The Market Driven Church: The Worldly Influence of Modern Culture on the Church in America

By Udo W. Middleman
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2004). 208 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 167-168

A number of warnings and critiques against the so-called “Church Growth Movement” and the encroachment on ministry of secular models of business and marketing principles have appeared. The title of this work seems to fall into that genre, but that is incorrect. Instead of focusing on the “usual suspects” of Rick Warren and Saddleback, Willow Creek and Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral, and others (in fact none of those people or ministries are even mentioned in the book), this work focuses on the role of “individual” Christians and how the “worldly influence of modern culture” is improperly driving the worldview and spiritual decision-making process of individual believers.

The author is the president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation and a longtime associate of the L’Abri Ministry. The book is extremely well researched and has a useful subject index.

The work is an examination and critique of American Christianity and the author’s examination of the difference between “what is Christian and what is merely personal religion” (28). The author presents a historical and philosophical examination of the issue rather than an exegetical or even theological one. He fails to present a clear introduction, so it is often difficult to follow or even identify his thesis. The book is difficult to follow as the chapters are disjointed and lack a flow.

The concern of the author is clearly what he views as the detriments of a “personal” Christianity, which he defines as “private and individualistic” (148). He says, “Personal experience alone is a poor criterion for understanding who God is, what he has said, and what plan he might have for my life. What worked in my case is but itself not necessarily true, just, or good” (149). He also makes a strange remark that a harmful shift in Christian thinking “lies in the assumption that events, history, and life itself is a manifestation of the will of God” (163). He argues that “we now live in an abnormal world. Sin has destroyed what God had in mind and what he, successfully of course, had made” (163). This seems to indicate that God is not sovereign over the daily affairs of life and that somehow the fall entirely thwarted God’s purposes. In other places, however, that does not seem to be the author’s contention, such as in his discussion of Calvin’s theology on 168-69. But even here he bemoans the fact that Reformed theology was corrupted at the Synod of Dordt where the “teaching of the Bible was transformed into something quite similar to the Koran in the view of God’s sovereignty and his relation to history and creation” (169).

All in all, the good points in this book must be culled out from a rather convoluted and disorganized whole. Some of the warnings are helpful and made forcefully, but little is presented in terms of concrete corrections. This is a book that lacks a clear direction, fails to identify a particular audience, and whose goal is left to the personal imagination of the reader.