Consumerism and capitalism

* I greatly enjoyed Rodney Clapp's article "Why the Devil Takes Visa" [Oct. 7]. We, as a church in North America (indeed, the West), need to seriously examine our economic beliefs in the light of biblical revelation, and we need to examine our approach to biblical revelation in the light of (among other things) our history as a church. This Clapp has done, and I applaud him.

I wish Clapp had spent more time discussing a good definition of capitalism before talking at length about it. The article seems to assume that "capitalism" is a fairly unambiguous concept and then often uses the term interchangeably with "American consumerism." I think I know what he means, but I can imagine some will duck the article's force while quibbling over what exactly counts as "capitalism" and "consumerism."

Myron Penner
Liberty University
Lynchburg, Va.

* Rodney Clapp's article on consumerism was fine as far as it went. But the fact that spiritual pursuits and financial gain have been awkwardly commingled in North America is a simple consequence of our history as a European colony. Half of the passengers of the Mayflower were Anglican entrepreneurs who teamed up with their fellow travelers, the Pilgrims, to establish a colony whose goals were both economic and spiritual. The trip itself was financed by London merchants who, in an era before credit cards, issued debt to the colonists that they expected would be repaid. The Pilgrims had to borrow as much as modern Christians do today, so there's really nothing new about the need to go into debt to finance religious ideals. It seems to work just fine, actually.

Carl Briggs
Philippi, Wyo.

* I have been reading CT since my early days of college. The majority of the magazine's latest issue was advertising. Does this mean the Devil has taken CT? Eleven CDs for one cent is pretty tempting!

Dr. Richard Cockman
Charlotte, Fla.

Clapp's article became an excellent call to fight the pervasive evil of consumerism. We need to hear more of it; but many a pastor will testify that preaching on finances is one of the quickest ways to anger members.

There is no doubt that Americans misuse their wealth, but what a long, strange trip Clapp took in order to say that. I am an economist and have spent some time studying economic development in the West as well as in Third World countries, so Clapp is walking on ground familiar to me.

Why drag capitalism through the mud of consumerism? Clapp admits that the strength of consumerism is insatiability, which is as old as humanity. I disagree that the "idealization and constant encouragement of insatiability" is unique to modern consumerism. Has Clapp read Ecclesiastes? Consumerism is nothing more than the sinful nature in man that tempts all of us to eat too much, drink too much, think too highly of ourselves, and want too much power over others. It originates in man and is therefore universal and timeless.

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Contrary to what Clapp thinks, consumers are born, not made.

As other countries gain in wealth, they misuse it in much the same way as Americans do. On the other hand, I have seen research which shows that no country in the world has as much private philanthropy as the U.S.

Roger D. McKinney
Anadarko, Okla.

I love CT. It was a lifeline for me during seven challenging years in the Muslim world. Now it's the only magazine I take time to read (I'm a doctoral student). But it is good to remember as we attempt to respond to the problems of a society engulfed in consumerism that Christians who live in hostile environments, and fight for every spiritual breath they take, think the American church is sinking along with the rest of the culture.

Kenneth Berding
Glenside, Pa.

In examining the historical roots of this culture, Clapp falls into a common trap in assuming that Charles G. Finney and other evangelists endorsed the ethos of individualism and market-driven capitalism that began to flourish in the Age of Jackson.

Finney certainly preached that each person is a free moral agent who must repent of sin and willingly choose to serve Christ. But Finney defined sin as selfishness—each individual "aiming to promote his own private happiness, in a way that is opposed to the general good." Salvation produces holiness, which he and other evangelicals in the tradition of Jonathan Edwards defined as "disinterested benevolence."

Nor is it true that "peddlers were fixtures on the fringes of revival meetings," at least when Finney was preaching. This may have been so at rural camp meetings, but in cities like Utica and Rochester in the late 1820s and 1830s, shopkeepers closed their stores during revivals in order to concentrate the community's attention on spiritual things.

Consumer capitalism emerged within a society that was influenced by Puritanism and evangelical revivalism—and preachers and pitchmen no doubt learned from one another—but it represents a twisting of those religious traditions. The gospel has always called believers to turn from selfishness and live for others.

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Pastor Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe
Church of the Apostles
Lancaster, Pa.

* We know the world is full of crass commercialism, but so is your magazine. I pulled out 8 postcards advertising various items, need a calculator to count your ads, and wonder how you have the nerve to talk about consumerism and its evils when you are purveying same.

Fran Rushing
Lexington, Mo.

Intelligent political conversation
What a delight to see three contemporary spokesmen engage in an intelligent political conversation ["One Lord, One Faith, One Voice?" Oct. 7], encouraging me to rethink the issues that are or should be important to evangelicals today! While I have found myself disagreeing with each of them from time to time, I came away from the article with increased respect for each. One regret, though: the discussion was almost entirely reactive; no attempt was made to articulate a positive Christian agenda in the sociopolitical sphere. For example, what about adoption? I can think of no more compassionate response to a selfish and anti-life culture than for us, as a family of God's adopted children, to organize a massive effort to tear down all the obstacles to adoption so that loving families can take in needy children from across the nation and around the world.

Lee Piatt
Dallas, Pa.

* Tony Campolo's response to the question "How does each of you feel about the implications of the Romer decision?" in the "Gay Rights and the Supreme Court" section of the interview was very disappointing. He used the classic debater's technique of putting his opponents on the defensive by blaming the Court's decision on a Republican-appointed conservative justice and then asserting that heterosexual divorces are a more serious problem to family values than the legalization of homosexual marriages. Other than to say that he does not endorse gays wanting to live together in committed relationships, Campolo in no way shows that he believes in the biblical view of homosexuality as a sin, nor does he share the grave concern of Colson and Reed toward the Romer decision.

Other than Campolo's concern about evangelical Christians looking to the world like gay bashers, why is he so weak in characterizing homosexuality as a sin and pointing out the perils to our society of the homosexual agenda?

Jesse G. Moore
Flushing, Mich.

Obscuring Father Menno's doctrines
Menno Simons ["The Mennonites' Dirty Little Secret," Oct. 7] would be hard put to recognize many of our widely disparate groups today who still wear the name of his rescuing movement and efforts of 1535-39. We Mennonites would be well served were God to raise up another Menno Simons among us to give a clarion call to repentance and a return to "deeply biblical, thoroughly Christocentric [leadership], steeped in the evangelical language of the New Birth and the Great Commission," from which many have departed. Our common denominator nowadays seems to have been reduced merely to pacifism, do-goodism, and an over-occupation with our cultural heritage, obscuring the basic doctrines that Father Menno so clearly articulated.

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Les Troyer
Boone, N.C.

Family reunion
Thank you for the survey of the "Movers and Shapers of Modern Evangelicalism" in your Fortieth Anniversary Issue [Sept. 16]. I became a Christian, while serving in the military, through the Navigators ministry. This life-on-life investment and challenge to seriously develop as a Christian naturally led to many of the printed resources authored by the individuals spotlighted in your magazine.

These individuals have significantly impacted my spiritual development, and as a result, are part of my spiritual heritage. I am one of many who has been "moved and shaped" by the work of these people. Thank you for the family reunion.

William F. Wood, Jr.
Berkeley Lake, Ga.

* Your magazine played a role in my Christian growth. I came to this country from the Philippines in 1959 to pursue the medical specialty of internal medicine and hematology. Shortly thereafter, I became a true Christian believer. When I started my medical private practice, an anonymous person subscribed to Christianity Today for me. For someone who had no formal biblical education, ct was very deep reading for me at that time. However, I was challenged in my deeper walk with God. Since this country had offered me postdoctoral studies in medicine and a graduate degree in counseling psychology, I thought that my studies would not be complete without seminary; therefore, I embarked on this schooling and completed my doctor of ministry degree in 1993.

CT played a role in my growth both intellectually and spiritually. I am thankful for the writings and personal walk with the Lord of people like Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, John R. W. Stott, the five missionary martyrs in Ecuador, and many others. I am thankful to God for the witness of people through Christianity Today.

Phil H. Regualos, Jr., M.D., D.Min.
Battle Creek, Mich.

It's easy to get frustrated as we strive for what God wants his church to be. Thank you for your encouraging survey of evangelicalism's recent history, reminding us of how far we've already come.

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Prof. Craig Keener
Eastern Baptist Seminary
Wynnewood, Pa.

Kudos to Steve Saint for his "Did They Have to Die?" retrospective on the deaths of the five American missionaries in Ecuador in January 1956, an account made all the more poignant by his father, Nate Saint, being numbered among the martyrs. Given Steve Saint's subsequent friendships with the converted savages who killed his father, the article was unsettling to my long-held acceptance of capital punishment as the just punishment for murder (and "proved" by news accounts of Polly Klaas's killer's contemptible courtroom behavior at the time of his sentencing yesterday).

Peter Kushkowski
Haddam, Conn.

The articles in your September 16 issue were among the best ever. The choices you made were excellent.

One little remark, however, merits attention: Kenneth Kantzer's statement that "[J. Gresham] Machen never wished to be called a fundamentalist." Circumstances on one occasion solicited from him the dictum that, if pressed, he would indeed go on record as being a "fundamentalist from the word Go."

Your readers might like to know that Roger Nicole, an outstanding evangelical theologian, played no small part in shaping the evangelical world for half a century and that he was the architect and builder of the Gordon Divinity School's library from its small beginnings to its present excellency and size of more than 100,000 volumes.

Burton L. Goddard
Quincy, Pa.

* Thank you for "What Evangelicalism Has Accomplished," by Roger Nicole, which encourages a greatly appreciated fragrance of respect and gratitude for evangelical leadership of the last 50 years. Some seem to have overlooked being gracious and forgiving of possible imperfections. They may have forgotten the good that God made of it all. This informative review balances the somewhat "less than positive" attitudes of a few who feel that churches of the past half-century failed them or deprived them of insights they now hold. Nicole helps us remember that leaders may not have done everything, but what they did they did well and in a wholehearted manner. I rejoice that their efforts were blessed by our Lord.

Don Ryder,
Sebring, Fla.

Biblical counseling
As a person trained in biblical counseling, I was attracted to the article "Hurting Helpers" by Steve Rabey [Sept. 16]. The first attraction was the diagram labeled "The Roots and Shoots of Christian Psychology." I was concerned as I scanned the tree that there was no mention of the "nouthetic" or "biblical" counseling movement. Has not the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation represented by Jay Adams and David Powlison made considerable contributions to Christian counseling?

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My other concern came as I read the article. I much appreciated the criticism and defense format allowing for both sides to be heard. Yet, in the section entitled "Critics," the content of four books was summed up in two sentences, and Gary Collins responded, defending a broad and varied industry, also with two sentences. This issue calls for a much more dense dialogue. Your average Christian is left with dangerously little information to utilize in thinking through this issue.

Darryl M. Rearson
Philadelphia, Pa.

ERA: Agreement and unity
News media reporting seeks to provide at least two points of view on almost any issue. However, it sometimes results in diluting the importance of an event. Such was the case in the September 16 issue of ct that reported on progress toward resolution of the New Era bankruptcy case. Regrettably, the article focused on one vocal, dissenting view. I would have hoped that the largest charity fraud and the most complex bankruptcy case in U.S. history might have produced an article dealing with the unparalleled accomplishment embodied in the settlement agreement.

This agreement could not have come together without many lawyers working together, and that is what makes it so phenomenal! The broad goals of the Christian leaders who came together to form United Response to New Era have been: (1) the avoidance of litigation among ministries; (2) ultimate recovery of 100 percent of the losses to ministries hurt by New Era; and (3) restoration of trust between the donor public and charities through a positive Christian witness for our Lord. The latter goal actually represents the culmination of the whole effort.

In [the entire] process, we believe ECFA has participated in gaining a hearing for the gospel among the many fine lawyers and charities involved in the negotiation and implementation of this agreement. The level of agreement and unity around this complex bankruptcy agreement is a testimony to the grace of God in intervening in the lives of so many individuals and organizations affected. To him alone we give all glory and honor.

Paul D. Nelson, President
Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability
Washington, D.C.

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Setting the record straight
I appreciated the article "From the Fringe to the Fold" [July 15] and want to compliment Ruth Tucker and Christianity Today for accurate and objective reporting.

I thought it prudent to correct certain inaccurate statements in David Covington's letter in the September 16 issue. (1) Our bylaws are not unavailable to church members. In fact, they were printed earlier this year in the church newspaper. (2) While we centrally process donations, it is untrue that congregations receive "few services in return." All pastoral salaries, most pastoral expenses, and local building expenses and many other local expenses are paid directly by our headquarters in Pasadena. Most of the church's total revenue is specifically dedicated to the support of the local congregations, directly and indirectly. (3) Speaking as someone who attends almost every board meeting, it is also untrue that the pastor general operates in a dictatorial style and without board collaboration. (4) Finally, it is untrue that the pastor general was given a secret raise. Shortly after assuming his position, he was given the salary that comes with the job, which was significantly reduced from the salaries of his predecessors. No raise has been given since.

Bernard W. Schnippert, Treasurer
Worldwide Church of God
Pasadena, Calif.

Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address. Send to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/ 260-0114. E-mail: Letters preceded by " * " were received online.

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