How Capitalism Captures the Church’s Imagination

A few weeks ago, referring to Daniel Bell’s book, I wrote about how the market dynamics of our consumer culture shape our vision of Christian discipleship.

I noted the tendency of church leaders to analyze their communities in terms of “giving units.”

Now, I can understand that this may appear to be a harmless and even a helpful way to think about a church’s finances.

It seems to me, however, that there is something sinister about it.  I’m not imputing evil motives to church leaders who employ such language, but I think this is an instance of how capitalism has hijacked our Christian imagination.

Such language is dangerous because of how powerfully it shapes the way church leaders look at their churches and the way church members look at one another.

Our language both reflects the way we see the world and reinforces our ways of seeing it.  It configures how I imagine others, how I will act with reference to them, and how I envision the role each person plays in community.

If I use corrupted language, this both manifests corrupted conceptions and reinforces them.

Speaking of people in our church as “giving units” calls to mind sets of relationships and modes of behavior.  It subtly shapes what the institution of the church is all about and implies a mission that is shaped by dynamics of production and the market.  It introduces values that appear innocuous, but actually threaten rich community life, such as efficiency.

Envisioning the life of the church in market terms, I may begin to evaluate people based on their giving potential.  I may find myself treating people differently on this basis, a serious violation (James 2:1-13; 1 Corinthians 11).

I may begin to evaluate community initiatives in terms of costs and benefits.  If I do, I’ll be forgetting that the church is to imitate the self-giving character of its Lord.

And I may begin to envision the church in terms of market dynamics that can be manipulated economically.

These are just a few of the ways that manifest that capitalism has hijacked the church’s imagination.  The language we use to speak of our fellowships and our relationships to one another is crucial.  I’ll explore a few sets of biblical metaphors over the next few posts.

2 thoughts on “How Capitalism Captures the Church’s Imagination

  1. deeplygrateful

    Any time we view others in a purely financial form, as Christians we are losing sight of our biblical mandate to view others with love. This is one of the major issues I have with para-church organizations. I was making strategic friendships in order to better the para church I was working with. It was difficult to think of relationships as dollar signs. Yet, is it fair to be frustrated with the fund raising effort and business nature of a NPO? Where is the line drawn?
    Thanks for the post. It is answering and raising questions about my role as a Christ follower and how I relate with others.

    1. timgombis

      That’s a huge issue with parachurch organizations, it seems to me. There’s got to be a way of doing it well, I imagine, but I’ve known too many people who formed relationships inauthentically because they needed to maximize their time for the sake of fundraising dollars. There is something seriously wrong with that.

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