the electronic media and the interactions across the globe. Beliefs, values and practices are easily exchanged back and forth across the globe but more from the Western Hemisphere to the rest of the World. A keener scrutiny of religious beliefs and practices in Africa will identify other influences other than consumerism, especially traditional cultural beliefs and practices but consumerism is equally a big concern.

As Dr. Jason rightly concludes in his thesis, capitalism and evangelicalism or religion are closely related and influence one another. As Christian leaders, we have a great responsibility in leading the Church in the right direction in discipling believers to grow to maturity and in the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a calls on Christian leaders to discern that consumerism that is key in promoting capitalism, itself a product of evangelicalism, has certain deforming forces that are a danger to Christian practices and potentially Christian believes. It is this awareness that will help in making corrective measures in church practices and teachings to address the danger. These dangers are not explicitly apparent and may be likened to red hot coal that is hidden below ashes after flaming fires have died down. A casual look at the ashes will not revealed the concealed danger of the red hot remnants of the burning wood, the danger is only apparent when the ashes are set aside to reveal the red hot coal/charcoal. In a similar way, Christian leaders have to take responsible, take courage and dig into the relationship, and identify the real problems and prayerfully come up with strategies for addressing them. As I reflect on my research on the case for holistic ministry, I realize that holistic ministry will entail going beyond the pulpits, to address other issues that are outside the church but affect Christian beliefs and practices within the church, to address them accordingly.

[1] Vincent J Miller. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. ( Bloomsbury Academic, 2005).

[2] Ibid…. 70.

[3] Ibid…. 1.

[4] Ibid…. 225.

[5] Jason Clark. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the relationship. PhD thesis, Middlesex University/ London School of Theology. (Thesis 2018).

[6] Ibid…..ii

[7] Ibid….ii

[8] Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (Mineola, New York. Dover Publications, 2003).

About the Author


Mary Kamau

Christ follower, Mother of 3 Biological children and one Foster daughter, Wife, Pastor, Executive Director of Institutional Development and Strategy in Missions of Hope International, www.mohiafrica.org.

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