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

Desires of the Consuming Fire

Written by: on March 31, 2022

Consuming Religion, written by Vincent Miller, discusses and explores how consumer culture impacts our religious life and perspectives. He presents the idea of “commodification of culture” to argue “how consumer culture changes our relationship with religious beliefs, narratives, and symbols.”[1] This book deals with psychology and economy to argue that religious items have been abstracted and fragmented as simply consumption in this modern day by the people with religious identities. He argues that commodification has two interrelated consequences for religion – abstraction of elements and fragmentation of practices.  The first argument is an abstraction of elements– “elements of religious traditions are fragmented into discrete, free-floating signifiers abstracted from their interconnections with other doctrines, symbols, and practices.”[2] And second is the fragmentation of practices – “when abstracted from their conditions of production – practices are deprived of their links to the institutional and communal setting in which they shape the daily lives of religious practitioners.”[3] Then, Miller further takes his arguments into theological considerations of desire to give a new perspective in dealing with the problem and effects of consumerism to establish that root of the problem isn’t about choosing things over God, it is at the foundation of desire – endless seeking and pursuit of joys of desiring itself. Finally, he ends the book with a practical conclusion to counteract the abstraction and fragmentation of religious traditions and practices by suggesting a variety of tactics to counter abstraction in order to link people back to living a more authentic Christian life in a world of consuming culture.


The contents in chapter 4 helped me to understand and gain a clearer picture of connections between human desires and three loci in the Christian traditions, which Miller categorized into three desires – “the desire for God, the desire for the kingdom of God, and the desires associated with discipleship and vocation.”[4] This chapter reminded me of a time back in seminary when I wrestled with questions of human desire. ‘Is desire good or bad? Does God give us good desires or bad desires?’ I was baffled by these questions for a while and I went on a searching journey to try to answer that question and I arrived at an understanding that desire is neutral and it is part of the image of God within humanity. The natural part of the sanctification journey involves internal witnessing of flesh and sinful desires fading away and holy and righteous desires growing as faith grows within a person. Miller writes, “Consumer desire is neither about attachment nor about enjoyment.”[5] When I observe youths and young adults these days, they are growing up with too many things and there is an abundance of consumer culture all around them. One might swiftly think that abundant availability in quickness (amazon is getting faster and faster) and a wide variety of choices will bring greater desires and enjoyment of self. But in reality, I observe lots of people struggling with life’s passion and purpose because of loss of desires. I would further argue that consuming culture is slowly putting out the fire within Christians – fire for God, fire for the kingdom of God, and fire for discipleship and vocation.


One of the legendary South Korean soccer players I look up to is a guy name Cha Bum-Kun, a devout Christian who played as a striker (nickname Cha Boom) in Germany’s Bundesliga back in the 80s. After a very successful professional soccer career in Bundesliga, Cha retired in 1989 and came back to South Korea. He continued his soccer career as a coach and broadcaster, but his greatest significance and influence came out from his establishment of the first non-profit soccer youth development center. At that time, South Korea’s youth development soccer programs were in a state of abuse. It was expensive, young players were abused verbally and physically, and lots of bribing was going on that stunned the growth of young players and development of future players. At that time, many people called him foolish for wasting his own personal money and talents on a dream that would never become a reality. But a small and humble seed beginning that started out of his fire for God, fire for the kingdom of God, and fire for discipleship and vocation have now proved to be a change of culture after 30 years. The majority of current south Korea’s superstar players, Son Heung-Min, Hwang Hee-Chan, Hwang Hee Jo, Lee Kang In, Ki Sung Yong and many more, came out of his academy programs and scholarships. In order to counteract the effects of consuming religion to live in and with a consuming fire, the Christian person and the body of Christ have to desire together. As Dr. Clark invites the believers to understand the need for the “further understanding that habitus is structured, communal, individual, directed, and acquired. The structuring of habitus is “personal and political,” coming from outside and conditioning agents… the mechanisms of habitus allow us to understand how the bodies of individuals are incorporated into other social bodies.”[6] The challenge to stand up against the consumer culture will start as a seed of a desire, but that seed will grow into a kingdom of God that will certainly stand sovereign over to serve as an agent of change. We must always remember God isn’t a material waiting to be consumed by Christian consumers. We must be consumed in the love for God so that we can use the given materials to build God’s kingdom on earth and bless God’s people on earth.

[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2005), 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 126.

[5] Ibid, 127.

[6] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (diss., George Fox University, 2018), 105, https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/222-223.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

9 responses to “Desires of the Consuming Fire”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, I enjoyed reading your post. You write about what you see in the life of youth with whom you work. You note: “consuming culture is slowly putting out the fire within Christians – fire for God, fire for the kingdom of God, and fire for discipleship and vocation.” Do you see the negative impacts of consumerism growing or do you think it’s just a different expression of the same challenge? Also, what kind of things are you doing/teaching/modeling to youth to help them break the grip of consumerism over their faith?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Roy,

      I believe different generations have a different popular cultural philosophies to battle against. I think in our modern world, it is negative impacts of consumerism. With youths, I try to explain and teach about the consequences of consumerism with materials, relationships, and academic grades. Consumption will leave a person feeling empty and dissatisfied in life whereas being in love with God and faithful stewardship will bring a person to abundance and satisfaction in life.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: Chapter four of this book also spoke to me. It had a great many insights that I wish I had read when I was in seminary working towards my M.Div. The three loci that Miller discusses bring our career hopes and our spirituality to a head. He has a lot of good things to say about how to minister to our consumer culture and at the same time to stand up to it. have you seen this battle going on in the minds a nd hearts of the youth that you work with? I do in my church…

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Troy,

      I definitely see the battle of desires within youths and young adults in my ministries. I try to present to them the life of pursuing sanctification. The power of the gospel and glorifying God is experienced when we see growing holy and righteous desires within us.

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post, Jonathan. I loved the illustration at the end as it provides hope for the ways in which the gospel does and can penetrate our spheres of influence in great ways, though it may not seem like it at the time. We often talk about the importance of playing the long-game here at CLDI, meaning, we can’t necessarily bank on results overnight. In fact, we would say that effective Christian community development work, of truly transforming those in a place of poverty, takes decades, and sometimes generations.

    I pray the Lord use you well as a faithful witness for many more years to come such that you too are used like Cha Boom was!

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, I am always interested in the ways you tie our readings to your Korean culture/heritage/life! It is very much a blessings!

    As you unpacked this topic of desire I couldn’t help but think about Jason’s dissertation pages 215-218. How might his writing inform your thoughts on this subject?

    In what ways does his writing add a new layer to this conversation of commodification of “being on fire for God” that some people may push back on?

  5. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Jonathan, what an excellent review and analysis of Miller. I especially like your comments on the soccer academy and how what seemed like a foolish investment was eventually proven to have been inspired by the Lord. I know you’re passionate about generation next, but do you see sports as a tool that can also help adults in their journey to manage desire/commodification as well as experience revival?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Jonathan, I appreciate your view on this week’s readings. Your example of the South Korean soccer player is inspiring and encouraging that even the smallest gesture in humble service pays eternal dividends. I am interested to hear more about how you have harnessed or walked in the redemption of your desires. Or maybe you can comment on how you have to pass this on to the people you serve.

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