I am sharing some thoughts from God in the Wasteland (Eerdmans, 1994) by David Wells. According to Wells, this book deals with how “cultural factors influenced the evangelical church and what steps need “to be taken to reverse the situation” (ix).
What is going to happen when churches meet all of the felt needs of their consumers and then realize that they have failed to meet the genuine need for meaning? Meaning is provided by the functioning of truth—specifically biblical truth—in the life of the congregation. . . In their model of the religious market, they notice that “as denominations have modernized their doctrines and embraced temporal values, they have gone into decline.” In America, they say, true success has come only to those groups aggressively committed “to vivid otherworldliness” (75-76).
A business is in the market simply to sell its products; it doesn’t ask consumers to surrender themselves to the product. The church, on the other hand, does call for such a surrender. It is not merely marketing a product; it is declaring Christ’s sovereignty over all of life and declaring the necessity of obedient submission to him and to the truth of his Word (76)
The church is in the business of truth, not profit. Its message—the message of God’s Word—enters the innermost place in a person’s life, the place of secrets and anguish, of hope and despair, of guilt and forgiveness, and it demands to be heard and obeyed in a way that not even the most brazen and unprincipled advertisers would think of emulating (76).
Therapeutic models of reality tend to shy away from the concept of sin (81).
The fact is that while we may be able to market the church, we cannot market Christ, the gospel, Christian character, or meaning in life. The church can offer handy child care to weary parents, intellectual stimulation to the restless video generation, a feeling of family to the lonely and dispossessed—and, indeed, lots of people come to churches for these reasons. But neither Christ nor his truth can be marketed by appealing to consumer interest because the premise of all marketing is that the consumer’s need is sovereign, that the customer is always right, and this is precisely what the gospel insists cannot be the case (82).
It is surely ironic that those who seek to promote the church have adopted strategies that deliberately obscure its essence. The church should be known as a place where God is worshiped, where the Word of God is heard and practiced, and where life is thought about and given its most searching and serious analysis (84).
What do you think? More to come.