In today’s market-driven world, the contemporary church faces pressing questions as it continues to be formed by the powerful forces of neoliberal capitalism. This book builds on theological examinations of capitalism and consumerism to develop a theology of marketing that addresses two key questions. First, even though church marketing seems to help churches grow amidst a climate of declining church affiliation, should the church use it? Second, considering the church’s indistinguishability from culture in relation to consumption, how should Christians relate to material goods?
To address these questions, Emily Beth Hill develops a framework that draws on the concrete practices of marketing (such as focus groups, big data, branding, and advertising) and the trajectory of their use over time, along with Martin Luther’s theology of the Word. Combining Martin Luther’s pro me (“for me”) theology with marketing concepts, Hill shows that while marketing and the gospel have formal pro me similarities, materially they are quite different: marketing operates as a word of law distinct from the effective, liberating word of the gospel proclaimed for us, and thus the two produce different human identities. While existing examinations of capitalism primarily rely on theologies and discourses of desire, Hill reveals that a theology of the Word illuminates a fruitful new area for reflection on how the church can resist the deformations of capitalism.
Emily Beth Hill (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is a theologian and campus pastor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Before pursuing theology and ministry, she spent 10 years working in international marketing research.
Introduction: Sermons, Sacraments, and Shopping
Chapter 1: A Brief History of the American Dream
Chapter 2: Marketing “For You”
Chapter 3: The Word of God “For You”
Chapter 4: Slavery and Freedom, A Pro Me Comparison
Conclusion: The Freedom of a Christian in America
Emily Hill demonstrates how thoroughly evangelical the modern economy is: marketing constantly calls, cajoles, demands action of us. In contrast to the anxiety-producing cacophony of marketing messages, Hill proposes the call of God, liberating us to be authentic selves. Meticulously researched and well-argued, this book fills a need for a detailed theological analysis of marketing. Hill demonstrates that all of us are steeped in a highly effective system of formation, and she offers a compelling alternative.
American pastors have long gravitated to marketing techniques to understand and grow their congregations. This trend is visibly accelerating with the rise of the smartphone and the data mining economy. Emily Hill’s deep-dive theological engagement with marketing is urgently needed and long overdue. If you’ve come to think of Jesus as the most successful entrepreneurial leader the world has ever known, this book will not only help you think again—but will show you the gospel afresh.
This remarkable book engages with startling clarity a connection that is often assumed but which has not yet received genuine theological attention: the profound difference between the world of marketed goods and the proclamation of the Word of God. Hill’s analysis is uniquely successful in highlighting how the Christian message resists and works against the all-determining power of the market by drawing out the implications of Martin Luther's insistence on the existential “for me” salvation realized in Jesus Christ. The critical power of the message of salvation is poignantly described as arriving “from outside” through the story of Christ and concretely impacts how Christians navigate their lives in consumer societies.
This book does not need inflated hyperbole to sell it but a marketing executive would not be lying if they claimed it can make you smarter, more theologically informed, and a better guest at dinner parties! Informed by years of experience within the industry itself, Emily Hill has drawn deeply on Luther to provide a thorough theological exploration of marketing and its effects. With direct relevance to economics, ecology, and church life, this book is essential for anyone interested in how to think theologically about the age in which we live.