Do People See Jesus When They Look At Us? A Review of “Branded”

Tim Sinclair believes Christians have a problem. With an introduction sub-title like “pretending or living?” it is not hard to see where he is going. Following up with the quote, “It’s weird. I’m a Christian, and even I don’t like us very much,” removes all doubt. Sinclair says “many Christians have an ‘-ing’ problem. We’re pretty good at say-ing, but not so good at do-ing. We’re pretty good at act-ing, but not so good at be-ing. We’re pretty good at pretend-ing, but not so good at truly liv-ing.” (11) Simply put, many Christians, intentionally or not, are hypocrites.

According to the author, Christians have failed to address the situation at a heart level. Instead, Christians have attempted to address this problem by adopting a superficial “branding” approach, complete with “Christian” bumper stickers, slogans, bracelets, etc. So what does Sinclair offer as an alternative approach? Questions. Rather than laying out a definitive plan of action, Sinclair’s contribution to this discussion is to illustrate several facets of the problem, leaving the reader to consider various ways to address the problem. As he puts it, “Branded, by design, is a pep talk, not a playbook. It’s motivation, not mechanics. It’s inspiration, not instruction. It’s the start of a very long, perhaps never-ending, discussion that’s desperately needed.” (15)

The remainder of the book is the author’s attempt to illustrate his claim that Christians have taken a superficial approach to a heart-level problem. Further, Sinclair illustrates the situation in such a way as to lead the reader toward discovering practical ways of addressing this issue. Sinclair’s use both of wildly creative and vividly descriptive language can have the reader laughing out loud at one moment due to his choice of words, yet cringing under the weight of conviction at the very next moment due to the accuracy with which he paints a not-so-pretty picture of the way many Christians live from day to day.

Sinclair offers twelve chapters describing different ways Christians have wrongly gone about “marketing Jesus.” In each case he offers at least a critique, if not a corrective, for each approach, often illustrating his point with some kind of effectively used marketing strategy from the secular arena (i.e. Apple’s use of white headphones as a unique brand identifier).  In the end, rather than offering hard and fast prescriptions for correcting Christians’ failed attempts to superficially “brand” their Christianity, Sinclair takes the approach of offering some “food for thought” questions, causing the reader to consider possible ways to “market” a more authentic Christianity before a skeptical, watching world. Above all else, Sinclair wants to see Christians living lives that are “branded” by Jesus Christ – transformed by the power of the Gospel – instead of simply applying superficial “Christian” “brands” to mask their inauthentic lives.

I believe much of what Sinclair does in this book is fresh and healthy. He uses his creativity and artistic expression to address this issue in a way that will force people to think outside their stereotypical Christian box. The consistency with which he maintains the “branding” and “marketing” concept, however, may prove to limit his overall effect upon his audience, as some readers may simply find the concept of “marketing Jesus” so far out of the box that they reject it out-of-hand.  In some ways, this response would simply serve to illustrate Sinclair’s point, that many Christians have a commitment to a stale, lifeless Christianity that refuses to adapt to today’s contemporary culture and in so doing renders itself voiceless and impotent for impacting people who do not know Christ.

One problem, for me, is found in Sinclair’s concluding chapter. In calling for Christians to think outside the box in terms of how they express their Christianity to a watching world, some of Sinclair’s suggestions, in my opinion, swing the pendulum too far. For instance, he asks, “What if we created our own, personal churches for the next month?” suggesting that people could invest their “time for the next few weeks in being a part of the church without going to a church.” (111) While I strongly agree that Christians need to leave their “holy huddles” and lay aside a “fortress” mentality of gathering at the church building to remove themselves from the “wicked world” into which we are called to go as salt and light, I do not believe an appropriate alternative can ignore the biblical admonition not to forsake our gathering together. (Hebrews 10:25) The solution need not be either-or. It can be both-and; gathering corporately for vibrant worship of our great God and then intentionally going forth with passion and conviction to live as Christ-followers in the world. Again, in his suggestions, Sinclair is not seeking to be prescriptive, but simply to make people think outside the box. I would just add that our goal should be to get people out of their “religious rut” box, while not encouraging them to consider possible alternatives that would take them outside the biblical box.

One other problem is that the book seems to suggest that many more people would come to Jesus if His followers were not as ineffective at “marketing” Him. This kind of idea fails to acknowledge the necessity of the Holy Spirit in drawing people to a relationship with Christ. I do not at all think the author believes a person comes to Christ simply by being overwhelmed at our example of living for Christ. Sinclair could have simply been more straightforward in making the Holy Spirit’s role clear, while at the same time encouraging Christians to consider the ways in which their lives might be a hindrance to, and not winsome for, people facing the issue of trusting Christ.

Overall, I think this book is a pretty good illustration of how to contextualize the biblical Gospel in a contemporary way, using a theme such as branding/marketing to challenge Christians to live the Gospel in an authentic and winsome way before a hurting and watching world.

(Here is a Press Release about the book from Kregel.)

I received this book from Kregel for the purpose of writing a review.

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