Consumer Christianity

Most Christian ‘believers’ tend to echo the cultural prejudices and worldviews of the dominant group in their country, with only a minority revealing any real transformation of attitudes or consciousness. It has been true of slavery and racism, classism and consumerism and issues of immigration and health care for the poor.~ Richard Rohr

It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Ecclesiastes 5:5

Ever heard of commodification?  It is a sociological term that is defined as the process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships.  You probably have a commodified relationship with your coffee shop.  You say “Hi” to the baristas and the management.  You are comfortable with the shop.  But the relationship is based on the fact that they are giving you a good product at a fair price.  But if you find another store, a little closer to home that a gives you a better product and a better price its “Goodbye old coffee shop and hello new shop!”

coffee shop

Why?  Because your relationship with that store is not as important as your personal needs.    That is a commodified relationship.  Nothing wrong with that.

But Christ-followers also have covenant relationships.  These are radically different in nature.  We have covenant relationships with our children, marriages, friendships and churches.  In these we are far more concerned with the relationship than we are with our own personal needs.  Much to my discomfort, my wife would often feed our children before she fed me or even herself.  When she and I got married we exchanged rings, said some vows, signed a document.  We entered a life-long covenant.

But an amazing phenomenon has occurred in my generation where we have commodified our covenant relationships.  That means we approach our social relationships and say something like “I will be the spouse I am supposed to be as long as you are the spouse you are supposed to be.  I will be the friend I am supposed to be as long as you are the friend you are supposed to be.  I will be the church member I am supposed to be as long as you are the church you are supposed to be…I will meet your needs as long as your are meeting my needs.”

In a covenant relationship each person meets the needs of the other person even if their own needs are not being met.  In a covenant relationship I say “I will be the spouse I am supposed to be even if you are never the spouse you are supposed to be.  I will be the friend I am supposed to be even if you are never the friend you are supposed to be.  I will be the pastor I am supposed to be even if you are never the church you are supposed to be.”

How many friendships are torn asunder because we have commodified them?  How many marriages are fragmented beyond repair because we choose to relate to each other like we do a grocery store?  And churches are hindered from establishing a beachhead on enemy shores because of an “exchange relationship.”


I am saddened when I hear someone say they are going to separate from their spouse because they have to start taking care of their needs.  I am heartbroken when I see people leave a church because the church is no longer meeting their needs.  I am infuriated when I see a pastor leave a church because there is a prettier, wealthier and more prestigious church that will help his long-term career.  Churches are reduced to mistresses when that happens.  And it happens all the time.

I am so glad Jesus didn’t commodify His relationship with me.  “Joe, I will be the savior I am supposed to be as long as you are the Christian you are supposed to be.”  Or “I can’t go to the cross right now, because after three years of pouring myself out with these slow-witted disciples I need to start taking care of me and my relationship with the Father.”

May there be a clear line between my covenant and my commodified relationships.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, three beautiful daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness.
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14 Responses to Consumer Christianity

  1. David Caddell says:

    Nice work, Joe. I could not agree more. I think your assessment of the sociological mechanism at work here is spot on.
    David Caddell

  2. Totally agree! I really liked this and plan to use it in a sermon soon and will give you full credit. Thanks!

    • Joe Chambers says:

      Use it! Like Adrian Rodgers used to say, “If my ammo fits your gun, shoot it.” Thanks for reading.


  3. Billyy McMahon says:

    Reblogged this on Strange Christianity and commented:
    An excellent post detailing our consumerism and contrasting this with holistic covenant.

  4. gamnot27 says:

    I read a lot of posts and blogs on the internet, but I rarely get the kind of insight from them that I have gotten from this post. I want to thank you for this great post.

  5. Well done. I think this is an important idea to get across and I appreciate you posting it.

  6. Pingback: Consumer Christianity | thewaythetruthandthelife

  7. joe d says:

    Hi Joe!
    Really appreciated your thoughts here. I think you’re right on target: more and more of our relationships are being sucked into the turbines of the “economic engine” of capitalism. I wanted to point you in the direction of a really interesting book I read about this process and some ideas about how to resist it. It’s called *The Wound and the Blessing: Economics, Relationships, and Happiness* by Luigino Bruni. He’s an Italian economist writing from a Christian perspective. What you call “covenant relationships,” he calls “gratuitous relationships.” Anyways, I wrote a review of the book for the Englewood Review of Books a while back. Here’s the link if you or other readers are interested in learning more about the economic dynamics involved in the phenomenon you’re writing about:

  8. Mom says:

    Well done.

  9. Patti says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. keithcarpenter says:

    This is tested the most in disciplinarian situations. But that’s the other side of the covenant, isn’t it. Thank Joe for your wisdom!

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