Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Church of Starbucks

Sweet, Leonard (2007), The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living a Grande Passion, Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press).

Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. In this book, he attempts to exegete culture by using the medieval methods of literal, allegorical, tropological, and analogical. To do that, he uses the example of Starbucks, the twentieth century success story and compares it to the failure of the contemporary church.

Starbucks, by the marvels of modern branding, marketing and giving people the illusion of what they needs, makes people willing to pay top dollars for a simple cup of coffee. Why are people willing to pay so much?

Sweet answers, “They pay so they can enjoy the Starbucks experience. The value comes with the experience that surrounds the cup of coffee. Starbucks lovers connect with the warmth of friends as they enjoy the warmth of their favourite drink.” (p.4)

Starbucks attains this success by giving people the Starbuck experience. Sweet postulates that the church can be revived by giving her members a similar experience, which he terms E.P.I.C. spirituality. EPIC is the acronyms for

Experience
Participatory
Image-rich
Connecting


Starbucks offers EPIC in the experience of drinking coffee in the ambience of a Starbuck outlet, participatory in the choosing of the variety of offerings, image-rich branding of Starbucks especially the coffee cup, and connection as friends meet over coffee and connect in a community.

The EPIC church will be the "irresistible experience" of God rather than the knowledge of Him, get “fully immersed in what God is doing,” using images as “God speaks in more than just words,” and reconstructing “life’s four bad connection: our broken relationship with God, others, self, and creation.”

The EPIC church is about experiences, and feelings. However I wonder if by using Starbucks as an example for comparison, Sweet is not bringing the church to the level of Starbucks. Starbucks is a phenomenon success because it caters to the culture of the age. Is Sweet suggesting that the church should also caters to the culture of this age? This is the culture which values experiences, existential existence, secular individualism, and materialism.

Sweet writes,

Rational faith-the form of Christianity that relies on argument, logic, and apologetics to defend its rightness-has failed miserably in meeting people where they live. Intellectual arguments over doctrine and theology are fine for divinity school, but they lose impact at the level of daily life experience. Starbucks knows that people lives for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences. (p.5)

Because rational faith seems to have failed, there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water. What Starbucks offers is a superficial experience. It disappears as soon as we finish our cuppa and leaves the store. Church offers a real experience, one that transcends culture. Engagement, connection, symbols, and meaning experiences can only be lasting if it is grounded in the revelation of God. And that is rational faith. Without rational faith, it will become a free for all religiosity.

Sweet is right to point out the church has fossiled in some of her activities. However, we must be careful that to differentiate that the church is not Starbucks. Church is not a place where people who are severely addicted to caffeine go for their ‘pick me up.’ Church is a place where people who are severely addicted to Jesus Christ go to become a community of faith.

Jehovah Java!



P.S. I like Coffee Beans better!

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11 Comments:

Anonymous blogpastor said...

Methinks that this is Pentecostal black preaching ++ and refined and redefined and repackaged for postmoderns.

7:14 PM  
Blogger pearlie said...

My first reaction was, "what?!"
I then thought about it: what in the biblical times can one equate coffee with, wine? But how far can we take allegories and analogies? We struggle with that because we need to keep a good equilibrium being too archaic or too contemporary. Not easy, not easy.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi blogpastor,

I have never thought about it from that perspective. Hmm..interesting.

hi pearlie,

actually they do not have coffee during biblical time *smile* but I get what you mean. I agree with you Not easy, not easy

7:41 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

in fact, Sweet was the one who 'threw' me into post-modernism; if you read of him, you'll find he's like McLaren on steroids(!).

his books are like very innovative *mags*...good for catching up with the latest trends and obtaining 'triggers' for new thinking.

(fyi, the Starbucks book is one of his i HAVEN'T read...)

11:39 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

Don't mistake me. I like Leonard Sweet's books, articles and sermons. He has a sharp mind and the ability to see trends in the culture. He is a systems thinker.

But he does have this flaw of simplifying complex issues and distracting us by his witty comments and anecdotes.

This is his latest book. Fresh off the press.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

in fact i thot he latest was '3 Hardest Words'...

yup, different writers can serve different purposes :)

but aren't his anecdotes an integral part of his pomo schema? kinda like how Steve Jobs needs to walk and talk the Apple part and bring it 'beyond' technology. likewise, a postmodern sermon is as much concerned with HOW it's preached than WHAT is being preached.

exciting...

7:03 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

Three Hardest Words, published March 21,2006
Starbucks, published June 16, 2007

I have no problem with his pomo schema. I think he is great. However I am more interested in the content than the present.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

was planning to get this book for a pastor-fren...reread your review and wanted to dialogue w you about your phrase:

"Engagement, connection, symbols, and meaning experiences can only be lasting if it is grounded in the revelation of God. And that is rational faith. Without rational faith, it will become a free for all religiosity."

You seemed to have equated revelation with rational faith? Is that entirely right? Because since revelation comes in a variety of forms (e.g. poetry, stories, parables, visions, etc.), would it work to tie it to something as Enlightenment-centered as 'rationality'?

But as for what Sweet was getting at, could he really *not* have been 'throwing away' rationality as much as he was seeking to emphasize EPIC?

I haven't read this book, but from his other books I hear him to be saying that postmodernism calls us to *subordinate* (not reject!) traditional-style doctrine/apologetics/etc. to post-rational behaviour/techniques/patterns.

Starbucks (like the prodigal son, wedding banquet, etc.) is but a *parable*/analogue of the church/kingdom of God?

12:00 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

You seemed to have equated revelation with rational faith? Is that entirely right? Because since revelation comes in a variety of forms (e.g. poetry, stories, parables, visions, etc.), would it work to tie it to something as Enlightenment-centered as 'rationality'?

It is related with the definition I use for rational faith and revelation. Rational faith to me is a belief system that can be approached in a rational (logical) manner using reason and experience to understand, within limitations, the ultimate Truth. Revelation (with a capital) of the ultimate Truth is God’s act of revealing himself in ways that our limited understanding can comprehend. Revelation (small cap) is the media or forms (eg. poetry, parables etc) that Revelation can be conveyed. Note that I equal rational faith with revelation (small cap, not big cap) of God.

But as for what Sweet was getting at, could he really *not* have been 'throwing away' rationality as much as he was seeking to emphasize EPIC?

I do not think Sweet is throwing away rationality. I believe he is emphasising a rationality that is not purely cognitive but more experiential.

I haven't read this book, but from his other books I hear him to be saying that postmodernism calls us to *subordinate* (not reject!) traditional-style doctrine/apologetics/etc. to post-rational behaviour/techniques/patterns.

I do not like the word ‘post-rational’ as if there are some things that is not based on reason. From what I understand, Sweet is not rejecting Truth but calling for a different way to understand it than what the modernist had done.

Starbucks (like the prodigal son, wedding banquet, etc.) is but a *parable*/analogue of the church/kingdom of God?

I would not put it like that. His book, Starbucks is more like a billboard advertisement for the kingdom of God. 

3:13 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

I think I understand better how u use rationality and revelation in your original post.

You have an intriguing comment. You say you don't like the word 'post-rational' because it sounds like there are some things which are not based on reason. Whislt this area surely needs further explicating, I can think of, e.g., the knowledge that infants have of the significant others. Somehow they 'know' they are loved (would that be an accurate way to put it?) but this 'knowledge' is not based on reason but a deep felt-ness of heart.

Likewise, faith - whilst not eschewing reason - cannot be reduced to reason (let's agree). Can such understandings of 'post-rational' (that which is beyond rationality or which wouldn't be helpful to explain via reason) factor into our ministries, spiritual formation, etc.?

(I also recall S.Grenz had a short discussion of the post-rational in 'Primer on Pomo'...will try to retrieve that)

6:23 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

I do not like the word 'post rational' because it carries the implications that we are purely cognitive when we make choices with our using our minds only.

Including newborn may in our argument may make it more interesting because infant react instinctively. Yet instinct is prototype thinking. It is experiential learning compared to cognitive learning. Yet. experiential learning is also learning.

Post modernism recognised that the Cartesian 'enlightenment' does not go far enough. Learning is not purely cognitive but also emotional, spiritual and experiential.


Fascinating subject

5:06 PM  

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