Tuesday, March 11, 2014

AmeriChrist, Inc.: A Spiritual and Economic Survey of the American Jesus Industry

What you are reading here is the last phase of my doctoral program.

Well, it's sort of a doctoral program.  Meaning, I'm not going to be a doctor in the sense that I'd be much help removing a bullet and stitching you up afterwards.  I mean, I'd be up for trying if you needed me to, and while I'm sure you'd 1) do plenty of invoking the Deity during the process and 2) be more likely to meet Jesus shortly thereafter, I'm not sure that's my calling.

I'm also not going to have a Ph.D., having found a fascinating and minute niche in the millennia of my tradition over which I can declare my expertitude.   I will not be going to conferences and earnestly presenting my recently published dissertation, Curds and The Way: The Implicit Christology of Cheese in Hebrew Speculative Wisdom and the Deuteronomic Histories.

What?  That's already been done?  Dagnabbit.

I'm getting a D.Min., which is kind of an..ahem.."executive" doctorate.  You know, me being an Iconic Senior Executive Pastor and all.  Or maybe it's a doctorate lite.  Maybe "seminary-plus."  So there's no dissertation, but instead a "project paper."  It's inherently interdisciplinary, and oriented towards a mix of practice and bigger-scope thinking.

I still have hopes for my own TARDIS at the end of it.  We'll see.

For the next couple of months, I'll be researching the project and writing it, but I'm approaching the writing of it a little differently.  I just don't see any point in pretending I'm an academic, or that I'm writing an academic paper.

I'm a pastor.  My task, even as I engage in research and explication, is to write something that doesn't just speak to a subfield of academe, or to other pastors.  It has to be relevant, speaking into the reality of where our faith is right now.

If it's not, then why bother?  Life is short and precious.

Whatever I produce, I'm obligated to share it.  Thankfully, that sharing is part of the program.  In fact, it's a requirement.  Not a defense, per se, but a "making public" of what you're thinking.  So I'll be doing that here.  Blogging it, at least the parts that will be the meat of the writing.  The dense underlying footnotes and research?  That'll be in the book I hope will come out of this project, the title of which you'll find above.

What it's going to be, at this point, is twofold.

The first part of the project is a good hard look at the way profit-seeking behavior...the ethics of the marketplace...have folded into our expectations about what it means to follow Jesus.  Those values shape our understanding of leadership.  They shape our understanding of our communities, and our place in those communities.  They form the way we approach our music, our storytelling, and our sharing of the good news.  We think of growing our share, and marketing, and branding, and optics.

The Jesus business is a-booming.

Does a market-shaped faith work?  Sure it does.  It spreads like gangbusters.  But so did the faith spread on the edge of Constantine's sword.

And that, if we care about our souls, is a problem.

The second part of the project will be an alternative.  Critique is all well and good, but our world is full of critics.  If you offer no light and grace and hope in return, then you're just tearing down to tear down.  This won't be an imaginary alternative, either.  I intend to highlight communities that are doing small right.  These are the places that are less about organizational growth and more about living into values that more brightly represent the intensely countercultural message of Jesus.

So I invite you to read along with me, as I write.