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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 139–41 

Book Review

Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church

Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2002. 192 pages.

Reviewed by Tripp York

Never ones to be accused of practicing common sense, authors Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow present us with an engaging book that ventures to reveal the difference between Christian sense and worldly cents. Tired of the church masquerading as a drag queen, Christianity Incorporated is an attempt to reveal what the church loses when it endeavors to sponsor—or be sponsored by—large corporations. “Institutional cross-dressing,” as the authors label it, can only leave the church wearing no clothes (7).

Budde and Brimlow recognize the recent trend toward “spiritual fulfillment” and how large corporations are utilizing it. Microsoft and Disney realize that if they are going to get the best out of their employees then it may require the resources of the church (assuming that the church is something like a spiritual gas tank). The church is employed only insofar as it can keep the working class spiritually satiated. In particular, it functions in a mediatorial role between wealthy owners and those lower on the totem pole. The authors argue that this role, that of chaplaincy, grants for-profit corporations the ability to exploit the resources of the church for the benefit of contemporary capitalism (25).

Budde and Brimlow are concerned that such corporate exploitation of the church “will contribute to the further trivialization of Christianity and the domestication of the radical gospel of Jesus” (47). Chaplaincy (for the military or the firm) demands the almost impossible task of the church’s capacity to “situate themselves within the belly of such powerful institutions while still attempting to preserve their ecclesial independence” (11). The authors are very skeptical of the chaplains’ ability to accomplish this, since chaplaincy compels churches to operate within a {140} certain structure of rules, habits, and practices created and sustained by non-Christian powers. Chaplaincy, argues Budde and Brimlow, “accepts the assumptions of the institutions in which it operates” and insulates itself from any critique that the gospel might level toward these powers (51). The church is not to instill its own practices and beliefs on the workplace, but to bend to the prevailing economic order that creates the very haggard persons the church must now keep going. Prophetic tendencies from the church are annihilated in the name of accommodation to the existing order.

Chaplaincy requires, at minimum, a base legitimation of the powers that be. It accepts the particular formation which capitalism produces and is, therefore, incapable of recognizing what practices are forming Christian accounts of money (55-67). Herein, for the authors, lies the problem: Christian formation is not occurring at the level of ecclesial authority, but by an economic system that tells us to drink a lot of Pepsi and buy a lot of stuff. Insofar as the church is willing to sell its resources to the highest bidder, it blinds itself to its own unique habits and becomes but a pawn in service to the firm.

Rather than provide care for capitalism’s causalities, the authors argue that the church should be interrogating the very system that creates such casualties (13). Instead of functioning in the service of what the authors label the “principalities and powers,” the church should be providing an alternative, genuine means of existence for those who refuse to separate discipleship from their wallets. Christians must envision a different world: a world predicated not upon competition, but on charity.

A truthful account of charity depends on a truthful account of economics. Christian economics, claim Budde and Brimlow, are derivative of the Sermon on the Mount, not the Fortune 500 (156-66). The politics of Jesus, to appropriate a Yoderian phrase, produces ecclesial experiments like the Catholic Worker, Reba Place Fellowship, The Missionaries of Charity, and the churches in the Book of Acts. All of these “experiments” function as paradigmatic examples of how the church deals with money. The church is called to be an alternative community, a signal to the world that Christ makes possible a way of life unlike anything in the world (166). To send members into a rival community with the aim of obliging secular forms of reason is an injustice to both the church and the world. The failure of the church to be the church robs the world of its only resource to know that it is the world.

Christianity Incorporated is an important book. It is an essential read for those Christians who believe that the way things are is not the {141} way things should be. It is a book concerned with formation and, therefore, wishes to name what is forming Christians and to what expense. This, however, poses something of a problem when it comes to the acquisition of this book. I suggest that the first step to our rehabilitation—and much to the author’s chagrin (though, hopefully not)—requires that one not purchase this book. Rather, steal it. Better yet—and in continuity with Christian orthodoxy—borrow it and then loan it to someone else.

Tripp York, Ph.D. student and Research Intern
Center of Ethics and Values
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois

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