A Skeptic of the Transformation Enterprise

Good News for the weary Advent Amazon shopper. An amazing bit from Phillip Cary’s Good […]

Ethan Richardson / 12.10.14

Good News for the weary Advent Amazon shopper. An amazing bit from Phillip Cary’s Good News for Anxious Christians, which I am unashamedly speed-reading this Advent. Consumerist? No way! Cary here is talking about the false, consumerist focus on change, and how that focus has bled into the way we think about our very souls. Rather than helping us see that our lives should not be about us, Cary says this kind of transformation-trance makes us incapable of thinking about anything but. Our attention deficit leads us perpetually into the trap of correcting the selves that Christ came to transform.


Ever feel like you’re not being transformed often enough? It’s one of those “what’s wrong with me?” kind of feelings, essentially a new type of guilt. It’s indicated by clich├ęs that don’t even exist when many of us were young: you’re unwilling to go “outside your comfort zone,” you’re afraid to think “outside the box,” you’re unable to “move on with your life.” What’s wrong with you? You keep wanting to do the same old thing, the thing you’re good at, as if life was about being faithful to what’s past, not getting on to something new.

My suggestion is that this is the guilt a consumer culture wants you to feel for not being a good consumer. What makes a good consumer is a short attention span, meaning that you quickly get tired of the same old thing and keep wanting to get new things–lots of new things…And the new things you’re supposed to desire are not always material things. Spirituality is now a consumerist enterprise too, offering every kind of personal transformation. Not only must you update your wardrobe and you computer on a regular basis, you must update yourself. It’s not just that you need a makeover, a new diet, a better body (like every spring when the personal magazines make women anxious by reminding them that swimsuit season is approaching), but also a new consciousness, new experiences, maybe a new life, or at least a new marriage…To be intent on staying the same old person as before means you won’t want the new stuff or the new experiences that are always being offered by consumer culture and consumerist spirituality.

…Think about what’s wrong with this kind of sales pitch. What makes you an ordinary Christian, after all? Isn’t the answer faith in Christ? And what power and blessing do ordinary Christians receive, just by this faith? In other words, what is the gift we receive by faith alone? Surely the answer is has to be nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. The idea that we are supposed to have some superior blessing beyond that is profoundly perverse–as if Christ were not the fount of every blessing, the one in whom we find all holiness and goodness and wisdom for our lives (see 1 Cor 1:24, 30). It’s an idea that makes our experiences–which is to say, ourselves–into the focus of our lives. And that’s why “transformative experiences” get so shallow. We remain the same ever-changing consumeristic self through all the transformations.

Whereas, what we have, if we are nothing but ordinary Christians, is greater than all the experiences in the world. We have Christ himself, God in person, the Bridegroom, the Beloved who gave his life for us and who promised to give his own Spirit to be with us. Everything else is inessential.