Branding Christianity

Do We Even Need “Christian” Branding?

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone14 Comments

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.
10 comments
Aubsmymy
Aubsmymy

I think we as a nation focus too much on ALL labels. We are called to live our lives in a way that separates us from the secular world once we are saved. Salvation starts at the cross with the acknowledgement that God sent his only son to die for our sins so the cross is not overlooked it's where the journey begins. After that acceptance we should build a personal relationship with God and continue to grow in Him daily. As we do this others should see a difference in us - we may be the only Bible some people ever see. The only thing I strive to be called is saved by the grace of God! In my opinion too much time is spent on the "debating" (i.e. what day is really the sabbath, what denomination you are, etc.). The highest compliment I have ever been given was from a total stranger who said to me "you are a child of God aren't you?" to which I replied proudly "yes I am!" he then said " I could tell it because he is written all over your face." I guess what I am saying is call me what you will for as long as I am called by the most high and try my best to live a life pleasing to Him based on his instruction book (the Bible) the only thing I want be called is "well done my good and faithful servant" as I stand before Him in glory! Now that makes me want to shout!

k j
k j

Christ called us to be disciples, not Christians. In fact, it was the world that called us Christians...and it was a derisive term (meaning little Christ). We are called to be disciples. How about we just focus on following Christ, being His followers and let the world worry about what to call us....

sherri
sherri

Interesting read. I'm reminded of a church sign several years ago advertising their Christian Aerobics. (found your site through Bethel tweets)

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

That's interesting. No I haven't read Velvet Elvis. Funny.

Aaron Jackman
Aaron Jackman

Have you been reading 'Velvet Elvis' by Rob Bell? I've just finished the chapter that talks about the danger of Christianity being used a label that limits the 'good news' of Jesus.

LT
LT

keep speaking the Truth.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

 @Aubsmymy Yeah, I wonder if the denominational differences are a good thing or not. I've spent several words on the "Unity" of the church (see http://antwuanmalone.com/the-denomination-divide/ ) but I'm reading this book from Timothy Keller called "Center Church" that has me thinking about some of those ideas.   

 

In the end, it all boils down to Christ. And anything "Christian" (from denomination to detergent) should have something about it pointing to Christ if it carries the name.

 

Thanks for the comment!

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Hey kj, Thanks for the comment. Whether we call ourselves Christians, Disciples, Christ-Followers, Jesus Freaks... whatever the title. The point is that is should mean something more than a gere, or style, or demographic. Those titles ( or whatever we choose to call ourselves) will need to have limitations and boundaries. We need to be careful what we put that label in front of. Think about the infamous table-turning scene in the Bible. Jesus turned the tables over because they were misrepresenting what the synagogue should. be. They had decided to turn it into a money machine. This is what we often do without realizing, only it's not the synagogue, it's Christ's name. Thanks for the thoughts!