Hugh Whelchel has a great post over at the IFWE blog describing the impact of runaway consumerism on Christianity. He writes:
The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume… Unfortunately, many Christian critiques of consumerism focus on the dangers of idolatry—the temptation to make material goods the center of life, instead of God. Unlike materialism, consumerism is not about idolatry. It is about an identity crisis of the soul.When we define ourselves through the things we have acquired, Whelchel explains, we commit the error of seeking an identity apart from God. As serious as an identity crisis of the soul may be, consumerism isn’t all bad. In fact, Whelchel suggests that God made us to consume—at least some things. This begs the question: How can Christians balance their consumption of goods and services, while still remaining “in Christ?” A helpful passage in Matthew 25:31-46 suggests that practicing charity is at least part of the answer. Those verses describe the final judgment where the Christ will gather all people together and “set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left” (Matt. 25:33). Those on the right are told by the King they will inherit the kingdom, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matt. 25:34-36). And then a few verses later: “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” (Matt. 25:40). The King tells us charity is central to the kingdom. Yet in reviewing this portion of Matthew, I realized recently that it is preceded by the parable of the three talents, wherein a man going on a long journey entrusts each of his three servants with five talents, two talents and one talent, respectively (Matt. 25:14-15). The first two servants invest their master’s wealth and double his money, but the third servant—who had been given only one talent—buries it. When the master returns, the first two servants are praised as being “good and faithful,” while the third servant is admonished for being “wicked and slothful” (Matt. 25:20-30). Together, the description of the final judgment and the parable of the three talents suggest a powerful message about consumption, wealth and charity: We are called to use the gifts we are given to produce abundance; whatever abundance we reap really belongs to our Master; and only those who share that abundance with the “least of these” can inherit the kingdom. We can produce and acquire many things as consumers and still keep our identity in Christ, but we cannot neglect our duty to share that abundance with others.