I am reading Sam Van Eman’s On Earth as It Is in Advertising: Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope. And I am thinking that I’m holding an incendiary, revolutionary document in my hands.
I am thinking that author Sam Van Eman is tossing a live hand grenade right into the middle of Christian complacency.
And I am thinking these things became Van Eman is taking on what is still the most significant issue affecting American Christianity – how consumer culture has invaded and taken over the church, resulting in our inability to tell the difference between what he calls the “SimGospel” and the Gospel of the church.
The “SimGospel,” he says, is “a simulated version of the biblical narrative. It is goodness, borrowed. Like the game SimCity, a computer program that allows the player to create and govern a simulated city, the SimGospel is an imitated means to self-establishment. We follow directly on the autonomous heels of our Eden ancestors by overruling God’s intended order and creating our own way of life. We become little gods…”
And the SimGospel plays itself out in all of the little things that are so much background noise in our culture and society. TV commercials. Paying for the opportunity to wear a brand. Never being quite satisfied with what we have. Defining “success” in the church using the same yardsticks that are used in business. And that’s just the beginning.
This could have turned into a diatribe or a major rant, but Van Eman directs it another way – toward helping us understand how to reject the siren song of the SimGospel for the reality of the Gospel. And that reality involves understanding what it means to bear God’s image, and to bear the needs of ourselves and others.
This is where the hand grenade gets set loose. Like in where most of us spend a goodly portion of our adult lives – work.
“What if,” Van Eman asks, “we could see work in a new way – as something for others instead of as a means to our own ends? What if we were able to see work from a biblical viewpoint? What if work were considered a gift to others, and a gift to God in the form of contributing to the building of his kingdom?” Work is a noble task, he says, and “we are called to it for the purpose of serving the Creator and the created order.”
Imagine if we Christians “occupied” our work with the belief that what we did and how we did was just as important as any sermon, and worship service, any choir concert, any revival and any mission service. Imagine if we thought of ourselves as bearing God’s image in the workplace.
That’s the live hand grenade.
On Earth as It Is in Advertising is a profound, provocative book. It’s an ideal book to read between Black Friday and the commercial hype now known as Christmas.
I read it, and I feel the need for repentance.
Sam Van Eman blogs at New Breed of Advertisers.