Book Review: The Market-Driven Church, by Udo Middleman

Review
03.02.2010

There’s a certain genre of Christian writing that seeks to analyze the problems with American culture from the perspective of a friendly outsider and then observe the way the church has embraced or reflected those problems, like Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies, Fat Minds or David Wells’ No Place For Truth. Udo Middleman’s The Market-Driven Church fits more or less into this category.

Middlemann is the president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation and a longtime worker at Swiss L’Abri, so you know that he’s a sharp guy and well qualified to offer cultural criticism. In The Market-Driven Church, he attempts to give objective observations about the church in America and the state of Christianity in the nation in general. He bemoans the encroachment of marketing in the pulpit and the rise of individualism in the pews.

So, with the introducing out of the way, let’s commence the reviewing.

STRENGTHS

First, Middelmann says lots of true things and his take on the evangelical church seems spot-on. The things he doesn’t like include:

  • Christian trinkets such as mugs, bumper stickers, or T-shirts (44). Amen (although I think my aesthetic objections precede my theological objections). He rightly points out that these things seem to exist only because there is a market for them. They can make the message of the gospel seem familiar, safe, and tame. There is an “incredible lightness” to the church’s proclamation of the gospel (67).
  • The pragmatic utilitarianism that causes the church to lose interest in deep, meaningful questions (31). In the pursuit of gaudy conversion statistics (shudder), many churches do not encourage seekers to take the time necessary to ponder important questions, instead “questions and doubt as a way to advance and discover is considered suspect and a hindrance to faith and submission” (32).
  • Sermons that resemble after-dinner speeches (142). As a result of the decline of faithful exposition of Scripture, most American Christians are “increasingly unfamiliar with the old questions of life and death, of justice and God’s purposes for us as human beings… They rarely even know that these questions are part of human inquiry, history, and human obligation” (142).

Second, the book has eye-catching cover art and seems to have been printed by a professional printing house. At 208 pages, the book is substantial enough to make you feel like you’re reading a real book, but not so long that you hesitate to begin.

Third, “Udo” is kind of a cool name. It’s quirky but not “my parents are on drugs” weird. I’m actually considering it for my next kid.

WEAKNESSES

Disorganization. First, the book consists of eight chapters with no clear sense of progress or thematic connection. Anecdotes and illustrations are repeated without any indication that the author knows he’s already used them. In short, it reads like a collection of essays, though I searched in vain for any indication that that was intentional.

Few constructive suggestions. Third, it’s not too hard to criticize, and most of Middelmann’s criticisms seem accurate. But the book offers very little in the way of constructive suggestions for change. Even the last chapter of the book (titled “Conclusions”) offers little more than the same warmed-over criticisms. It would have been helpful if the author had used his considerable intellect to make a few practical suggestions for how pastors and laypeople could move towards change.

Snobbish. Fourth, maybe this is my problem, but I get tired of all the high-brow criticisms after a while. Some people are simple. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be faithful Christians or that all American Christians think in a shallow way. Not everyone has the capacity or background that would encourage them to consider the grave matters that consume the philosophers. I think that’s okay.

Nothing new. Fifth, this is my biggest criticism of the book. There’s simply nothing new or unusually insightful about it. You could easily find these same criticisms made years ago by Messrs. Wells and Guinness and a host of others. I’m not sure that this book adds anything new to the conversation.

CONCLUSION

The Market Driven Church is not terrible in a Wild-At-Heart-net-loss-for-the-gospel way, but it is a disappointment nonetheless. Skip it and go read something by David Wells.

By:
Mike McKinley

Mike is an author and the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia.