Consumer Theology: Its Causes, Effects, and Solution

R. Douglas Bailey


This paper claims that consumerism has permeated our culture so completely as to affect the church as well, creating a consumer theology. The thesis of this paper is that spiritual formation, properly understood and implemented in an established church, is the corrective for the harmful effects of consumer theology. Chapter 1 traces the rise of consumerism in America, noting its harmful effects on society. This chapter also introduces consumer theology, claiming that it is characterized by a commodification of the Holy; churches' becoming vendors ofreligious goods and services; a radical individualism; and a sense of entitlement among congregants. Chapter 2 examines biblical and theological materials to show that consumer theology has been evident throughout all of God's recorded salvation history, and to demonstrate that God has resisted every human effort to tum him into a commodity to own and use. Looking at materials dealing with church history, chapter 3 demonstrates that consumer theology, while confronted by the early church, was fully embraced by the medieval church. The claim is that, at least to some extent, the Protestant Reformation was a reaction against the consumer theology of the day. Chapter 4 presents the causes of consumer theology in the modem church, claiming that the predominant culture, recent evangelistic techniques, and church marketing have all contributed to the rise of modem consumer theology. This chapter also describes some of the harmful effects of consumer theology in the church today. Chapter 5 examines the claims of spiritual formation. This chapter describes the key elements of spiritual formation, noting the difference between spiritual pathways and disciplines, and presents spiritual formation as the corrective for consumer theology. In addition to summarizing the findings of this paper, chapter 6 also presents essential steps for the implementation of an emphasis of spiritual formation in established churches.