What better book could there be to recommend on the first Sunday of Advent? For more on what the Advent Conspiracy is, see John’s recent post here, Plotting an Advent Conspiracy. You might also be interested in this video with one of the AC instigators Chris Seay, talking about slowing our pace during the holidays.
This review originally appeared in The Englewood Review of Books…
“To Honor the Incarnation”
A Review of
Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?
By Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Consumerism is one of the greatest challenges facing the churches in North America today. Regardless of our own personal assets (or lack thereof), we are living in one of the wealthiest nations in the history of humankind and with our great wealth, we indulge ourselves with all sorts of amusements, luxuries and labor-saving devices at great cost to ourselves, the environment and the health and security of all humankind. It is one of the greatest contemporary ironies in the Church that our bondage to consumerism becomes most apparent during the season in which Christ followers have traditionally celebrated the birth of the Christ child. For the last several years, the Advent Conspiracy has been challenging churches to put our consumerist practices under careful scrutiny, especially during the Christmas season. And now the three pastors that founded the Advent Conspiracy – Rick McKinley of Portland’s Imago Dei Church, Chris Seay of Houston’s Ecclesia and Greg Holder of St. Louis’ The Crossing – have written a book that challenges us to “Spend less,” “Give more,” “Love All” and “Worship Fully.”
The authors, however, begin this new book Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?, with the declaration that consumerism is the “fastest-growing religion in the world”:
The fastest-growing religion in the world is not Islam or Christianity; the symbol of this rising faith is not the star and crescent or the cross, but a dollar sign. This expanding belief system is radical consumerism. It promises transcendence, power, pleasure, and fulfillment even as it demands complete devotion. Many American Christians have decided they can, to put it bluntly, love both God and money. … American Christians have incorporated their devotion to consumerism with their Christian faith. Yet every step we make toward consumerism is one step farther off the path of Jesus the Liberating King (21-22).
In confronting the religion of consumerism, the Advent Conspiracy authors have provided us with a wonderful, challenging and easy-to-read book that calls us to repent and bow in worship before the Christ child, God who in the perfect act of love became human. Indeed, of the authors’ three main points, worship is primary and is the point that they address first. To truly worship someone or something, the authors observe, is to desire it. They re-trace the story of Christ’s birth, showing how the people in this story – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men – are compelled to worship in the presence of Christ the newborn King. Thus, they challenge us with pointed questions: “What might happen, if at Advent and throughout the year, all of God’s people worshiped like the Magi? What transformation would occur as God’s people moved across the globe loving Jesus with our time, attention and money?” (46). The authors contend that if we can begin to re-order our desires to reflect true worship of Christ, the other practices of spending less, giving more and loving all will come more naturally for us.
Recognizing that the call to “spend less” is ambiguous and can be complicated – there are some times at which we should spend more, e.g., when directly helping others to “keep gainful employment, feed their children and get basic medical care” (56) – the authors challenge us to give simple and thoughtful gifts that fit the personality of the recipient. Reflecting on the Incarnation, the authors call us to give more of ourselves and our time. They observe:
If we can resist the trap of giving easy gifts, and if we can reject the assumption that giving expensive gifts or many gifts is the best way to express love, something else might begin to happen. We might experience moments of relational giving that our friends and family will care about and remember. Our kids will learn what it means to give gifts that are personal and meaningful. Our neighbors and coworkers and friends will watch us celebrate Christmas differently, and they’ll hear the good news loud and clear through the seasonal static. (78)
The fourth and final tenet of the Advent Conspiracy manifesto is to “love all,” and here the authors implore us to broaden the horizons of our generosity – loving and giving gifts not only to those who love us (and give us gifts) in return, but also loving and sharing with the “the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized and the sick” around the world. We can read this chapter on loving all as a response to the question: “What are we to do with the money we save by spending less on Christmas presents?” “Picture entire churches,” say the authors, “deciding that some of the money they are saving by giving relationally and resisting cultural norms should be given to the ‘least of these’ in our communities and world – that’s when Christmas makes a difference” (88).
The Advent Conspiracy book (and accompanying DVD, which I have not yet seen but for which a study guide is included at the end of the book), has a simple message that calls us to follow faithfully in the way of Jesus, not being conformed to the pattern of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). This book is an essential one; one that North American churches must prayerfully read, discuss and reflect upon this Advent season, and in so doing, we will continue to be transformed further into the image of Christ and thus bear witness to the love and reconciliation that has come in Christ for all humankind!