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Essay

The New Priesthood

By March 2, 2013 No Comments
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As a theology professor at a protestant institution I’ve learned the art of self-depreciation. The heritage of the reformation is always suspect of the “priesthood”- questioning anyone who might claim to have the theological corner on matters of God, salvation, or the bible. Especially the bible. Students are usually suspect of what I share with them about Genesis or Romans because they’re supposed to be. What gives me the right to tell them what the text means? So I play the fool, the clown, or the jester – foolish enough to stand up in front and say “Maybe we should read the text this way.” Not that I want to be a priest; I am thoroughly Reformed after all. I wonder, however, if there isn’t something lost when every Christian becomes their own theologian. Whatever, I can hear the objections, so I’ll just go back to honking my nose and juggling whiteboard markers.

What I find interesting is that the protestant priesthood hasn’t disappeared, it’s morphed into something else. Today if you want find someone to authoritatively give you the goods on what life and salvation are about, one goes to the business person… the economist… the money makers. They are the new high priests mediating the good word about life, well-being, and redemption. They are the ones who hold the “keys to the kingdom”… you know, marketing, finance, and creating a “brand.” They are the ones who can tell us what people really need – practicality, utility, jobs. They are the ones who are in touch with the only remaining universal – money. Everyone knows what “money” is, what “money” can do, the power of “money” to bring well being and human flourishing. Philip Goodchild has written a very interesting book on this issue with the title the Theology of Money. He argues that the transcendent quality of money, and the way in which our current economic systems foster obligation through debt, is fundamentally theological – the new universal religion complete with symbols, rituals, and high priests. 

So, it is in this new priesthood that we place our hope for future salvation and the salvation of our kin. They must lead us… our churches, our institutions, our personal lives… because they have access to the universal truth of life. Or do they? I mean, why is it that putting our trust in the new economic priesthood seems to lead to financial ruin? Colleges, seminaries, churches, institutions, personal finances – when we finally decide to peak behind the curtain we discover we’ve been fooled by slight of hand and cheap tricks. Oh, the high priests aren’t to blame, it’s the mysterious spirit of the market… or President Obama… who are to blame. The promise of flourishing, the hope of salvation, crushed by the reality of debt, market adjustments, and the bursting of bubbles. Yet, the rhetoric remains… the “preachers” of this new gospel proclaim the same old message. Sure, they update the lingo and touch up the lipstick, but the priesthood remains intact.

I wonder, maybe the Roman Catholic Church needs a business person as their next pope – a market guru who can remake the Catholic “brand.” You know, a Cardinal Glick who offers something that “pops.” (Sorry for the Dogma reference. My students assure me that all of my pop culture references are lame.) Oh well, what do I know? I’m a theologian – excuse me while I go shine up my big floppy red shoes.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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