An Issue Which Should Concern All of Us
Every Christian ought to be aware of the unique challenges they face in spreading the gospel in their own context. For those of us in more urban areas in the western world, (and increasingly for Christians around the entire globe) we need to think about how the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace negatively effects our efforts to preach the gospel. I have no specific form of “preaching” in mind for the purpose of this article, whether it be in a pulpit, on a street corner, or two friends talking at work or over lunch. There are some things we should all be aware of.
The Innumerable “Gospels” of the Marketplace
Have you ever looked at advertisements which forcefully impose themselves on us every day, even every hour, and thought how they relate to the redemptive historical narrative of Scripture? Every advertisement has it’s own narrative of redemptive history. Each product or service defines for you what is the the ultimate good (their “god”), what is evil (their “fall”), what they have done to bring about your salvation from this evil (their “gospel”), and how much this “redemption” will cost you (their “gospel offer”). This marketing narrative then forms their doctrinal confession of faith.
Each company and every product or service has it’s own “gospel.” Are you sad? We offer you the gospel of antidepressants! Are you lonely? We offer you the gospel of social media! Have you been injured in an auto accident? We offer you the gospel of millions of dollars through our law firm! Are you sick? We offer you the gospel of doctors, pharmaceuticals of every conceivable kind, and billions of various wellness products! These marketplace gospels are innumerable!
How This Overcrowded Consumer-driven Marketplace Effects Us
There are several ways in which this overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace effects our consciousness—our very perception of reality and our experience of life. First, it marginalizes the supremacy of Christ and the exclusivity of the only true gospel. Second, it puts every man (“the consumer”) on the throne as the supreme infallible judge. Third, it is just plain old annoying because it never ends. Let’s take a brief look at these three ways this overcrowded consumer-driven market place negatively effects the spread of the gospel.
Marginalizing the Supremacy of Christ
First, the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace marginalizes the supremacy of Christ and the exclusivity of the only true gospel. This naturally follows from what has been observed above about how each product and service has it’s own redemptive historical narrative. In places where there is more of at least some kind of civil-religious Christian sub-culture, you might see a billboard on one side of the road “marketing” Jesus as the solution to one problem, while you see a billboard on the other side of the road marketing some other secular product or service. As you continue driving down the road, there is Jesus, just one option among many.
There is nothing in particular that would show Jesus Christ as supreme and worthy of all praise, glory, and honor. He is simply advertised in the same way that other products and services are advertised. There is nothing unique about the way Jesus is presented in the overcrowded consumer-drive marketplace. All companies hype their product or service, and so the incarnate Son of God becomes just another product on the shelf which Christians are trying to advertise.
Our exclusive gospel message is now regarded as just another offer out in the market place—perhaps one fit only for people who are completely out-of-step with the scientific advancement and “evolutionary progress” of these modern times. The Lord of glory, who is worthy of receiving all worship, has been reduced to one product among many, which is either to be consumed or rejected at the consumer’s discretion. Which brings us to our second point…
The Consumer as Infallible Judge
Second, the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace puts every man (“the consumer”) on the throne as the supreme infallible judge. With endless outlets which allow the consumer to publicly review the product or service online for all of the world to see, it has a certain psychological effect on our consciousness. Customer surveys and reviews make us all feel as though we were fit judges concerning all things. We are now made to feel infallible in our understanding and judgement of the way that every product and service ought to be carried out. Online reviews and surveys have amplified the effect of the fall by injecting man’s swollen pride and self-conceit with steroids. We all have become gods—infallible judges of all things—in our own eyes.
This effects our whole consciousness and our whole perception of life. There is no restraint to our self-conceited pride. We are free to judge whoever we want, however we want, whenever we want. Our “want” is now god, and there is no external authority which can tell you otherwise. No business can tell you that you are wrong. No person is able to tell you that your facts are totally wrong. The mentality, “the consumer is always right” has infused itself into our very consciousness. We are all consumers, and therefore, we are all always right in our own eyes.
This creates a toxic wasteland when it comes to the spread of the gospel. The hearts of men are made to feel that they have the sovereign right to sit in judgement—even over the supreme Judge of all the universe. Here Christ is, offered as the only sufficient and acceptable sacrifice for our sins before a just and holy God, and the consumer now sits in judgement, prepared to write an online review of “how he feels” about this product or service.
All humility and restraint of evil has been thrown off, and our own self-proclaimed godhood from the fall in Genesis 3:5 has now become an unrestrained part of our daily life and consciousness. This further marginalizes the supremacy of Christ and the exclusive gospel message. The consumer has found a better “savior” to suit his felt needs, ten-thousand better “saviors” in fact, and we all know, “the consumer is always right.”
It’s Just Plain Old Annoying
Third, the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace is just plain old annoying. Advertisements pop up literally everywhere you look. LED billboards now flash new brighter and more difficult to ignore advertisements. Your favorite sports games always have multiple advertisements displayed on the screen and in the background on the field/in the arena. News websites have advertisements on the side, on the bottom, and ones that pop up across the whole screen so that you have to click something to try to make it go away. Door-to-door salesmen disrupt your peace at home to try to get a piece of your hard earned money. It’s mind-numbing and nauseating!
Advertisers are basically “doing the work of an evangelist.” Sometimes they preach via commercials. Sometimes they go to events and pass out “gospel tracts” (coupons advertising their business). Literally everywhere you go someone is trying to tell you the “good news” of their product or service. As Micah 7:2 says, “each hunts the other with a net.” It really gets annoying when you are always being hunted by someone who wants to catch you in their net.
This has a certain effect on our experience of life as well. “Leave me alone!” That’s how I often feel. Somebody always wants something from you. These endless products and services present themselves as if they are trying to serve you, but they are really just using you for your money. They are business, and their bottom line is the gross profit. We are sold a false bill of goods, and as a result, we all end up feeling used and abused. We know we have been lied to in order to put our hard earned money in someone else’s pocket.
Therefore, when the gospel is preached to the lost, no one wants to take a moment to carefully consider our message. “Not another advertisement! Leave me alone!” We are immediately suspect in this overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace. We are just another marketer who is surely out to use people for the sake of financial gain. This is made far worse by those wolves in sheepskin who are in the business of religion simply to “fleece the flock.” We are dismissed before we are even heard. The gospel is not only marginalized, it is suspect of being yet another empty hallow scam. So much time has already been taken up in this overcrowded marketplace, and the consumer already feels too used and abused by big business to try another product on the shelf—especially this seemingly weak and foolish product which is only being consumed by the ignoble and despised in this world.
Working Toward a Solution
On one level, this is simply a challenge that we as Christians need to be aware of. How it effects the spread the gospel, as well as us personally since we live in this toxic wasteland. However, we should also seek to move toward a solution.
Unfortunately, many in the church who have been aware of this cultural trend have bought right into the consumer-driven marketplace by creating “seeker-driven” or “seeker-friendly” churches. This fully accepts that the world is a marketplace, and therefore these churches simply seek to “out advertise” other businesses. This is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. These churches are doing far more harm than good by pouring fuel on the fire of man’s self-conceited autonomy.
If anything, we need to move in the exact opposite direction, but that can be a very dangerous thing as the pendulum tends to swing too far…way too far. Some churches seem to want do everything in their power to repel people, and they are doing a fantastic job at it. The hymn books use archaic words that haven’t been commonly used in a hundred years or more, and they are usually accompanied by poorly done song melodies which are more of a distraction than an aid to worship. These churches culturally appear to be stuck somewhere between the 1800s and the 1950s, as if saying “Thou” while wearing an ugly suite makes one more holy and reverent than saying “You” in a regular pair of bluejeans. These churches sure aren’t guilty of being “seeker-sensitive,” but then again, they are far from being commended as “winsome” or “evangelistic.” For them, it is not the gospel itself that is the offense, but their own strange Christian sub-culture and man-made traditions that have become the primary offense.
Pray and Be Faithful
This overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace may simply be something that we as Christians need to bear with. We may simply need to ride out the storm. Faithful evangelism is faithful evangelism in every season in the midst of every culture. Our gospel does not change. It is absolute and exclusive. It is relevant for all people, in all places, at all times. We must decide to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. We may not see as many converts in this cultural wasteland, but that does not change our commission or our message. We must trust in God to change the cultural climate and turn this barren wilderness into a tropical forest.
One thing we must do as faithful stewards entrusted with the Word of God is, we must emphasis in all our speech those very areas which current cultural trends seem to undermine willfully or unknowingly. If the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace marginalizes the supremacy of Christ and the exclusivity of the only true gospel, then we must make absolutely clear the supremacy of Christ and the exclusivity of the only true gospel. If the overcrowded consumer-driven marketplace puts every man (“the consumer”) on the throne as the supreme infallible judge, then we must make it all the more abundantly clear that God does not merely invite sinners to come to Jesus, but as Paul said,
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
We must be bold at the precise points which the culture is undermining, even if they do so unwittingly. The devil is the great deceiver. He will use a thing like modern technology to subtly enlarge the sins already present in fallen man and so further harden their hearts against lofty thoughts of God and the gospel of Christ. Only let us be found faithful in these tumultuous times which we have been foreordained to live in, and above all, let us pray!
We might pray, but the modern church is not distinctly known as a praying people. If we spent even half as much time on our face before God as we spent on Facebook, we probably would have seen a full scale revival by now. The fact of the matter is, we can’t change any thing merely by our own words or works. The demon is driven too deep into the heart of the culture. Jesus said of some demons, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29) Until we pray, all else is vain. We can preach truth all day long, but no hearts will be changed. Therefore, as we faithfully preach the gospel, let us also pray fervently to the only God who is able to transform this cultural wasteland into a tropical rainforest.