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Christian Consumerism: Branding as a Sign

WeThem.jpgWe’ve got a problem in the Church today with Christian branding as a form of triumphalism, and it’s a charge made often enough about others and almost never about ourselves. I want to contend that it is an unhealthy influence of consumerism. (See the excellent book by Skye Jethani: The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity


So, I’d like to have a conversation about branding as a form of Christian triumphalism to see if my suggestion can gain some traction. I’m hoping we can find a Third Way, one that gets beyond triumphalistic branding to a genuine embrace of the communion of saints. Let’s be warned: those of us who want a Third Way need to beware lest we, in our Third Way of getting beyond triumphalism, get all bent out of shape in a triumphalistic branding of our Third Way. So, in this case, the humble way is the Third Way and the Third Way is non-triumphalist by nature. It’s branding seeks to brand what is true of all Christians.

My suggestion is this: Christian triumphalism is found when there is an absence of “He” (God) in favor of a “We” and a criticism of “Them” in comfort with “We.” (Obviously, I use “He” because it rhymes with “we” and because I fear, well, the triumphalism of those who think using “He” is inherently some form of chauvinism’s defense of an altogether male archetype called “God.”) So, our definition triumphalism, seen in branding, is about distinguishing ourselves over against others and displacing God in that ongoing distinguishing.


Triumphalism always arises out of genuine concerns and good ideas but
always overcooks the concerns and outdoes the ideas so that we get more
concerned about ourselves than God. Furthermore, we get focused on
comparing ourselves favorably over against the “thems” of this world.
My contention is that a “we vs. them” mentality always masks an even
more central concern of “we” over against God. Triumphalism’s fatal
tragedy then is its idolatry. It turns one’s community into the golden

I offer the following as potential examples of branding
and triumphalism in the Church today, and I want to emphasize one
thing: these are potential examples. If you are “glad” to see
something in this list, it might well indicate you are into your own
brand of triumphalism. Let’s all beware.


Megachurches sometimes fall for the trap of branding themselves as the “way of the day” and compare themselves, quite favorably, to others to bolster themselves. They may talk of how nothing happened in the church until they were on the map … I could go on. The point here is not about megachurches, but about how megachurches “sell themselves” by a “we vs. them” mentality at times.

Denominational gatherings: I’ve been in very few denominations that don’t fall into this trap at times. After all, they’ve got a noble history and a good reason for what they are and who they are, but over time denominations are tempted to see themselves as the most faithful and everybody just a cut below — in other words, they get into “we vs. them.”


Local church leaders: pastors can fall for the trap they are the local church or that the church would never get along without them or that they alone are faithful while lay folks are stumbling along as best as they can and “were it not for me” … again, there’s a we vs. them in this. And it builds into a “we (church) vs. them (all other local churches)” mentality and then there’s every reason in the world for the pastor and church to start talking about how they are cut above as a church and no one else is paying the price. Then they “brand” themselves and we’ve got a problem with triumphalism.

I won’t develop this, and my point in this post is not to excoriate, but to see if we can define how Christian triumphalism works itself out in branding. I’m thinking we could talk about schools of thought (anabaptist, Calvinist, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism), parachurch gatherings and conferences where folks get all hepped up about how they’ve found the answer and the secret and the clue. I’m thinking of small group cliques in churches and liturgically-oriented Christians and churches and theologies, and how the liberal vs. the conservative are brands and how deeply ingrained they are … and how evangelicals sometimes get to thinking that they, like Elijah, are the only faithful ones alive.


I wonder if the response to this today is one of repentance or one of “well, I’m glad he pointed out the folks I don’t like”?

One of the articles we confess is the “communion of the saints.” I’m thinking that “communion” as a world is brought to tears and shame by the branding that goes on in the Church today. I’m wondering if maybe we ought not today to invite the pastor of another church to coffee to listen and to pray and to chat and to say “we’re in this together.” I’m wondering if we ought not to tell our kids that the kids next door who go to a different church are our brothers and sisters. I could go on … I’ve made my point.

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Clint Parsons

posted September 2, 2009 at 7:34 am

“One of the articles we confess is the “communion of the saints.” I’m thinking that “communion” as a world is brought to tears and shame by the branding that goes on in the Church today. I’m wondering if maybe we ought not today to invite the pastor of another church to coffee to listen and to pray and to chat and to say “we’re in this together.” I’m wondering if we ought not to tell our kids that the kids next door who go to a different church are our brothers and sisters.”
Thank you.

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posted September 2, 2009 at 8:27 am

Good thoughts and goal, but it is a difficult task.
The “them” is not always mentioned, so the branding over/against can be very subtle.
Also, many doing the branding do not see an absence of God, they see them as doing His work. Again, it is subtle, and pride is a silent killer.
Finally, what about those situations in which there are real, significant differences? How do we avoid giving the impression that we are branding and being triumphalistic? Humility is needed, but not always recognized.

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posted September 2, 2009 at 8:36 am

A great book ? Brand Jesus, by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson ? makes this very point: brand ascendency = triumphalism.
Two responses:
I think it’s legitimate, even worthy, to claim that my particular Christian tradition, denomination, local congregation or parachurch agency makes a distinctive contribution, but not as a marketing pitch. It would also be great if we could value the distinctive contributions made by others a lot better, and more publicly.
I also think that a good amount of our triumphalism might be put in some perspective by identifying more strongly with our non-Western brothers and sisters. Their triumph is not so much in the fact that Christianity is growing faster there than in the West, but in their faithfulness with less resources and more persecution.
Perhaps it’s glib, but maybe the answer is not being less triumphalist, but doing a better job of it. For those who follow a crucified Lord, triumph looks very different. Or, it should.

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Craig Beard

posted September 2, 2009 at 9:30 am

After I read this post, I had to look back at the title to see if it was “Christian Consumerism: Branding as a SIGN” or “Christian Consumerism: Branding as a SIN.” :-)

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Jim Martin

posted September 2, 2009 at 10:59 am

I just read this post–twice. I identify very much with your concern. “Us versus them” is a familiar theme within my own “tribe.” I remember a number of years ago when a very anxious man approached me one Sunday and asked, “If those people (speaking of some in other tribes) are ok and we are not the only ones right, then why do we exist?”
On another occasion, I was visiting with a few people who were key leaders of a particular congregation. I remember coming away thinking,”They really think no one else is doing ministry as effectively as they are. They seem to think that we are all holding our breath to see what they are going to do next.”
Anyway–this is very interesting to me and I appreciate the post. (It is also convicting as I think about some of my attitudes in earlier years.) Thanks.

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posted September 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

Good post Scott. I think this can lead to what imonk bloged about calling oneself “gospel centered” – or God centered etc. It can be a way of making oneself feel superior to others deemed not gospel or God centered to whatever degree.

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posted September 2, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I converted to Catholicism, from a more Evangelical tradition, this last Easter. I’ve tried to maintain a focus on the “communion of the saints” rather than thinking of Catholicism as the One True Faith.
I’m enrolled in an Old Testament class this fall, and the professor is also a convert from an Evangelical tradition. I got the sense that he has a more triumphal attitude towards Protestants, and he was particularly ‘victorious’ towards Assembly of God preachers – contrasting them as the “salt of the earth” with the more intellectual Catholic theologians, philosophers, and thinkers.
Maybe it’s because we’re in that more academic and intellectual setting in class; I just remember noticing the attitude and not liking it.

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posted September 2, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I’m not sure consumerism and branding are the primary ways to see this Scot? Reminds me of “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos” etc. Human nature (regenerated or not) has a deep propensity for forming identity groups with common traits and a common sense of belonging On a macro-scale nationalisms are forms of communal group identity – what have been called ‘imagined communities’. On a micro-scale we have friends who like hanging out together. Any group is by definition exclusive. Seems to me what matters is HOW a group holds onto its identity. Often identity is formed ‘against’ others [and I think this is what you are really talking about]. “I’m NOT ……. , I’m ……”. Is the question how can we be passionately committed to our deepest beliefs that form our identity, while at the same time holding that identity ‘loosely’, being open to change, correction. Miroslav Volf talks about having a ‘porous identity’ as a Christian rather than absolutising our inevitably partial understanding of truth. I love that image.

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posted September 3, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Aren’t Emergent Village and The Origins Project brands? Origins even has a very catchy slogan. Emergent Village has that cool leaf logo.

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posted September 3, 2009 at 6:58 pm

In seminary [too many years ago] I studied church planting at the primer school for this area of study and practice. We talked a lot about the homogeneous unit principle and I felt there was something dangerous about building a strategy to grow a church based essentially on the idea of “branding!” Seems to go with what makes a group of people weaker as a community, toward sameness, introversion at some level and a sense of identity that is over against the other. Maybe the critique is too severe but I’m glad the Gospel is bigger, deeper, wider, broader than any strategy or local identity.
Good thoughts Scott. Thanks for getting us reflecting on such an important aspect of the Kingdom and a critique of our form of syncretism.

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posted September 12, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Shouldn’t any book titled “The Divine Commodity” at least be available as a free download?

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Christopher Ribaudo

posted October 11, 2009 at 1:45 am

Interesting post. In my opinion, much of the discussion her isn’t as useful as it could have been if people really understood what the practice of branding actually is and the different aspects involved in doing it. Here are a few suggested things to remember about branding:
!. Heart of branding is identity building.
2. Identity building and formation is at the heart of Gospel ministry, community development, and pastoral ministry. Don’t kid yourself here. Secular brand strategists have studied and taken a page out of Christianity and other religions. That in part explains the overlap.
3. Branding is rooted in values and so is Gospel ministry and the work of the Great Commission.
4. Branding is grounded in and conveys a particular world view, as does the Gospel.
My view is that branding and Christianity go together perfectly and naturally, when properly understood. Branding doesn’t necessarily have to mean or infer “superiority.” Christian branding really is about Jesus Christ, gospel transformation, and spiritual alignment.

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