From Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways:
I have come to the conclusion that for we who live in the Western world, the major challenge to the viability of Christianity is not Buddhism, with all its philosophical appeal to the Western mind, nor is it Islam, with all the challenge that it poses to Western culture. It is not the New Age that poses such a threat...All these are challenges, no doubt, but I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism (emphasis mine). This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us.
I have little doubt that in consumerism we are now dealing with a very significant religious phenomenon. If the role of religion is to offer a sense of identity, purpose, meaning and community, then it can be said that consumerism fulfills all these criteria...Much of that which goes by the name advertising is an explicit offer of a sense of identity, meaning, purpose and community...Buy this and you will be changed...Marketers have no co-opted the language and symbolism of all the major religions in order to sell the product because they know that religion offers the ultimate object of desire and that people will do just about anything to get it. If through advertising marketers can just link their products to this great unfulfilled void, they will sell.
By the time we got to the mid-twentieth century, [the economy, the state, and science] had all but completely replaced the church in our culture...These are the places where the vast majority of people find their direction and meaning. And as we engage the twenty-first century, the most dominant force of all three - the one that pervades our lives totally - is that of the global economy and the market.
In this cultural situation everything, even personal identity and religious meaning, becomes a commodity that we can now trade in, depending on the latest fads, and by consuming the latest products. In this light it's easy to see how 'church shopping,' ecstatic worship experiences and even Christian spirituality can come to reflect the consumerization of faith...This is our situation, but it is also our own personal condition - and it must be dealt with if we are going to be effective in the twenty-first century in the West.
I think Hirsch is dead-on. The only thing that keeps me from being stunned at what I see in the merry-go-round of suburban Christianity and the practice of trading in churches the way we shop for cell phone plans is that I know I'm part of the problem, not just someone calling for the Church to be the Church, not a Wal-Mart.