Jesus' Ministry Included External Experiences

There has been a good amount of conversation in the past few days on this blog and others about a critique of a quote from Tony and me in a book by Skye Jethani. One of the comments that was recently left was quite intriguing to me--and I'd love to get more dialogue about its' substance.

To give context to the comment, here is the quote from The Divine Commodity:

These pastors [Tim & Tony], representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences. If our worship gatherings are energetic, stimulating, and exciting enough then people will attend, receive what’s being communicated, and be spiritually transformed. The justification for this approach is simple: people won’t come to a church that’s boring. And what qualifies as boring is defined by our consumer/experience economy. But the moment we believe transformation occurs via external experiences, the emphasis of ministry must adjust accordingly. Manufacturing experiences and meticulously controlling staged environments become the means for advancing Christ’s mission. And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, “Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth!” In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman. (p.75)

And here is a portion of the comment that was left by Bruce Cole of Huntley, IL:

More to the substance of Skye's contention...I don't know how we separate life transformation from external experience. It's not an either/or, but a both/and. I understand the transformations brought to individuals by Jesus to be connected to external experiences as well as internal ones (touching the hem of his garment; a conversation with him at a well; calming a storm; walking on water...). In Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians, I understand the external experience of hearing the Word of God preached as a key (possibly chief) means of the Holy Spirit's transformative work.

And I look at 2000 years of liturgical history (leitourgia - work of the people) as the history of people constructing environments as means for advancing Christ's mission. In fact, the more "high church" liturgical, the more tightly controlled it is. To call it "manufacturing" is pejorative. What possible expression of corporate worship is not constructed and characterized by external experience? None that I can think of.

Very thought-provoking words by Bruce Cole. What do you say?

Tim Stevens12 Comments