Working at a business school, I get the opportunity to pick up out-of-date textbooks for free from time-to-time. I was reading my newest introductory marketing textbook earlier this week when I was reminded of some basic marketing concepts and assumptions.
At its base, marketing is process by which people create and exchange products that satisfy felt needs.
When a need is not satisfied, a person will do one of two things — look for an object that will satisfy it or try to reduce the need. People in industrial societies may try to find or develop objects that will satisfy their desires. People in less-developed societies may try to reduce their desires and satisfy them with what is available.
As I was reading the book, I thought of Augustine’s famous line that we are restless until we find our rest in God. If Augustine is correct about the need — a human need for communion with God — then my book seems to suggest that people will respond to this need in a few different ways.
They might seek God, but they may be prone to substitute something else for God if the cost of seeking God is too high. They will be satisfied with cut-rate products that are cheap and convenient over top-shelf products that are costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer may have said we need costly grace, but cheap grace still has a big audience.
People might also try to reduce their felt need for God by various means. You can numb the pang. You can deny the need exists. You can learn to get around with pain.
This kind of thinking quickly takes us away from theological thinking. Marketing conceives of human beings as a bundle of needs and — as I did above — reduces God to a product that can satisfy those needs. This strikes me as dangerous territory for Christians, but given the world we live in, I would propose — at least as a topic for further discussion — that learning how our culture thinks and talks about human beings is necessary for the church if it wishes to engage with the world with the good news.