I was a Eugene Peterson fan before he translated the Bible into The Message. In his book The Jesus Way: Conversations on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way Peterson writes about the Real Jesus, and the distinction between the Real Jesus and the American Jesus. Peterson is correct about this. He is one of God's prophets for such a time as this.
- “The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal…; …The ways employed in our North American culture are conspicuously impersonal.”
- In churches today “the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names…” A "number" is an impersonal abstract object; a person is flesh-blood-and spirit real.
- “Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them.” The Real Jesus cannot and will not be used to build kingdoms alternative to his kingdom.
- “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” Which is the Consumer Church.
- In America “we are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?… [T]his is the best and most effective way for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which… we become less and Jesus becomes more.” The American consumer mentality runs so deep that many churches unreflectively replicate it.
- Is this bad? Yes. How bad? Peterson writes: “A consumer church is an antichrist church.... We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshiping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation.”
- “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential - whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers - hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow.” To verify this simply read the four Gospels and use them as a lens through which to evaluate American churches. American churches are largely dictated to by American culture. Here is where "relevant" becomes a bad idea.
- “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, everything, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus.” (To re-orient our people at Redeemer I preached through the four Gospels, chronologically. This took us seven years.)
- “The ways and means promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King.”
- “Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”
Follow Jesus, not our schizophrenic culture. Influence culture, via Jesus.