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

Guilty Pleasures

Written by: on March 30, 2023

Consuming Religion

Consuming Religion, Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture by David Miller is an insightful look at how consumer culture has affected religious beliefs and practices over the past century. Miller uses economic justice, environmental ethics, and postmodern theory, among other things, to show how much consumerism has taken over our lives. He argues that theologians must take this influence into account when engaging in faith-related matters.

The author says that a shift away from traditional religious values has been caused by materialism, which is linked to consumer goods.[1] People now expect more immediate gratification than ever before due to their entitlement mentality created by living in a capitalist society. This phenomenon can be observed across all religions today, including Christianity, where individuals are increasingly relying on instant solutions rather than seeking spiritual guidance through established rituals or doctrines. I am guilty of this myself. I want my kids to be part of a church that has a dynamic youth group and our last church had very little to offer for children. Instead of jumping in and creating it myself, I chose to leave and find a new church. There was much more to it but I think all of us are consumers at some level and expect quick gratification at the least.

Consumerism has had a profound influence on religion, particularly Christianity. Miller looks at how consumer culture affects religious beliefs and practices. Through an analysis of literature, as well as interviews with religious leaders and practitioners, he provides readers with an insightful look at how consumerism has altered faith traditions.

Miller argues that consumerism has turned religion into a product, which has made superficial things like material goods more important than deeper parts of spirituality. He also explains how this shift affects various aspects of life within faith communities, including worship services, charitable giving patterns, church architecture designs, and more. I believe there are a lot of positives and negatives with this idea of religion as a product. For example, if a product brings someone closer to Jesus and helps someone understand a principle of the Bible more deeply, this would be a positive benefit of Christian consumerism. On the other hand, if an actual doctrine or religion asks for tips for the preacher, takes advantage of contributions, creates guilt in giving and serving, or simply relies on entertaining their congregation, they are missing the point and it feels much more like a product over a spiritual movement.

The Relationship between Religion and Economics

The relationship between religion and economics has long been a topic of debate. Religious institutions have traditionally shaped economic practices, yet the precise nature of this influence is unclear. For instance, some authors have argued that religious beliefs are fundamental to capitalist ideology and serve as an ideological justification for wealth accumulation; others contend that religion functions only in a limited capacity, providing moral guidance without significantly affecting economic behavior.[2]

By examining the writings of Dr. Clark on evangelicalism and capitalism, it becomes evident that there is a complex interplay between the two domains which must be understood if we are to gain insight into the historical origins of capitalism.[3] Drawing upon his extensive knowledge of scripture and church history, Clark contends that evangelicals’ emphasis on individual responsibility serves as an important precursor to modern capitalism. He argues that traditional Calvinist theology discouraged any material success or ambition – thereby limiting economic growth. Also, evangelicalism encouraged such activity by placing greater value on individuals’ personal spiritual transformation rather than their station in life. As such, he suggests that through its focus on individual striving for salvation over communal identification with specific groups or classes, evangelicalism helped foster more economically productive societies in which people could accumulate capital independent of external constraints or obligations imposed by social class systems.

The Role of Christian Leaders in Addressing the Influence of Consumer Culture

Today’s world is increasingly shaped by consumer culture, and Christian leaders must recognize the implications this has for their faith and practice. In his book, David Miller examines how religious beliefs have been influenced by modern consumer practices, such as individualism, materialism, and the commodification of religion. He argues that these values can lead to an atomized form of Christianity that fails to acknowledge its communal nature or engage with social issues.

Christian leaders thus have a responsibility to educate their congregations on the impact of consumer culture on faith-based practices. As Miller suggests, they should emphasize communal aspects of religion such as

  • shared worship experiences
  • encourage engagement
  • promote ethical consumption habits
  • foster meaningful relationships

By taking these steps towards creating an environment where authentic spiritual connection can flourish without being overshadowed by commercial values, churches will be better equipped to meet people’s needs in today’s society while also preserving core principles of serving and worship which is where it all started.

[1] Miller, David; Consuming Religion

[2] https://www.hoover.org/research/religion-and-economic-development

[3] Clark, Jason; Evangelism and Capitalism

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

4 responses to “Guilty Pleasures”

  1. Kristy Newport says:


    I like this sentence:
    “By examining the writings of Dr. Clark on evangelicalism and capitalism, it becomes evident that there is a complex interplay between the two domains which must be understood if we are to gain insight into the historical origins of capitalism.[3]”

    “Clark contends that evangelicals’ emphasis on individual responsibility serves as an important precursor to modern capitalism.”

    If you had the time, I would like to hear more of your thoughts on this. ^

    Great summary.

    I also liked your summary of Miller’s suggestions for churches to promote communal practices.
    With the four points that you mentioned, I am curious how you think your church is doing in these areas?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Kristy. My church is almost failing at this. We recently left our congregation and this topic was one the underlying reasons. There is a huge focus on production, attendance, capitalism and entertainment. I can get down with some of these things as long as they are delivered with the right heart of discipleship, and discernment. The problem we have is that the people are the least of concerns. I would argue that the leadership does not even know most of the names of people who attend regularly. There is almost no effort put on community in our congregation and it’s all about the Sunday service.

  2. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. It was thorough and covered all of the major highlights.

    Your personal example of leaving a church because of the children’s ministry resonated with me. Many friends have stated they did the same thing. It may seem insignificant to some but it undergirds the point about instant gratification.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Audrey. This was a huge move for us and very emotional. I tried to get more involved but with so many other roles I was involved in with the church, it was difficult to also make serious changes in the youth department. I felt like my kids were really missing out on a lot of the things I had as a youth in church and I selfishly want them to experience it. I am loyal to my faith and still feel very connected to my previous church as part of the body of Christ but overall I think this was a good move for my family and the right time. It wasn’t impulsive. We discussed it and prayed for a long time.

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