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Still, I believe there is a better way to reach out to those who don't know how close God is to them. It's a way that is much more in accord with the gospel we proclaim.

First, note three basic assumptions of marketing culture. First, people are basically in pretty good shape; they just need one more product or service to make their lives complete. Second, people just need an attractive offer to entice them to accept the deal. Third, life is fundamentally a deal, an exchange; companies offer goods and services, and we get them into our lives when we pay for them. As they say, there is no free lunch.

Note how the gospel's assumptions turn these ideas on their heads. First, people are "dead in their trespasses" (Eph. 2:1). That is, their situation is utterly hopeless. They don't need improvement as much as resurrection to new life.

Second, because they are dead, an attractive offer is not going to do any good. It would be like a salesman walking into a morgue to convince corpses to buy life insurance.

This is why Paul is so emphatic about how we come to faith in Christ. Replacing phrases like "plausible words of wisdom" with something contemporary, note how he describes his initial evangelistic visit to Corinth:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with persuasive marketing techniques. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not framed in marketing logic, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Only the Spirit can bring the dead back to life. As Paul told his protégé Titus:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5).

Faith is pure gift, pure miracle, pure work of the Spirit. There is nothing we can do to bring this about. "Without any possibility on our side," wrote Karl Barth in his exposition of the Apostles' Creed, "God's great possibility comes into view, making possible what is impossible from our side. It is God's gift, God's free gift not prepared for by anything on our side."

It also is true that we can do nothing to prevent this from happening. No matter how hypocritical, uncool, or marketing inept a church is, the Spirit moves people to give their lives to Jesus and his church. If the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, and the Inquisition were not enough to sabotage the appeal of Christian faith, singing moribund hymns with a bunch of old ladies (or whatever else embarrasses us about the church today) will not stop the Holy Spirit.

Third, if the gospel is a transaction, it is a transaction that is offered and completed by the same party: God. God does not offer forgiveness on the condition that we repent. There is no quid pro quo, no this-for-that, no exchange. Instead, he offers forgiveness so that we might repent and enjoy abundant life! So there is, in fact, a free lunch.

To put it in commercial terms: Our credit rating is in the double digits. Our home is in foreclosure. Chapter 11 is our middle name. And yet along comes a developer who gives us the deed and the keys to a mansion. Naturally, in order to enjoy our new home, we need to open the door and step in. God wants us to enjoy a real participation in his life. But this is not a quid pro quo or a condition—the house is already ours—as much as it is simply the way we enjoy the gift. (That some refuse to enjoy the gift and do so stubbornly, for eternity, is a great mystery. But it does not change the miraculous and gracious nature of the gift.)

In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is Editor of Christianity Today in Carol Stream, Illinois.
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