John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

On Lattes and the Lord's Table

A couple of years ago, a guy from Eerdman's Publishing stumbled across the blog. Somehow he got the impression that I had some influence especially among a more emergent-leaning crowd (perhaps he got me confused with Scot McKnight), and he offered to give me several new books from Eerdman's catalog in case I wanted to mention them on my blog. Of course, I mention my own books all the time, and I'm not sure how much that helps sales. But that's another story. Never mind. Anyway....

One of the books he sent was by Paul Louis Metzger, professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. The book is titled Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, and the first irony of all is that it's an academic book with a Foreword by Donald Miller.

Here's what Metzger says about coffee bars in church:

"I like a latte as much as the next person does. Coffee bars have their place -- but they are problematic at the back of a sanctuary, especially when there is no Lord's table in front. That's because the coffee bar and the Lord's table are symbolic: both are symbols that communicate powerfully their use of 'sacred' space. The coffee bar connotes pleasure and leisure (good things in their own right), whereas the Lord's table always connotes joy though suffering: the bloody grapes of wrath have become a river of life. Like coffee bars with their sweetly flavored lattes, many churches (subliminally) suggest that the church will provide those who attend with the very things the world does -- everything involved in self-fulfillment. Christ, on the other hand, drank from a very different cup, one that was bittersweet, in order to bring meaning, purpose, and life."

I'm not saying Metzger's completely accurate in his criticism, but I do think he's got a point. When I go to Starbucks, I know what I want, I tell them what I want, and if I don't get what I want, I complain. I custom order (usually a grande, triple-shot, vanilla latte), and they make it right there just for me. I'm willing to pay for the service, but let's not pretend it's something it isn't. It's a consumer-driven, well-marketed, relatively expensive product.

If we ever get to the point where churches allow (or, God forbid, actually encourage) people to think Christianity is a consumer-driven, well-marketed, relatively expensive product...well...something's gone terribly wrong. I don't belly up to the Lord's Table and custom order something to wet my whistle or boost my energy.

What do you think? Do lattes threaten to replace the Lord's Table in some places? How would you know a church is headed down that path?