Marketing and Theology

This post is the last post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
Did you hear about the Rob Bell thing a few months ago? A burst of marketing kicked off some fierce theological mudslinging and name-calling throughout the evangelical world.  This happens every few months. 

Theology matters. We need to get our theology out there. And this requires marketing. 

But marketing can trend toward shallow theology.
And marketing can force theology to ignore complexity.
And marketing can float bad theology to the surface.

So, what do we do with marketing?

Focus on fidelity over marketability

Good theology stays centered on Jesus and God's revelation of him in Scripture.  It runs around the circle of analogy, builds and builds and builds and digs into the beautiful and mysterious depths of God.  But what's the market for good theology?

Walk into a Christian bookstore and you could have a hard time finding books. And if you do, the chances of them focusing on theology are slim.  Self-help is in.  How-to's are in.  Controversial issues are in.  Centrist, evangelical theology ... not in.  It's hard to sell.

But the church needs more than just shallow theology.  And we need to find a way to market it.

Think about the appropriate format

When Rob Bell's "Love Wins" marketing video came out a few months ago, a friend remarked that, though the conversation was thought-provoking, it may have needed a broader treatment than a short book and a short video.  And I think he had a point.

Some formats force you to be reductionistic.  And while there's some truth to the adage "if you can't explain something simply, you haven't understood it" ... the reverse is not true.  Simple explanations are not necessarily truest.

Learning and communicating theology is hard work.  Our God is a mysterious God, sovereign over a complex world in which we live distracted and, at times, sinful lives.  We need time to learn theology, and need to learn in stages.

Good marketing practice helps with this.  Marketing can help us ...
  • create systems that develop people's theology,
  • contextualize to what's appropriate for where people are,
  • communicate complexity with clarity
God, not marketing, guides the church toward its theology

After writing thousands of words about marketing and ministry, I know it's odd to end this series with thoughts about the limits and temptations of marketing.

But it's tempting to think that the most strongly promoted ideas rise to the top.

Throughout academia, you hear this idea promoted: "The proto-orthodox sect forced their theology onto the early Christian movement." Athanasius and Augustine and Paul are seen as the strongest of the strong.  "Theology," they say, "gets written by the winners."

But if God cares what we think of him, he'll also have a hand in things.  What is our power compared to his?  If God exists, does anyone think that Paul or Augustine or Athanasius could out-muscle him in the marketing department?

As we do theology and market it, we need to remember that we aren't alone in this endeavour.  God is also actively involved in getting the word out about himself.

Let us do so wisely.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and

No comments:

Post a Comment