How do Christians swim against the tide of 21st Century consumerism and individualism - against this prevailing belief system that is doing society no good?
A Christian life, centered on the teachings of Jesus, should be first and foremost about loving God and loving our neighbors.
But this is challenging when all around us we are urged to consume more and more "stuff", to spend our way out of recession, and to identify ourselves with specific brands, for example, regardless of how this may be affecting other people, near and far. We are storing up "debts" in the way we live our lives, and sooner or later this must be repaid. This is not just about money, but also about fossil fuels, relationships and more.
This thoughtful, scholarly and well-written book identifies a better way, a way that is best for us and society, whilst also providing us with a happier and more fulfilling life.
It is brought to us from the Jubilee Centre, an organization that "explores a wide range of social, economic and political issues, seeking to provide a positive response to the challenges faced by individuals, communities and policymakers...from a distinctively faith-based perspective." It complements the Centre's earlier Jubilee Manifesto, which offers a relational basis for how Christians can live their faith in society, and it is supported by a seven-part practical course which follows the chapters in the book: looking at Consumer culture v. Christianity, how we spend our time, the issues around sex, shopping, the environmental impact of our social footprint, worship, and our spiritual health.
The book encourages discussion and debate and offers practical guidelines around some of our biggest societal issues today, within a relational framework. It reminds us that for a Christian "Me" is only one half of a relationship, the other half being God, or another person, or a group of people.
There are useful meditations and further questions to consider at the end of each chapter, and the book concludes with two appendices, providing a background to the current financial crisis, and looking at the complexities of Fairtrade, which is not quite as simple as it seems. The book is also well annotated and supplies plenty of suggestions for further reading.
For any thinking Christians who want to be true to their faith 24 hours a day and not just on Sundays, this is an excellent resource. It also challenges our churches to practise in the wider world what they preach from the pulpit.
The excellent and challenging course, Jubilee Lifestyle: How putting relationships first changes everything, which draws its material from the book, could fruitfully be used for a Lent course or other church house-group over a period of weeks or months.
Eleanor Stoneham is author of Healing this Wounded Earth, and Why Religions Work: God's Place in the World today.