Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the jesus brand?

From the moment he became a professional golfer, Tiger Woods was marketing gold. He not only energized people who already loved golf, but he also influenced nongolfers to try to sport. And try it with a brand-new sleeve of Nike golf balls.

When it comes to representing Jesus, are you and I doing that? Are we energizing people who already love Him, as well as influencing non-Christians to try Jesus? Do people really want what we have? Are we giving them a reason?

I'll say it again: Many people have no problem with Christ, but a big problem with Christians. Expressed in marketing terms, the product isn't the problem--the spokes people are.Instead of bringing people to Jesus, it seems we're more effective at turning them away.
Tim Sinclair, "Branded: Sharing Jesus with a Consumer Culture", p. 140

Oh, where to begin...

So, we should market Jesus like Nike marketed Tiger? How does that work? If you have Jesus, you can win major victories? If you have Jesus, you can walk confidently, have swagger, never be down and out? If you have Jesus, you can be the best? If you add Jesus to your life, everything gonna be hunky-dorey?

Well, that sounds like the seeker-sensitive, relevant message, for sure.

It's interesting reading about us having to "market" Jesus like a company markets a spokesman. Let's say that someone who thought like this was around in Jesus' time on Earth, and was trying to get Jesus to act like he wanted Him to, so that He could be marketed better.

This marketing guru would likely have been apoplectic when Jesus drove off a bunch of people by talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He may have wanted Him to play a bit more nicely with the social religious leaders, having them on His side would have made things so much easier. Our marketing guru would have looked on with googly-eyes when Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away--hey, he's rich, he's young, he's a guy in charge, you don't let an opportunity like that just slip away!! He may have thought that having so many social misfits among the disciples was not the wisest of marketing moves--yeah, you want to appeal to a broad audience, but, really, isn't there a better selection process than just Your seemingly random choices? On the other hand, when Jesus discouraged people who claimed they wanted to follow Him, well, you can't sell your product when you do that!! And stop talking about "taking up your cross", that's polling badly, and by the way, this whole real crucifixion thing, no one thinks that is going to sell big at all.

Which brings us to the last part of that excerpt--the notion that people have no problem with Jesus. This isn't the first time I've heard or read someone make that claim, and, frankly, I'm not convinced. I've no doubt people may say that, but I've never heard of anyone asking a follow-up question like "Can you tell us about this Jesus that you like?"

Because, I'm pretty well sure that when it comes down to it, the Jesus most people find so unoffensive is a Jesus that is only marginally like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.

There is a little skit I've heard on an internet radio show, that I think will explain what I mean. A woman walks into a Build-A-God store, and with the help of someone working in the store, creates her very own deity, one that embodies all the things she likes and doesn't like. At the end of the skit, the store worker asks the woman what she wants to call her deity, the woman calls her new deity Jesus, to the delight of the store worker, who says that that is what everyone calls their newly-created deity.

When people make a claim such as "I like Jesus, but it's the church that I can't stand", I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb, and say that the Jesus they claim to like is a Jesus that has more to do with their own likes and dislikes than any outside information about the real Jesus, a Jesus that they themselves created. I suspect that, if they could jump into a time machine and meet the real Jesus, they would dislike Him even more than they dislike the church. I'd even bet that they would be among those calling for Him to be crucified.

This notion of marketing Jesus seems rather problematic. Jesus seemed to have done a poor job of marketing Himself. The early church didn't do all that hot at it, either. The churches today that seem to be most concerned about it are...well, are they really the best examples we should follow? Cheesy rap videos, circus churches, televangelist who sell Jesus as the doorway to wealth and health.

Plus, how should we market Jesus? Health and wealth are bad theology. Life change is problematic at best. Jesus Himself talked about the world hating those who follow Him because the world hated Him. Trying to pretty up Jesus so that the world will like Him seems to simply lead to a compromised message.

When we try to market Jesus like a product, it seems to lead to silliness.

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