-ISMS: Beyond Consumerism.

What is the greatest threat to the spread of Christianity on the planet?

Is it…

  • Postmodernism?
  • Secularism?
  • Liberalism?
  • Deconstructionism?
  • Gnosticism?
  • Fundamentalism?

I think it’s a far more prevalent “-ISM,” the notion that we get happy when we buy stuff to rid us of our misery.
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-ISMS: Materialism.

Ever been consumed with a product – with the getting of it — that you fantasized about how great life would be once you finally obtained it? That’s the promise and allure of advertizing: your life is incomplete without __________, but would be so awesome and complete with it.

That item for me was an iPad. When they first came out in early Spring 2010, I really wanted one. I thought of all the ways I could justify a purchase of the base model ($500) and present the case to my wise, frugal wife. Knowing our united family desire to simplify life, coupled with our commitments to become more generous, there was to be no iPad in our near future.

So, over the course of the next 12+ months I saved up, sold some of my books, and earned some additional funds through some creative work. This June I was able to purchase an iPad 2. It was a helpful tool on our UK travels, and remains a daily companion as a mobile device, e-book reader, and ubiquitous capture tool. Even still, I must live without it, and set it in our re-purposed “technology basket,” and while home with the kids the iPad must just sit there on the counter.

As American families prepare for this Christmas, starting on or before Black Friday, all sorts of gadgets like the iPhone 4S (with the automated do-everything Siri) will fly off shelves into the “deserving” hands of boys and girls, young and old alike.

Of course, we can stand at the edge of culture and decry all this “materialism” and the commercialization of holidays like Christmas. The real question is, why do we run to material things to meet our unmet needs?
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-ISMS: Idealism.

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” —George Carlin

Do you call yourself a realist? And do others call you a pessimist? Was there perhaps a time when you were a romantic idealist, envisioning things that could be if only we believed and persevered towards them?

I struggle with cynicism on a daily basis, which is not a surprise confession among those who know me well. Recently I’ve begun to own up to my cynicism, which is really nothing more than pride packaged together with a know-it-all perspective and delivered by way of humor. I like to think of myself as smarter than others, and able to laugh about how things actually work as opposed to the common view of how things should work. Cynicism and its cousin sarcasm are insufferable to live with.

It’s actually not ignorant to be an idealist, as long as one’s ideals are true. Of course, being true to one’s ideals is the next step. We are as much what we do as what we say.

In continuing these intermittent series on “-ISMS,” I thought it helpful to label another one that gets both bad and good press. Ideals set before us as something to aspire toward and attain can be a great motivator, but we get into trouble when we foist our ideals on others, expecting them to measure up. Consider the ideal of community, as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Continuing on to the end of the next paragraph:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“… The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pages 26-27; translated with an introduction by John W. Doberstein.

In the Gospel the real is better than the ideal. Let God shatter your ideals of community, for that is His grace to you to bring you something far richer, more beautiful, and more nourishing for your soul.

-ISMS: Consumerism.

Today we begin a new weekly series I’ll simply call “-ISMS,” a look at the dominant philosophies of our day. Some will be overtly religious; some will seem non-religious (at first); all are the lenses through which we tend to think and feel about ourselves, God and the world around us. First up, consumerism.

The more we consume, the less we live.

Alan Hirsch gets to the heart of how everyone is a disciple of something and why someone cannot stay a consumer and become a growing disciple of Jesus.

(Let this 3 minute video provoke your thoughts.)

“Everyone is a disciple and no one stops being a disciple.”

“If we don’t disciple, then the culture sure will. (And it’s doing a good job of it.)”

Consumerism is being defined by what we consume. One’s meaning, identity, purpose and belonging becomes tied to the consumption of products. Consumerism is the most prevalent religion of our day.

Jesus’ call to all consumers:


Only then will we truly live.

radish seed sprout


“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” —Jesus (John 12:24)