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Where do we acquire the desires that drive our choices?

Written by: on February 3, 2020

Miller challenges us to consider, how does “consumer culture change our relationship with religious beliefs, narratives, and symbols.”[1] Concurrently, in a purely free market what influences our desires that drive our choices? I ask myself; do we need a renewed or restored idea of what the telos, God’s influence ought to be in our communities?

Contemporary theology, argues Miller, is silent on what is unquestionably one of the most important cultural issues it faces: consumerism or “consumer culture.” While there is no shortage of expressions concerning the corrosive effects of consumerism from the standpoint of economic justice or justice for self and one’s rights, Miller argues that there is a vast distinction between real and false needs: behavioral “excesses.” One’s culture and pervasive worldview affect what motivates them, how we relate to others, to culture, and to religion.[2]

A perceived yet misconstrued God standard, so to speak offers, that God does not care about our desires or how we treat each other is a vast discrepancy between what we have experienced. Frankly, there are plenty of rich idiots and poor saints. And, anything or anyone can become an idol if we allow it. This view, though extreme, presents a cultural shift in theological discussion, doctrine, belief systems, and our communities.

Freedom does not depend purely on the autonomy of the will, but from the inputs, we ignorantly receive and what rewards we deem best in this life. For Augustine, we need to be liberated from the tyranny of our own wills. Such change comes from without, from the grace of God. Choice itself is inherently good and all that is necessary whatever the circumstances. Conversely, if all our actions are dictated by an Omniscient, predetermined God, then it is incredibly unfair to hold us to the consequences of our personal sins. Augustine’s solution to this seems to draw a distinction between something that occurs unavoidably and something that occurs voluntarily. God does not predestine us to harm ourselves. That would be a ridiculous conclusion. We have the personal power to quit smoking. However, if it was predestined that someone would be a smoker and die from emphysema, he essentially denies the premise claiming mankind is not able to be free from this habit. [3]

If God is “love” then my doctrine of free will would include doctrines of sin, free will, grace, salvation, means of grace, and grace by God’s love to choose what is good and right. Joshua 24:15, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of [a]the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

If my God is “love” then my doctrine of “free will” would be that God is Sovereign and can make choices to work with or to not work with those whom He chooses. And, since He is creator of us all, partnering with creation in creation (Genesis 1), then this partnership ethos would say that we have the opportunity to live more like we were created to live: in partnership with God.

I can say that the preachers have an array of different interpretations on the spectrum of predestination. In a sense, the question leads one to need to provide an answer to how sovereign is God? Sure, we do not have the grace to save ourselves from the eternal consequences of sin against God. And, with the vast array of interpretations, we must then answer this argument, “It is clear that desires, shaped, encouraged, and manipulated”[4] and how we can present truth in the contexts we disciple.

My brief church-world experience it is often viewed that the one with the best programs and events wins the game of church attendance. One hand, how do we blame the attendees. Work and family life are often difficult to manage so a place of comfort, peace, and community is a worthy goal for a family. On the other hand, can we do what we are called generally to do, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”[5] and live in a consumer culture without being consumed.

Therefore, my question is must we be consumed by culture? I have nothing new, profound, or worthy of being analyzed on this because I have not critically studied this notion. My attempt is to remind us that there is likely no getting away from the influences, but we do have grace available, because of God’s victorious love to choose how much these influences recreate us to becoming what influencers, trendsetters, and world systems intend for us. I’m asking this question in my research: what in the vast array of standards regarding what a pastor looks like and how they function will stand up to God’s view of a true shepherd.[6]

            [1] Vincent Jude Miller. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, (New York: Continuum), 2004, 1.

            [2] Ibid., 107

            [3] http://augustinecollective.org/can-god-and-free-will/

            [4] Vincent Jude Miller. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, (New York: Continuum), 2004, 109.

            [5] Matthew 28:19-20.

            [6] John 10:14,  1st Peter 5:1-4.

About the Author

mm

Steve Wingate

11 responses to “Where do we acquire the desires that drive our choices?”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    The interest in knowing about a transversal reality to all societies, such as consumerism, is not only part of having an informed awareness of the subject, but also of how this information challenges us to raise biblical answers that help people, especially Christians, to have a quality of personal, family life and of course in interaction with other people and with God.

  2. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Thanks for highlighting Augustine here. With Miller leaning heavily on him as well as James KA Smith (who Dr. Clark will rely on for a key voice of his dissertation), I’m wanting to revisit him in my personal reading… someday.

    • mm Steve Wingate says:

      His history as how he came to faith is VERY interesting. He’s one of the patriarchs who I dismissed because of his calvanistic like implications. And, yet, his philosophies are intertwined with what the church builds its foundation upon today

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Steve,
    Do I understand you in saying that though its a good thing that churches provide comfort, peace, and community for stressed out families, it is inherantly different than fulfilling the “great commission” to go and make disciples? If so, can you unpack the difference for me, please?

    • mm Steve Wingate says:

      Thank you for the question Darcy.

      I think both are important. Doing away with comfort for constant message of suffering, in my opinion is not a healthy diet. God is the God of comfort. Probably making anything a standard besides a responsible relationship with Christ is unhealthy.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    “Must we be consumed by culture?” That’s the tightrope I feel most American churches are walking today. We talk about being “culturally relevant,” while also talking about “being in the world and not of it.” Our ancient practices are (or at least seem) foreign to so many, and we often fail to do an adequate job of teaching their meaning. And if we water them down or remake them to look more familiar, we often produce a lame imitation of something people can experience outside the church. How have you found that balance in your ministry?

  5. mm Greg Reich says:

    Steve,
    I appreciate your post. I think the question of every generation that has gone on before us is how to maneuver the culture. Like John my concern is that we try so hard to be relevant that we are losing the meaning and purpose of the church. I agree that culture will always affect how we do church in some way or another. But there should be a distinct difference between the body of Christ and the world. My concern is are we taking what God called sacred and making it common? By always trying to be culturally relevant are we forgetting what the call to be holy or set apart looks like?

    • mm Steve Wingate says:

      “the meaning and purpose of the church”
      Very good!
      What is the purpose of the church is basically the same regardless of culture. But, will most likely look different in different cultures. How does the church be the vehicle through which God moves in Hollywood will look different than it will in the near-East side of Indy or in Jeremy Crossley’s neighborhood

  6. mm Dylan Branson says:

    I think the reality is that we are always going to be consuming something; it’s a question of WHAT we consume, WHY we consume it, and HOW MUCH we consume it. A lot of times we consume without realizing we’re actually consuming something because it’s so second nature. Churches that use a lot of “bells and whistles” of attracting people into their doors have always made me uncomfortable as more often than not it does not seem to be genuine search for relationship, but adding to the numbers.

    One of the more interesting passages of Scripture for me is in John 1 when Jesus calls the first disciples. It isn’t something full of excitement or bright lights, but a simple invitation: “Come and see.” What would a church that is built on a foundation of love for one another look like to someone who arrives with the invitation, “Come and see”? What DO people see when they come?

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Consumer culture. Behavioural excesses. The response of some: to become self-sustaining, not reliant on any of ‘it’. Does this become a Behavioural excess? Consumer trend: simplification. Minimalism. Etc.

    Brings me back and draws me into some kind of contemplation on Jesus’ invitation: ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Why is that? Liberation. Being set free. What is it that is enslaving us?

    He also said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father but through me.’ Why do we go after any other way? Perceptions. We have a choice. May it be that we can only truly feel the benefit of that which we choose if we are totally and utterly committed? Who knows of this commitment better than Jesus. Therefore, who knows better the benefits this commitment offers than Jesus?

    Fear of letting go. What is the fear and what does this ‘letting go’ mean for us today? Considering what we are afraid of…

    Thanks Steve! Still thinking as I get going here for a Saturday walk with Molly. To the lake for some fishing. Finally, the sun is out 🙂

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