Marketing Jesus, Part 1

Our culture is driven by marketing. There’s no escaping it. Consumerism and materialism have wormed their way into our lives, and the germs of marketing spreads the disease.

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For instance, how can I possibly know which of the eight hundred cereals in the store is most healthy? Which car should I purchase? What vacation should we take this summer? See the dilemma? Consumers must make decisions.

I’ve learned through the years that perception overshadows reality. I hate that . . . but it’s true. From political candidates to polyester carpet, how people perceive things is, to them, more convincing than a truckload of evidence. Unfortunately, most draw their opinions from the shallow stream of perception instead of the deep reservoir of truth. I find that strange and disappointing. Perception actually overshadows reality. Scary thought, isn’t it?

It’s even more frightening when we realize that our culture doesn’t market Christianity very well.

How the World Markets Christianity

Have you ever noticed it’s usually the aberrant “Christian”—preferably an evangelical—that the media displays to represent the rest of us? Like William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trials, this poor individual is revealed in all of his or her pitiful naiveté, promptly vilified, pigeonholed and, finally, dismissed with a laugh.

Christianity looks foolish. Perception overshadows reality.

Then, at other times, when controversial subjects like abortion, homosexuality, evolution, euthanasia, or the inerrancy of the Scriptures find their way to prime time debates, the “Christian” view is usually defended by some theological liberal who couldn’t tell the book of Genesis from Boy George. He or she only quotes verses about the love of God and calls no one to any standard. It’s invariably the theological liberal the world embraces in a politically correct culture. It’s the Bible-believing, evangelical Christian, however, whom our tolerant world cannot tolerate.

Our culture has branded evangelicals as narrow exclusivists, hypocritical killjoys, and religious fanatics.

In short, we’re oddballs. (Not a great brand.) Who wants to be an oddball? Moreover, who wants to go to an oddball church?

How the Church Markets Christianity

So here’s the problem: How do I know which church to attend? What helps me identify which ministry is best for me? Aware of our stereotype, we evangelicals find it tempting to fight fire with fire . . . or marketing with marketing. “Our church is not boring,” we promise. “This is NOT your grandmother’s church,” we assure the younger generation. But we need to be careful with our words . . . fighting fire with fire could be dangerous.

Most people would never intentionally compare Jesus to Coca-Cola or Chevrolet. But in a consumer society, we run the danger of implying that the good news of Jesus is just one of many similar choices—all of which are equally valid. Just choose your flavor of Savior.

But Jesus doesn’t give us that option. He claims that He is the only way to God the Father (see John 14:6). In a world that’s bound for hell, Jesus’s claim isn’t selfish exclusivism.

It is grace.

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