Buying God: Consumerism and Theology by Eve Poole
If you have ever wondered what a preacher might say about consumerism, other than assign to it a range of assumed evils, this book is a valuable resource. Beginning with an exploration and succinct explanation of theologians who have contributed to the field of consumerism and culture. Poole divides the area into three theological areas: Worldview, Etiquette and Good. Worldview theologians ‘tend to press theology into the service of a particular mission or view of reality’ (9). They include Niebuhr, Cobb, Jones and Kort. Etiquette theology, as defined here, concerns theological method. Among them are Tracy, Lindbeck, Frei and Williams. Good theology synthesises the best of these in order to bring together orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Part two of the book looks at God and Consumerism, beginning by defining consumerism – the daily routine of capitalism. Theological and secular analyses follow.
Helpfully, the desire to consume is described as ‘entirely normal and not necessarily theologically problematic’ (97). Overall within the book this desire is linked to ‘yearning’ – indeed the book is prefaced by a verse from Bianco da Siena’s hymn, ‘And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far outpass the power of human telling.’ A comprehensive list of thinkers is recruited to the argument in this part of the book. Thus far the book informs and develops thinking, enabling preachers to explore issues in a thorough and informed way.
It is perhaps Chapter 8 which might prove of most use, however. ‘The Consumption Audit’ suggests a range of ways in which people can be encouraged to consider their own consumption. It begins with attitudes to consuming our very selves, with encouragement to value our bodies and minds as creations of God that need to be cared for. Use of time, talents and other people is also considered. Perhaps the most interesting suggestion preachers might usefully adopt is scrupulously practical. Rather than talk in general terms about giving, spending or use of money, Poole suggests that people examine their own bank statements, highlighting purchases with green, red or amber for good, questionable or negative. It seems a useful and non-threatening way of encouraging people to reflect on their own spending.
The final section, Resources, contains a Consumer’s Prayer, ‘A Month of Virtue’ with questions for each day (What might you strive for today?), A Consumption Audit, a list of resources and biblical texts on money. The book concludes with a suggested six-week Reflection Course. For preachers looking for new ways to address the topic of money, this book is a useful resource. For churches who use sermon series, the six-week course is worthy of consideration.
Reviewer: Liz Shercliff, Resources and Reviews Editor, Director of Studies in the Diocese of Chester
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