Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Welcome to the Church of Brand Jesus

"A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God."
Romans 2:28-29

Commenting on these verses, Tyler Wigg Stevenson, author of Brand Jesus, asks, "...why are so many self-proclaimed Christians buying into the religious lifestyle, image, and identity, but not making the radical spiritual-ethical commitment to discipleship? How is it that there is so much Christian hypocrisy?"

The heart of these verses is that being part of God's family (Jew in the Old Testament, Christian in the New Testament) is not primarily an external matter, but is rather an internal matter with external fruit. In these verses, the Apostle Paul is critiquing the Jews of his day who claimed God, but did so only externally. They were good Jews because they were circumcised. Paul counters by saying that the external act of circumcision is ultimately meant to be an external mark of an inward reality, namely a life that has been transformed by the Spirit of God. 

Stevenson applies these verses to the contemporary Church by pointing out our tendency, much like the Jews in Paul's day, to rely on external marks as the evidence of our faith. For example, we might believe ourselves to be Christians merely because we belong to a church, or were baptized, or align with the religious right politically. We have external badges of honor, but our hearts are far from God. 

The problem, according to Stevenson, is that the Jesus we claim to believe in, is in fact, not Jesus as all:

"The startling question is, then, is Jesus Christ actually the one whom many self-proclaimed Christians have accepted? Or, as seems to be the case,  have consumer-minded Christians been led from the narrow road, drawn by the promises of an impotent spiritual commodity masquerading as the power of God? Welcome to the church of Brand Jesus." pg. 101

Stevenson's point: External badges of religion are insufficient. As Paul stated in Romans 2, the mark of a true believer is a circumcision of the heart, or, a transformed life. External badges (church membership, political affiliation, occasional acts of charity) are insufficient because they don't have any power. They give the mere appearance of Godliness, but are just as Stevenson describes 'impotent spiritual commodity masquerading as the power of God." These badges are not the result of a radical internal transformation. They are not the result of totally new, born again life in Christ. No, they are the rather feeble attempts to construct our self-justification. 

The only solution to this problem is the true gospel of Jesus Christ; namely, that our attempts to build our own kingdom, wherein we attempt to build our own identity, our justification, and our very sense of life before God is completely insufficient. But, in his great mercy and love, Christ came to give us life. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has come to free us from this death sentence of self-sufficiency. 

But herein lies the problem. Stevenson's point is that if you look at the life of the American Christianity, it is clear that we are not living or preaching this true gospel, wherein lives are truly transformed. Rather, we are preaching and living a different faith; the faith of Brand Jesus. 

And this Brand Jesus fits in perfectly with our consumer mindsets in that it gives us exactly what our sinful selves want, all the while wearing a mask of true spirituality:

"Brand Jesus takes the promise of the Kingdom of God and offers another pseudo-Christian vision instead...Brand Jesus takes the tragedy of sinful life and without asking us to change our behavior in the plot, promises a happy ending. Brand Jesus takes everything our species' depraved imagination wants to believe is true about the world and feeds it back to us." pg. 104

"We are in fact, wholly conformed to the pattern of this world. So, while Christians should be radically different from everybody else, we find that Christians are no more different from practitioners of other lifestyles than those folk are from each other. We've made discipleship into one option among many, when it ought to stand separate, as different from other ways of living as Christ was from the world." pg. 103

In short, the American Church has submitted to a form of Christianity (Brand Jesus), wherein they are allowed to continue in their current desired lifestyle without any real transformation. Although they may have external badges, there is no power behind it. There is no real knowledge of the God. There is no real experience of God's grace. It is a pseudo-Christianity, giving the people enough religion to soothe their spiritual conscious, but denying the very nature of Jesus Christ. 

The only answer is to run to the gospel of God's grace. 

Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age (Seabury Books, New York, 2007). 

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