A McDonaldized Christianity

My doctoral dissertation addressed the sobering and declining state of Western Christianity. It explored how to motivate churchgoers to ‘get off their butts’ and become the disciples and disciple-makers they are to be. The journey led me to some interesting places, ideologically speaking. I discovered and wrote this about the consumeristic nature of much of the Church in the West: “The packaging of goods and spiritualities meant to appeal to consumers of religious experiences has been compared to McDonald’s processes. The product is a Happy Meal spirituality.” Churches can become “just one more dispenser of Happy Meals.” Now, this may not necessarily apply to your church, but I encourage you to read on and reflect.

According to author John Drane, the McDonaldized experience and church produce nominal believers. The format is appealing but empty, entertaining and spiritually tasty, but non-nutritious. John MacArthur says this about a possible contributor to the religious consumerism of faux Christians: “Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained.” Spiritual laziness is undoubtedly one side effect of this tendency.

A pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all McDonaldized approach to Christianity enables passivity. A person or team entertains a passive audience. Perhaps another person preaches at the same spectators. And the anonymity of which John MacArthur wrote, something of a Happy Meal toy, allows people to ‘slip out the back’ or avoid being held accountable for the lack of discipleship and spiritual growth. There’s another serious flaw in the McDonaldization process where it occurs in our Christianity: the loss of spiritual diversity and maturity.

Communities are born of shared values and traditions, and they are meant to meet the needs of their members. Christian communities were (and are) no exception—especially in the early days after Jesus’ ascension. Each person was required to help meet the physical needs of the Christian group (in other words, work!). They were also expected to contribute to spiritual formation, unity, and maturity based on God-given spiritual gifts and disciple-making abilities (Ephesians 4:11-16). But this kind of collective behavior must be tailored to the group’s specific needs; a pre-packaged McDonaldized Christianity that focuses on format over content and context just won’t do! It leaves little room for spiritual formation, active participation (versus passive observation), or movement by God’s Spirit.

Perhaps it’s time for a different kind of Christian diet—one that tastes good but is also spiritually nutritious. Maybe then we’ll get our butts out of the pews and behave like people who know about God AND who God knows (1Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:8-9). What’s next? Let’s uncover some of Jesus’ most excellent and applicable sayings in “Jesus Said What??” in next week’s article.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

“I Am” or “I Will Be”??

You may have heard God referred to as “The Great I AM.” In fact, Exodus 3:14 states that God is “I AM WHO I AM” in most if not all Bibles. But did God really call Himself the “I AM” in the original language as if He needed to prove His existence? Or did the Hebrew phrase mean something else? Let’s see.

About 500 years after God formed a covenant with Abram, Moses encountered God. He asked about His name in Exodus 3:13-14: “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM;” and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

The ancient Hebrew language in Exodus 3:13-14 refers to God as Ehyeh:  “And God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.’” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’”

The Hebrew word Ehyeh was understood, and, I believe, is best translated as, “I WILL BE—not “I AM.” Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh should be understood as “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” There’s evidence showing that early Church Fathers wrote it this way. This rendering is also present in the first modern English translation of the Bible (Myles Coverdale, 1535).

Now, I realize we’re told that God is the ‘Great I Am.’ But this translation may not follow the intended meaning of the Hebrew text. And, it implies that God needs to convince people that He exists. The rendering of “I WILL BE” makes much more sense when we remember that God is a God of action, of kept promises. For instance, He will be a provider (Matthew 6:26), be a shepherd (Psalm 23), and be a healer (Exodus 15:26). Here are two other examples:

“And I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.” (Zechariah 8:8)

“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (Hebrews 8:10)

God will indeed be yours if you will be His! Reach out to take the next step! So, what will we dive into next week? We’ll explore our deadly consumeristic “McDonalds” Christianity.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Renewed Beginnings

Last week, I retold an ‘untold’ Christmas story—kind of a behind-the-scenes look at God’s peace and redemption Jesus set into motion with His arrival on earth. Because the new year began a week after Christmas, I thought we should now look at new beginnings. Here are a few examples of New Year celebrations and why we use them to make resolutions.

American/European: January 1st. We tend to gather the evening before and bring in the new year with shouts, parties, countdowns, and resolutions. And some of those parties bring regrets and spawn resolutions of their own.

Chinese (Also known as the Spring Festival): 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The idea is like that of the American and European New Year celebrations.

Jewish, Religious – Pesach (Passover): The 1st Jewish month, when the time of the covenant between God and His ‘bride’ Israel began. It was a new beginning for her.

Jewish, Agricultural – Rosh Hashanah: The 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Interestingly, while this is the official State New Year, it also closely relates to God’s covenant. This New Year begins with the Feast of Trumpets and introduces a time of repentance, forgiveness, and rest.

Because we know of the good and bad things we’ve done or that the current year has brought, the thought of a ‘better’ new year can bring anticipation of good things to come! We want to change what we don’t like; this is where ‘repentance’ (even for the non-religious) comes into play. We’re sorry for the behaviors we don’t like and, therefore, vow to change. It’s harder than it seems! Here are three guidelines for helping you achieve your dreams and goals.

First, you must set goals for yourself. Follow the SMART principle:

Specific. Be clear about what you would like to accomplish!

Measurable. How will you know whether you’re succeeding?

Attainable. You probably won’t be a millionaire by the age of 50 – especially if you’re, well, 60.

Relevant. Why try to be a better poker player if your goal is to overcome gambling addiction?

Timely. When should you achieve your goals?

Second, if you intend to have a new beginning in Christ or embrace a lifestyle change, you must PLAN to achieve your goals! To quote some silly movie line: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Third, we can rarely accomplish large tasks independently, especially when dealing with weaknesses or temptations. The Spirit of God can provide strength and guidance, and accountability partners give us direction, wisdom, strength, and discipline to be successful.

Join me next week to explore whether God should be known as the “I Am” or “I Will Be.”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley