Religion and Culture Web Forum

The Megachurch is a logical extension of the American (and global) marketization of religion in a culture suffused by an economy of consumer desire. As they say, "We are all capitalists now." And so, Christianity must do its best to fit into that model and mode of desire, and it does. It gives us what we need: salvation; hope; heaven; ecstasy; peak performance; a marriage market; religious entertainment, and an outlet for charity. In the midst of our culture of consumption, we consume a religion that fills the needs of our desires. And megachurches are expert at that task. However, Bell's megachurch, I will argue, reversed that trend; he built in his short tenure at Mars Hill Bible Church, an economy of desire oriented toward community, a way of descent, solidarity with the poor and independence from state loyalties. The question is how did he do it? I would argue this experiment was a kind of sociological miracle. Capitalism absorbs most critics, and in the end, it seems to have absorbed Bell as well. Or, at least, that is one of the questions for this paper.

James Wellman (PhD, University of Chicago Divinity School) is Professor and Chair of the Comparative Religion at the Jackson School of International Studies. He teaches in the area of American religious culture, history and politics. His newest book, Rob Bell and the New American Christianity (Abingdon Press, 2012), is a cultural biography of the popular and controversial evangelical megachurch pastor, Rob Bell. In the research and writing stage is a national study of twelve national megachurches and how they now monopolize American religion, High on God: How the Megachurch Conquered America (Oxford University Press, 2015). 

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Image: VCU World Religions and Spirituality Project 

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The Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum is an online forum for thought-provoking discussion on the relationship of scholarship in religion to culture and public life. Each month the Marty Center, the research arm of the University of Chicago Divinity School, invites a scholar of religion to comment on his or her own research in a way that "opens out" to themes, problems, and events in world cultures and contemporary life. Scholars from diverse fields of study are invited to offer responses to these commentaries.

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The Religion and Culture Web Forum is edited by Emily D. Crews, Divinity School PhD student in the History of Religions.