As a former pastor and journalist, MacDonald offers a basic premise that the contemporary American church has lost its impact on contemporary society because it has sold out to consumerism. As a result, the church’s effectiveness has not only been diluted but it has lost its primary mission of providing a conduit of authentic spiritual growth for the church body and being a powerful witness in the world of moral formation.
MacDonald starts with three stark observations aimed at church leaders. First, he notes the entertainment-orientation within the American church-at-large by citing the prevalence of hefty operating entertainment budgets, large projection screens, worship styles that are more worldly than God-honoring, and an emphasis on the cash collection devoid of a worshipful expression. He comments, “Unfortunately, a church that functions like a fun house cannot fulfill religion’s central mission. The Church can’t transform the desires of people it’s trying to titillate” (p. 36).
Second, MacDonald accuses the church of offering comfort to the exclusion of healthy confession, which has led to making church members happy at the exclusion of deep inner transformational change. He writes, “Small groups, organized around shared interests, offer indiscriminate affirmation rather than the rebuke or admonition that participants sometimes need” (p. 62).
Third, MacDonald identifies the weak moral character of the church, noting the financial indebtedness and mismanagement, evidence of rampant personal addictions, and unresolved relational conflicts that provide anything but a positive witness.
In summary, MacDonald attacks the religious consumerism that he observes running rampant in the American church as indicative of the consumerism in the American culture, which caters to a “feel-good” mentality in order to appease church-goers. He cites as an example of consumerism the practice of mega-churches opening their doors to corporate sponsors. Anyone seen Starbucks coffee available in church lobbies?
MacDonald’s admonishes, “The Church must overcome both its baggage and its present tendency to pander in order to become a character-shaping force in the twenty-first century” (p. 87). So I pose these questions ~
- Is MacDonald’s critique of the contemporary American church valid? Why or why not?
- What specific counter arguments might you offer in response to MacDonald’s criticism?
- How can the American church remain culturally sensitive without losing her soul and central mission?