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Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul [Hardcover]

G. Jeffrey MacDonald
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 30 2010
What has become of the Christian Church? Once devoted to molding Americans into better people, in recent years the Christian Church has gotten a corporate makeover. In a desperate attempt to bolster membership rolls, ministers have begun to treat their churches more like companies, and their congregations more like customers.As a minister in a small church and as a national religion reporter, journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald witnessed firsthand this lapse into consumerism. He realized that in an effort to cast a wide net for souls churches have sacrificed their authority to transform Americans' self-serving impulses for the better. In the headlong rush to operate more like businesses, churches are sacrificing their moral authority, perhaps permanently. The result is a crisis for the American conscience. MacDonald's incisive critique of today's movement away from true religion shows how desperately America needs a new religious reformation. 

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Review

Os Guinness, author of The Last Christian on Earth
“Parts of the American church are beginning to resemble a modern Ship of Fools, and G. Jeffrey MacDonald has fired a timely shot across its bows. A penetrating and wide-ranging analysis of consumer religion, written with sorrow rather than anger, Thieves in the Temple is good reading for any interested observers but essential for pastors and lay people concerned for the integrity of the Christian faith in the modern world.”

Randall Balmer, Episcopal priest, Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University, and author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America
“With deft analysis and uncommon wisdom, Jeffrey MacDonald has produced a devastating critique of the cult of consumerism and easy affirmation that has corrupted American Protestantism in recent years. Protestants, the author argues in this compelling, prophetic, and ultimately hopeful book, have defaulted on their historic and culturally crucial task of moral formation. Thieves in the Temple is the finest, most perceptive book on Protestant life in America in a very long time.”

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago and author of Sovereignty: God, State, and Self
“Jeffrey MacDonald's Thieves in the Temple is written with clarity and verve. He argues passionately that the wholesale embrace of a consumerist driven model of culture threatens ‘the very soul’ of the Christian churches, and he does so in a manner free from the spite and resentment that too often accompany such critiques. Thieves in the Temple deserves a wide readership.”

Dan Rather, Global Correspondent and Managing Editor of HDNet's Dan Rather Reports
"G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes with a journalist’s eye and a preacher’s heart. The crisis he identifies in this provocative and timely book has serious implications not only for America’s religious life but also for our broader culture and politics."

Rev. Dr. Roy J. Enquist, Emeritus professor, Gettysburg Seminary and former Canon, Washington National Cathedral
“No one seriously concerned about the future of the churches can afford to miss MacDonald’s critique and vision.”

Rev. Dr. Roy J. Enquist, Emeritus professor, Gettysburg Seminary and former Canon, Washington National Cathedral
“No one seriously concerned about the future of the churches can afford to miss MacDonald’s critique and vision.”

Tucson Citizen
“The author bemoans the rise of such institutions and calls for nothing less than a return to basics and a new religious reformation…Thieves in the Temple is a sobering call-to-arms and might be an important first step.”

Christian Science Monitor
“MacDonald does outstanding work…As a journalist and minister, he’s uniquely able to understand the problem from the inside out, and he supports his thesis well.”

About the Author

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an award-winning journalist and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, he is a correspondent for the 'Christian Science Monitor' and the 'Religion News Service'. He lives in Massachusetts.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Thieves in the temple Sept. 14 2010
By Andy
Format:Hardcover
This is a book that every pastor and church leader should read. It speaks to what is happening in the church today. I have been in the Christian Ministry for fifty-five years. Thirty-five of those years in inter church ministry with The Canadian Bible Society and World Vision Canada. My ministry has taken me to over 1400 pulpits and I have seen just about everything that is out there.

I have recommended the book to several pastors and will continue to do that.

Rev. Andrew Brndjar
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marketing the Mystery: Capitalism Comes to Church April 14 2010
By J. Lonas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As the editor of an explicitly Christian periodical, I am usually wary of books that arrive on my desk from secular publishing houses. More often than not, the titles they want us to review are "Christian" in name only, using the religious angle as a veneer for social and political issues. Such books are, at best, useless and, at worst, deliberately destabilizing to the faith. Every once in a while, however, something worthwhile slips through.

Thieves in the Temple is the most recent such gem. With measured candor, MacDonald (a freelance journalist and United Church of Christ clergyman) addresses the decline of moral and spiritual authority in today's American Church, tracing it to the Church's embrace of the wider culture's creeds of consumerism, individualism, victimhood, and passivity.

MacDonald examines and deconstructs the consumer culture of the Church and exposes it for the pile of dry bones it is. He reminds pastors of their responsibility, not to be "relevant" or accommodating, but to be challenging to churchgoers. Christian leaders, he says, should be leading, not entertaining or offering therapy. Appealing to Christ's thoroughly counter-cultural ministry, he urges readers not to conform to the world (or even to be only superficially "different"), but to be sacrificial, disciplined, and committed to a higher road where self is denied more often than indulged. MacDonald openly wonders what will become of the Church in this country when the consumerist juggernaut finally grinds to a halt leaving a bankrupt shell of belief in its wake.

The book is not without some significant flaws. MacDonald's reasoning at times seems to indicate that he doesn't fully understand the deity of Christ. Other times, his wording and choice of examples exposes a politically liberal undercurrent to his views, and he over-generalizes the very diverse array of church traditions within evangelical Protestantism. He tends to describe developing and maintaining a moral fiber in society as the primary function of the Church rather than as side effects of its fundamentally spiritual reality, and his solutions to the problems he describes depend more on human effort than divine intervention.

Still, Thieves hits close enough to the mark that, as I was reading, the Lord moved me to put it aside and repent of the myriad ways I exalt my own comfort over His glory each day. I suppose in that sense, the strongest critique I could offer of this book is that it had to come from the mainstream. It is to our shame that Christian publishers (who, unfortunately, can be near the heart of the problems MacDonald engages) have not found a book like this worth printing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written and Provocative Aug. 25 2012
By Joe B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed this writers work in the Boston Globe newspaper and when I found he had written this book, well it was a must read. In addition, I had the pleasure of not only meeting but partaking in a Sunday church service with Pastor MacDonald and I found him to be most affable and intelligent. This is to me a must read not only for Christians but people of all faiths (or even those of no faith). Well written, well thought out, provocative - it'll make one think, that's for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It reads smoothly and logically, presenting ideas that I agreed with AND disagreed with. Truly this work got me thinking. Well done!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Has it come to this? The decline of the Protestant Churches in America. Nov. 9 2012
By Janemb35 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book two years ago, when it first came out and finally got around to reading it and I am delighted with the author's take on the place of religion in American life. G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an intelligent voice in a noisy world of religiosity, and articulates a number of the problems with modern-day religion, even if masquerading as "that ol' time religion!" It seems to me that he's right on target naming people's desire for entertainment as missing the point of the scriptures by stressing comfort at the expense of repentance. Too, he sees the turning away from God-as Judge to Church as-therapy. Some things get lost in that translation. A totally unexpected fact from the Pew Research Center speaks, it seems to me, to a real decline in the meaning of Christianity:71% of Americans, predominantly Christians, said that torture of suspected terrorists was justifiable! How dreadful. Shame on us.
As a clergyman, MacDonald reflects on his experiences as an interviewee at a series of lay search committees, noting that the ideal candidate would make them comfortable and entertained. With these observations he transitions into a discussion about what can be done to make things better. He suggests that the clergy can bring about real change in their conduct of their day-to-day affairs, they can act as leaders and facilitators, challenging the laity to action. Indeed, MacDonald suggests a return to a form of asceticism such as is practiced by Environmentalists, for example.
MacDonald is not without hope for us and for the churches. He cites examples from four churches in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. The details are worth considering, but too lengthy to include here.
As a church-goer, I found this analysis interesting and revealing and it has forced me to reconsider some things I have taken for granted in my church life. Perhaps it is time for a general reappraisal of the role religion plays or should play in individual's lives and in society and maybe even take a chance on reformation.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Church Discussion Tool Feb. 9 2014
By Herbert Hoefer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Review of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul, G. Jeffrey MacDonald (Basic Books, New York, 2010)
The first half of Thieves in the Temple is like sitting in on a circuit pastors’ discussion. Almost all of his laments are ones every parish pastor has made:
• prosperity gospel (pp. 4-5)
• church shopping (p. 7)
• “vacuum of authority” (p. 25)
• worship as “entertainment” (p. 32)
• music teams as “concerts” with little congregational participation (p. 39)
• lack of contrition in Confession/Absolution (p. 40)
• contributions made outside worship rather than as part of worship (p. 41)
• weddings and funerals out of pastor’s control (p. 42, 78)
• infant baptism as ritual with no parental commitment (p. 45)
• preaching to please the crowd (p. 48)
• mission trips as fun and exciting (p. 51)
• programs (p. 62) and small groups (p. 69) as cheap psychotherapy
• no sacrificial disciplines even during Lent (p. 75)
• participation in Holy Communion with little faith commitment (p. 84)
• disciplines of self-control and morality not expected (pp. 94-96)
• development of “niche congregations” as clubs for particular interest/age/social/economic groups (p. 104)

MacDonald sees all of these characteristics of American Christianity as expressions of the church’s basic sellout to the American consumerist mentality. He lays the character deficit of American life at the feet of the church. (p. 190) Instead, he urges that pastors and congregation members together should approach church life like athletes, with discipline, intention, and sacrifice (p. 142). He concludes with four examples of congregations in the Lutheran heartland of Minneapolis that are trying to move in that direction.
Rev. MacDonald served only briefly (4 years) in a United Church of Christ congregation. He shares his frustrated efforts to address the consumerist mentality of his parishioners. However, we all know that little can happen in just four years. It takes a good five years for a pastor to gain the credibility and trust needed to initiate any fundamental change. In five years one has had a real pastoral relationship with most members, and one truly becomes their pastor. Only then is the soil typically ready for the Holy Spirit to work transforming faith through the seeds of the Gospel.
As part of that process, this book can be a very helpful tool for congregants to reflect on the great temptations to water down the Christian walk. Toward this end, it would have been helpful to have discussion questions at the end of each chapter, so these will need to be prepared.

Herb Hoefer
Concordia University, Portland, OR
1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars expanding on our character faults Jan. 17 2013
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some Americans think there is a great need for religion to mold character so people can live a life devoted to a higher purpose. Too often in this book, serving God and our neighbors is considered a task that churches fail to fulfill. Scripture is quoted to establish that Christ came to redeem people from the material aspects of their lives. Some successful churches have exalted riches.

My foreboding is based on the kind of disaster which follows a good look around: everything you see will be in the trash in five years. Money is changing in ways that people in the temples never imagine. In a book published in 1993, A Short History of Financial Euphoria, John Kenneth Galbraith calls the marginal thinking of millionaires and billionaires "mass insanity" when an entire society hops on the roller coaster and goes along for the ride. My concern has been about regimentation for uniformity. The next turn of the wheel is likely to bring what Zizek calls a "short circuit" in his book, The Parallax View, which delves through philosophy and some popular culture to discover what can't be communicated from one level to another.
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