Reflections from Seminary Students

A Theology of Marketing

January 24th, 2011 § 0 Comments

Here during my second year in the School of Theology graduate program, I have split from the pack to pursue my specific master’s track: Business and Applied Theology. This year, I will be taking business courses focusing on the theological implications of work and the marketplace. One of my courses last quarter was Marketing for Managers with Marketing Professor Dr. Regina Schlee, and what follows is based on a paper I wrote for the class on the relationship between Christian ethics and marketing.

Marketing and the Gospel

Marketing from a Christian perspective creates ethical tensions not present in a classical stance of marketing. When a Christian marketer promotes a product or a company as “the best,” is he or she violating the call of the gospel for humility? Additionally, is it morally impermissible for a Christian to advertise toward human weakness, such as selling luxury cars by rousing a person into thinking that being classified as elite depends on owning a luxury car? Whether it is a prideful promoting of “the best” or a calculated pandering to elitism, these examples ought to raise concerns for Christian marketers attempting to live according to the gospel.

Scripture, however, uncovers the value of marketing for Christians. A careful look at the Bible gives the conclusion that some texts in Scripture carry an evangelistic aim which includes characteristics of marketing, such as persuasion. The authors of the four gospels chose specific stories from the life of Christ, they organized these stories in explicit ways, and they presented the stories to targeted communities. Similarly, marketing holds the potential for intrinsic value because it organizes truthful information in order for it to become persuasive to society.

Information is Persuasive

However, one major criticism of marketing surrounds the persuasive communication of information. The critic believes that if marketing were to strip advertisements of emotionally persuasive material, the resulting forms of marketing would be more ethically sound. It is not the presentation of the information, however, that is the root of persuasion; the root of the persuasion comes from the information itself — given that it is true. Minus inflection, catchy graphics, and compelling images, phrases and statements remain persuasive because they transfer truth statements from producer to consumer.

Marketing Facilitates Economic Exchange

Keeping in mind the implications of marketing in Scripture, and acknowledging the persuasiveness of truthful information, a broad definition of marketing from a Christian perspective must be developed. At its universal level, marketing exists to facilitate economic exchange between producer and consumer. In my opinion, this exchange exists as the starting point for all ethical concerns in marketing.

To begin, utilitarian calculations classify the value of economic exchange. Utilitarianism is an ethical system developed on the rubric of creating the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. This philosophy permeates the business world, and the marketing world in particular. When marketing successfully facilitates an economic exchange, it provides benefits to both producer and consumer. The producer gains monetarily from the transaction and the consumer gains by receiving what was promised, the desired good or service. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with mutual gain resulting from a transaction, the economic exchange model narrowly focuses on the economic benefits of producer and consumer.

This model supplies space for injustice to occur outside the singular transaction. For example, under a utilitarian lens, it is justifiably permissible to pay low wages and to provide poor working conditions to a small number of employees as long as the producers and a large number of consumers receive the greatest benefit. The narrowly defined terms of economic exchange dismiss the wellbeing of third parties such as laborers along the supply chain, the poor, and the limited resources that exist in the world.

Marketing that Promotes Human Flourishing

Exchanges between producer and consumer must account for inputs and consequences. A Christian marketer ought to question the promotion of products that either diminish the quality of life for certain individuals or plunder our natural resources. In a simplified society, transactions among people result from positive relationships. For example, if a small town contains one grocery store and one clothes supplier, the grocer needs to maintain a good rapport with the clothing supplier, because a bad relationship results in an inability to acquire clothing. In this basic example, producer and consumer rely on each other because the roles adjust as different transactions occur. Put differently, maintaining positive relationships within a community of people allows for human flourishing; each person specializes in the trade to which he or she is best suited.

The Christian marketer, therefore, needs to consider whether the products he or she promotes align with the qualifications of human flourishing. Does the good or service provide consumer, producer, society, and nature with at least a minimum amount of flourishing? (Note: This question does not promote an egalitarian system where each person receives an equal share of resources. I understand the value of dividing resources by talent and contribution to society. However, I disagree with allocating resources in such a way that some receive the lion’s share of the resources while others live in poverty.)

Illustrating this point in the tobacco industry would be a Christian marketer who was incapable of promoting cigarettes because the product kills the consumer, an attribute that does not contribute to human flourishing. On a more difficult level, perhaps the Christian marketer should question whether he or she can promote Coca-Cola because it is unhealthy. But what about in developing countries, where it can be an alternative to dirty water? The Christian marketer ought to wrestle with whether to promote a product like Coca-Cola. What relational quality exists in the promotion of the product in countries without clean water? Perhaps a minimal amount of flourishing exists when the consumer modifies his or her purchases to include soft drinks instead of unsanitary water. It would be even better, however, to develop a sanitary water “product.” Nevertheless, the Christian approaches marketing in an ethical manner when he or she promotes products using the relationship rubric, the one source not lacking in scarcity.


Since Scripture is partly used as a marketing tool, Christians proclaim the gospel. The same principle applies to sharing information because truth statements are persuasive. Therefore, marketing in principle is an ethically justifiable action. Marketing from a Christian worldview differs from other worldviews because Christians provide a distinct perspective on the value of exchange. Where a non-Christian considers exchanges between producer and consumer on an economic level, a Christian ought to account for the communal and relational aspect of marketing, elevating exchange from a dry monetary principle to a rubric for human flourishing. Therefore, Christians view all aspects of the marketing mix through an entirely different lens. The approach to product, price, promotion, and place varies significantly when marketing relationships facilitate exchange.

Book Review: The Blasphemer

January 12th, 2011 § 0 Comments

The Blasphemer: A Novel by Nigel Farndale (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. 384 pp)

Best known for his interviews in the Sunday Telegraph, Nigel Farndale is a British author and journalist. Farndale went to Barnard Castle School before receiving a master’s degree in philosophy from Durham University. On top of his work for the Sunday Telegraph, Farndale contributes articles to the Sunday Times, Country Life, and Spectator. Of his five published books, Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce was shortlisted for both the 2005 Whitbread Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Additionally, The Blasphemer was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Novel Award. Farndale lives between Hampshire and Sussex with his wife and three sons.

What Kind of Person Are You?

In times of severe distress, it is often said that your actions betray the kind of person you are. Some people submit to whatever fate awaits; some reveal a heart of bravery as they seek to save others at the expense of themselves; and some leave all relational obligations behind as self-preservation takes over the nervous system.

Daniel Kennedy – a zoologist, Dawkinsian atheist, and protagonist of The Blasphemer – would first choose to save himself. As a downed seaplane off the Galapagos Islands fills with water, he swims past his struggling, common-law wife, Nancy, in order to reach the surface. Although Daniel fills his lungs with air in order to swim back down to the sinking wreckage in order to save Nancy, the psychological damage is done.

Later, while Daniel attempts to swim approximately 14 miles to the Galapagos Islands hoping to find help for his fellow survivors, he is compelled forward by a vision of a man, an apparition, an angel, or, more logically, a hallucination.

Fight, Flight, and Faith

Farndale’s book discusses weighty subjects. Following Daniel’s great-grandfather, Andrew Kennedy, through the First Great War and detailing Daniel’s detective-natured father, Philip, the Blasphemer narrates three familial generations through war, terrorism, and foundational belief.

Between the tensions of modern science and ancient religious tradition, Farndale crafts his characters:

“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps that is why God makes angels, immaterial beings whose identity resides in the world of thought. The unseen world. The abstract world. They are creatures that can’t be explained away by scientists.”

“Thought you sad men make angels.”

“No. I said that Darwin said that men make angels.”

“So you do believe in them?”

“They have been described as the most beautiful conceit in mortal wit, and I would go along with that” (177).

Although the tome begins slowly, the story compellingly unfolds into a page turner. Farndale’s characters provide depth in the storyline, and the motifs from each era unite nicely.

Foundational Faith

Ultimately, The Blasphemer is a cinematic story surrounding belief. While some create a dichotomy between faith and reason, Farndale suggests that faith is a necessary aspect of reason. When placed in stressful and life-threatening situations, humans react in different ways. Some safe themselves, some save the most talented, and other are self-sacrificial. In all of these instances, actions exist on a foundation of faith. One of the better books read last year, I recommend The Blasphemer.

Apostrophes Can be Fun: My Work as a Graduate Assistant

January 3rd, 2011 § 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: John Harrell is a guest contributor on the SOT Blog. He is a second-year, MDiv student in the graduate program.

The assignments in my basic newswriting course in college had to be turned in on time—almost to the minute—or I would receive an automatic “F” for the piece.

Photo by Thomas Hawk

It was good training for us journalism majors at my college on the East Coast.  We would be given a certain amount of class time in which to write a newspaper-style piece with the expectation that we would work quickly, record facts accurately, use proper Associated Press format, and get every single fact, figure, and name-spelling absolutely correct.  Style and grammar were important and would be reflected in our grades.  But there were certain drop-dead triggers.  Misplaced decimal?  Forgot to include the silent “e” in “Wolfe”?  Automatic fail.

Oh, and we weren’t allowed to use a spelling checker.

Sound miserable?  Actually, it was rather fun.  In high school, I was the copy editor for the student newspaper and became notorious for handing back article drafts coated in editing marks: missing commas, misspelled words, “their” versus “they’re” versus “there”, and so on.  I’ve always enjoyed working with the minutiae of grammar and punctuation.

So when I came to SPU, you can imagine what a blessing it was for me to work as a Graduate Assistant on the editing process for a professor’s book.  Much of the autumn and early winter saw me at a computer, music in my earphones, hunched over the screen, formatting the book manuscript for the typesetter.

I was given the entire manuscript by e-mail along with the publisher’s instructions on how the piece should be presented: code markings for boldface type, how to know where “em” dashes (—) should be used instead of “en” dashes (–), preferences on font and size, and so forth.  And so I set about putting the manuscript in order.

I look back fondly on those edit sprees—the choral music and soft techno, becoming extremely familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, giving a new, orderly shape to the material the professor had already written, helping to get it ready for coming to life in book form.

To the casual observer, the document looked like chaos when I was finished, thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of red marks from Microsoft Word’s ”track changes” function.  But it was part of the inevitable birthing process of a book that is now in print and (hopefully) mechanically clean and properly formatted.  It was a process in which this journalism major was blessed to take part as a divinity student.

And to my former professors on the East Coast: if I misplaced a decimal, I’m truly sorry—but you can’t take away my diploma.

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