Branding Christianity

Do We Even Need “Christian” Branding?

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone

Good businesses protect their brand.  You won’t find Nike using bench-warmers in their commercials, and McDonald’s making partnerships with steakhouses. I know essence of Christianity is not a  business, but we can learn a thing or two about protecting the Jesus or Christian brand.  After all, the marketplace is saturated with the Christian brand — from music, movies, and literature to odd things like Jesus in toast, holy graham crackers and get this… Christian toothpaste. Oh yeah! There’s no better way to start the day than brushing your teeth with Jesus toothpaste! Okay, so I made the toothpaste thing up. 😀 Even legitimate mediums like radio, movies, music and books can be wrongly labeled.

It’s got me wondering if we need a Christian label at all for any of product?  Besides, what qualifies a product to carry the Christian label anyway? A mention of Jesus? A cross? Some praying hands? Where’s the line?

To take it a step further, I wonder if it even matters. Do we care about our brand? Does the use of the “Christian” title matter or is it the next spiritual casualty of American consumerism behind Easter and Christmas? I think it does matter.

Do We Really Need To Label Everything “Christian?”

It seems to me that most of what we call “Christian” isn’t very Christian at all. Which doesn’t  make them bad, or evil necessarily, just not Christian.For instance, I’m a blogger that writes Christian material. But not every blog I write is Christian by it’s strictest definition. I might post about parenting or relationships, and those posts may even have principles I learned from the Bible, but I’d stop short of calling them Christian. Here’s why.

Anything labeled Christian should point to Christ. We could split hairs on whether that pointing is direct or indirect, like say, the Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (indirect) or The Passion (direct). Hey, there’s a little gray in everything. But at the end of the day, a product that is “Christian” should equal Christ. Now, I realize how that limits the Christian brand. But limitation in this case is a good thing. The Christian brand should be limiting. Jesus should have the control of the Christian brand, and He is a narrow entity.

Take a movie like Devil. The fact that the core theme of that movie is about forgiveness (a very Christianese word) doesn’t make it Christian. It just makes it a movie with a strong moral. The same goes for a radio song about being polite or even helping the poor.

Yes, forgiveness is a moral truth, as is charity and respect. But moral ideas don’t separate Christianity from other religions. Those movies or songs could just as easily be labeled Mormon, Islam, or Hindu for their basic moral message of forgiveness and love. Even Satanists exercise a certain level of morality. Satan would love to make Christianity synonymous with morality, charity, and philanthropy. He’s been trying to usurp grace with morality since Paul introduced it to the first followers of The Way. And that’s because morality has never saved anyone from Hell.

The Opposite of Shooting the Messenger

So how are we getting it wrong?

Well, first off, we consider the source when we shouldn’t. If a song is written and sung by our favorite Christian music artists, like Kirk Franklin, Casting Crowns, or Chris Tomlin, we assume it is “Christian.” The same song could be performed by a secular artist and we’d label them differently. If the singer determines whether the product is  Christian or not, then where does Jesus fit in.

Secondly, our hunger for social relevance often leaves us open to inappropriately labeling our work. In our attempt to ” be all things to all people,” as is so often quoted, we end up watering down Christianity. In other words, sometimes we want so much to show how cool, relevant, easy-going Christians are, we slap Christian title on mediums that aren’t Christ-centered in hopes of connecting to people. I think Christianity is  cool, relevant and accessible too, but if we don’t distinguish true Christian music from regular music played by Christian artists, who’s going to ever really know the difference between Christian products and products with general good-natured moral intentions. The spiritual ramifications of what seems to be a slight miscalculation can be large and lasting.

If we train American society to relate too closely Christianity with morality or justice or philanthropy (all good things), the amazing message of God’s Grace will become more and more difficult to accept. If Christianity equals Morality in the minds of the unsaved, they will relate Christianity to Jesus’ life… not Jesus’ death.

And that would be quite Un-Christian.

The growing idol of this generation is the over-prioritization of the life of Jesus Christ. People are so ready to celebrate their misshapen ideas of Jesus’ holy, perfect life that they often miss the importance of  his death and resurrection. We spend so much time trying to live like Jesus that we miss His death as the ultimate champion over sin. We leave the cross to focus on Jesus’ awesome philanthropic, charismatic,  and serving life as the way to God rather than realizing that such a life is example of a surrender lifestyle that obeyed the will of God all the way to the cross. In essence, Jesus will have become Lord, but not Savior. Or worse, he will only become the mold for life, not the way to life.

It’s at the cross where we receive grace and salvation. So we protected the cross as the centerpiece and deciding factor to whether we call a thing “Christian” or not. We cannot settle for Moral truths and feel good verse. Christ and Him crucified — that’s Christian.

Anything else… is something else.

What is the oddest “Christian” merchandise you know? What requirement do you think something needs to have in order to be labeled Christian?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.