Earlier this year, Natalie and I went to an academic conference where the topic of Christianity and marketing reared its head in a discussion following one of the plenaries.
It was fascinating to watch a room full of academics cover each of the common themes of what is by now a pretty well-worn debate. It was almost as if they were working through a checklist:
- First, express gut level discomfort at pairing something as ‘worldly’ as marketing with faith — reflecting a distaste for the underhanded tactics marketers seem to have perfected.
- Then, consider the (predictable) counterclaim that marketing cannot be definitively and formally distinguished from communication — just as manipulation cannot be definitively and formally distinguished from persuasion.
- Finally, arrive at an uneasy settlement in which the inevitability of marketing is acknowledged but placed side-by-side with a thoroughgoing revulsion at the dynamics of our modern consumer society, which not only sustain but reward current marketing practices.
Inconclusive arguments along precisely these lines have cropped up from time to time in most Christian circles I’ve been involved with.
And, fascinatingly, they appear to be ‘indigenous’ to marketing itself — as this post on How to Stop Marketing (And What to Do Instead) over at CopyBlogger attests.
The advice given there about how not to market yourself or your product (or service) is textbook marketing strategy:
If marketing makes you throw up in your mouth a little, quit doing it.
Instead, just let your potential customers know who you are.
Let them know how your thing will make their lives better.
And tell them, very clearly and specifically, what to do next.
What I guess we struggle with as Christians is how to take the second step without betraying the message we proclaim.
It all comes back to that vital distinction between the gospel and its implications — or its benefits. The gospel is chiefly about Jesus (and what God’s done in and through him). And its implications and benefits are the things that then flow on to us.
Our temptation is to overemphasise its implications and benefit for us.
Understandably, we want to talk about how God’s grace in Jesus meets our needs and enriches our lives.
But this easily becomes the de facto centre of gravity around which all our speech about Jesus orbits. And we risk not letting the gospel itself show us what our deepest need is and what will enrich our lives.
At the other extreme, though, we need to remember that Jesus doesn’t only shows us we’re more needy than we imagined. He actually meets our deepest need.
And he doesn’t obliterate our desires and dreams. Instead, he fulfils them — albeit with some necessary remodelling along the way…