I have yet to hear an argument against the claim that we ('Murica, that is) are a consumer society. There's probably a good reason for this: there is no evidence to the contrary. We live in an age when everything is up for sale, and anyone can be sued for it. Even ideas are bought and sold. But what does it cost to convince people that what you're selling is worth buying? This is the realm of marketing. I don't have a whole lot of experience in the area, but I like to think I can convince people to listen to me. It could be my dashing good looks, my charming demeanor, my excellent sense of style, or my quick wit. It's likely a combination of all the fantastic elements that make up, well, me. (This is why I wish there were a specific font for sarcasm.)
But what happens when someone attempts to sell something that cannot be bought? There aren't many objects on display for which there is no price. Even Christian bookstores make a killing off of selling Bibles. People even joke that it's been the bestselling book for 2000 years (but let's be honest: it's probably only been 1600 or 1700 years). How have we been marketing Jesus?
Jesus cannot be bought or paid for (or off), nor is he an idea to be sold on the ideational market. But in the midst of a consumer society, has the church tried to sell Jesus? I think we have. In an epoch when the market is the most lively place around, we don't know how not to sell stuff. We're drowning in ads from a myriad of sources, and we feel that the only way to get people to consider Jesus is to sell him. In many places, prostitution is illegal, yet we have tried to sell Jesus. This might be a problem.
What happens, though, if we stop selling? How can a church possibly grow if it doesn't advertise? Where would we be without our "Salvation Sold Here" signs? If the purpose of the church is not to sell a product, then what is it we're (supposed to be) doing? Can we avoid treating the church as a marketplace? Is our place of worship the very area into which Jesus would walk with a whip in hand and drive us out because of our sales work?
I'm afraid I have no answers right now. I'm a bit stuck, actually. I cannot answer the questions I have posed.
But I can imagine a community.
I can imagine a community where people do theology together.
I can imagine a community where prophecy stirs in the hearts of the many rather than relying on the education of the few.
I can imagine a community where grace is not bought, or sold, or traded, or marketed, but given.
I can imagine a community where this grace is transformative, where it does not leave a person unscathed.
I can imagine a community where salvation is less important than justice and mercy.
I don't know what would happen if we stopped marketing Jesus. But I am inclined to think it has the potential to be beautiful.
What do you imagine?