Marketing Jesus – Again?

The following article discusses the marketing associated with the movie “War Room”. Since this is nothing new and has been done many times (small industries based on ‘Christian’ books, it’s probably just the latest example of  a long string of small ‘industries’ that arisen  rom the sale of ‘Christian’ books. I believe the success of such endeavors have a lot do to clever marketing techniques combined with a talent for knowing what ‘itching’ ears want and the associated financial windfall that invariable results from semi biblically literate Christians forking over their hard earned cash for a line of  multi level study guides, canned sermon series’, trinkets and other ‘stuff’ generated from the latest Hollywood fare designed for the Christian market. Having said my piece, here is the article. Note that at the front end there is a link to a review by the same author of  “War Room”.

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Banking on War Room: LifeWay, the Kendricks, and Priscilla Shirer Set the Trend in Evangelical Bible Study

In blog, Featured, The Pen by sethdunn88August 28, 2015

On the eve of the release of War Room, I wrote this piece to accompany my earlier review of that film. This article includes a listing of War Room’s many companion products, which have been made available through LifeWay Christian Resources. War Room has been heavily promoted by LifeWay representatives throughout the United States. Local Baptist missions association directors, in conjunction with LifeWay representatives, have encouraged churches to purchase blocks of tickets or even rent out entire theatres for showings of War Room. During the past few months, free previews of the movie have been offered to key leaders in local churches in order to create a buzz for the film. Tomorrow War Room will hit theatres. Its many companion products should appear at a church near you shortly thereafter.

There are two primary products which have been made available for sale to churches:

· A Church Campaign Kit – $34.99

· This kit includes a leader guide for planning a War Room themed Bible Study. It also includes Sermon outlines so that pastors can preach the theme of War Room from their pulpits.

· According to the product description, the Campaign Kit can “create awareness and re-introduce your church to the power of prayer.” It can also “Encourage participation in War Room (whatever that is) among church members.”

· The War Room Bible Study – $24.99 for the Leader Kit and $7.99 for participant study books.

· This five-lesson study claims to assist users to “Develop strategies to battle the real Enemy through prayer.” (Read Bible, fold hands, close eyes, talk to God. That will be $7.99, please)

Other products include a teen prayer journal, a “Battle Plan” prayer journal (which seems to be little more than a regular prayer journal which has been branded for the movie), the War Room novel, and the “Battle Plan for Prayer” book by Alex and Stephen Kendrick which is advertised as a “strategic guide to engaging with God, expecting His answers, and enlarging your vision of what He can do through someone like you.”

This product line doesn’t sit right with me. Certainly, toy companies aren’t sinning when they make Ninja Turtle and Transformer Action figures to accompany movies about those characters. Neither does Disney sin when it sells princess dolls of all its movie heroines. These companies are just doing what companies exist to do, selling products to make a profit. So, it’s not unusual to see a product line associated with a movie. However, unlike Star Wars action figures, the gospel and biblical principles are not commodities. Yet, there are so many things for sale in association with War Room.

Doesn’t it seem a little McChurch to offer sermon outlines for sale? Shouldn’t a local pastor already be equipped to preach on prayer from the Holy Bible? Does the local pastor need to spiritually lead his flock to the cineplex?

Coast to coast, local churches have been asked to give War Room a major push in theaters. Some churches are planning to buy block of tickets to sell or give to their members. If the movie is good, couldn’t consumers make the choice to buy tickets of their own volition? (Does your church tell you what brand of groceries to buy?) There is a clear message from the Evangelical Industrial Complex Associated with this movie: “You will see it. You will study it. Your church will buy the companion materials. We decide what’s cool and its War Room.”

Consider a church with 1,000 active adult members. If the church buys a campaign kit, fifty Sunday School leader guides, one thousand study books, and one thousand movie tickets, the total cash outlay for doing so will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $19,274.49 and War Room will be the in thing at the church for five weeks.

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Could that money be better spent elsewhere, missions perhaps, perhaps hiring a youth minister who knows how to do more than play electric guitar and throw pizza parties?

Of course, most churches aren’t one thousand members strong but many are. Some are even bigger. There are thousands of churches, from as small as 50 to as large 10,000 who are currently in the market for War Room tickets and materials. These materials have been pushed on them hard by their local missions directors and LifeWay representatives. The potential companion product revenue that surrounds this movie is staggering.

Companion product revenue is needed because the evangelical movie market is a small one when compared to the general population. This is not a movie lost people, by and large, are going to go out and see. They will spend their money on rated R fare while the clear gospel presentation in War Room is preached to the choir. So, to convince secular movie distributors such as Tri-Star to invest in their movies, Christian Filmmakers must promise to deliver ticket sales and related revenue. Blocks of church-bought tickets will do just that, especially on their movie’s opening weekend.

Alex Kendrick seems to have become the Tyler Perry of the Christian movie industry. He writes movies, stars in them, and markets them to his niche audience. Again, there’s nothing sinful about doing this but I remember his first few movies and he didn’t seem like media mogul back then. Flywheel and Facing the Giants were made as ministry of his church and even starred church members, not professional actors. Now, he’s resigned from his church to run his own production company. Personally, I can’t imagine a 1st Century pastor leaving his church to produce and market Christian drama. Neither can I imagine a 1st century Christian being a gospel consumer. I certainly can’t imagine a 1st century Christian associating with the likes of TD Jakes and other Word of Faith Ministers but that’s exactly who Kendrick has been keeping company with since hitting the big time.

The gospel is a big time message but it’s not a big time product. Be discerning about War Room. Don’t be afraid to question the leadership of your church if they expect you to study it. As I mentioned in my review, there are serious and well-document problems with the people associated with this film: most notably Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore (who is actually barely in the movie at all). Both have advocated the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer. Now, they are starring in a movie about prayer which is selling books about prayer. Does the guy at your church buying blocks of movie tickets know this?

Be careful Christians. Consumers usually get what they pay for. Maybe this weekend you should find a copy of Flywheel and sit down with your family at home and watch it. It’s about a man who puts God before money. When it’s over, read the Bible and pray together. That will cost a lot less than $19,274.49.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my (Seth Dunn’s) personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

How Do Man-Made Theories Fail to Justify Morality Apart from God?

Written on June 20, 2012 at American Vision by Nathaniel Darnell

What are the various philosophies of ethics that mankind adheres to? When I was in law school, I was required to examine this question as a part of my study of Professional Responsibility for attorneys. I know what you’re thinking: “Attorneys are required to study about ethics?!” Yes, it is true, and the fact that this study makes little difference on the ethical reputation of attorneys demonstrates once again what Jesus said long ago that one can “make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within [be] full of extortion and excess” (Matthew 23:25). Mere education will not make a person more ethical. Becoming truly moral begins with God changing the inside through redemption.

The Bible teaches us that there are ultimately only two schools of ethics: (1) God’s; and (2) man’s. But “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” saith the Lord. (See Isaiah 55:9.)

That being the case, however, it is helpful to be aware of the prevalent variations of man’s philosophy of ethics. Below, I have adapted a book report I wrote for lawschool summarizing the ten schools of ethics observed in the world. To some of you, these descriptions may sound incredibly basic, but I think it’s good for us to review the basics at times. Each of these schools of ethics are applications of many other schools of philosophy and religion, but we’ll save the analysis on those for another time. Nearly all of the man-made schools of ethics described below have aspects of truth to them, but ultimately they each fall short. The final one does not because it is not man-made.

Might Is Right

Under the “might is right” view of ethics (sometimes called “authoritarianism”), the person who has the most power is right. Usually, this is referring to political power although it has also been applied to physical, psychological, or other kinds of power. While few people profess this view, many of them practice it. However, it has multiple flaws, including: (1) a failure to distinguish between power and goodness; (2) a historical contradiction found in the examples of men like Nero, Stalin, and Hitler.

Morals Are Mores

This view defines ethics as being determined by the ethnic group to which it belongs. The community says what is right. The view is justified under the idea that whatever the way things are (tradition) is the way they ought to be. However, many tragedies occur in the world such as murder, rape, and kidnapping tied to various culture’s traditions, but the mere fact that these things happen does not justify their morality. The Mayans, for example, traditionally killed children and offered their hearts to pagan gods. Can we really say that the fact that this activity was deeply rooted in tradition from that culture justified it?

Individual Man Is the Measure

This view holds that each person’s will determines what is right and wrong for that person. Existentialists and pure humanistic libertarians often favor this view. The problem with it is that two different people could conceivably have totally opposite but equally valid standards of ethics under this view. Thus, even something hateful or cruel may be right if a person believes it is right. Furthermore, it is a weed for chaos as every person does what is right in his own eyes.

The Human Race Is the Basis of Right

Under this view, what mankind wills determines what is right and wrong. However, the moral beliefs of mankind change over the years, and often mankind differs among itself on morals. Multiple nations often have warred with other nations having differing views of morality.

Right Is Moderation

Aristotle was one to argue that morality is found in the “golden mean.” For example, he believed that bravery is the halfway point between fear and aggression, and that pride is the halfway point between vanity and humility. The problems with this view are that sometimes the right thing to do may be the extreme thing. The first-century Christians were “extreme” when compared to the Jews or the Romans because they were challenging the status quo. There is no universal agreement among men on what is “moderate” for all subjects and time periods, and thus moderation can only be a general relative guide, not an objective one.

Right Is What Brings Pleasure

The Epicureans were among the first to profess this view. As hedonists, they believed that what brings pleasure is morally right and what brings pain is morally wrong. The good, they believed, is what brings the greatest pleasure and least pain to the greatest number of people. However, sadists receive pleasure from inflicting pain on others. So is the sadist’s pleasure good or bad? Also, is long-term pleasure or immediate pleasure the test?

Right Is the Greatest Good the for the Greatest Number

This is the utilitarian view of morality. Utilitarians believe what is good is what brings the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run. Do you detect the circular reasoning? Utilitarians also differ as to whether good should be understood in terms of quality or quantity.

Right Is What Is Desirable for Its Own Sake

Under this view, virtue is what is only desirable for its own sake. Virtue is thus an end but not a means. The weakness of this view is three-fold: First, it only states the direction of morality but fails to define it. Second, we often desire what is evil such as adultery, theft, and harm to others. Third, some things that seem good to someone are actually bad, such as suicide at a time of distress.

Right Is Indefineable

Under this view, if good is defined in terms of something else then that something else becomes the standard of intrinsic good. Thus, those holding to this view of ethics refuse to define moral goodness at all. Without a standard of what is good, however, we have no way to distinguish between a good act and a bad act. Also, although what is right may not be defined in terms of something “more ultimate,” that does not mean it cannot be defined at all.

Good Is God’s Will

The Christian view is that good is what God wills. It is what He sovereignly decrees to happen or what He prescribes in His Word. It is what He approves by His own holy nature. While some may call this “authoritarianism,” it is not because authoritarianism occurs only when the one claiming authority is less than ultimate. God, being truly ultimate in His authority, has the right to play the role of the ultimate authority.

As Jesus  Christ said, “ there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). A theory of ethics is only as good as its foundation. Since man without God is not morally good, no theory resting on man can be good either. Our ethics, our morals, and our laws, must be built on the righteous foundation of God. This is one example of why we say that law, ethics, morality, and philosophy are inescapably religious in nature.

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