Tim Sinclair is both a radio personality and a marketer who has helped organizations from McDonalds to Word Records brand themselves (as in advertise, not poke each other with hot irons). This is his first foray into writing a book (from what I can tell) but you might not pick that up from the clarity of his writing. I would hope that Tim writes more books in the future.
This book it suitable for just about anyone. It is primarily aimed at Christians though, and specifically Christians who have either become disenchanted with the church in general (or more specifically kitschy evangelical Christian culture) or with some predominant evangelistic methods. Sinclair is writing to offer a description of a new way of approaching sharing our faith. In that case, people unsettled by the status quo would appreciate what he has to say. Given the brevity of his book, it’s worth a read to anyone looking for a new way to think about evangelism in general.
To give a brief run through, chapter 1 orients the reader to why Sinclair is writing: to offer a pep talk, motivation, and inspiration for changing the way we present our faith. Chapter 2 draws the connection between evangelism and marketing, pointing out that while we may not necessarily like this comparison, is in an apt one. Chapter 3 presents statistical data backing up the claim that the religious marketplace today has broadened its horizons and from a marketing standpoint, people have plenty of other faith options besides Christianity. Chapter 4 introduces the idea that positive experiences coupled with meeting a need adds more value, while chapter 5 introduces some of the inherent difficulties in “branding” Jesus.
Chapter 6 is where the rubber begins to meet the road and Sinclair lays out where he sees branding Jesus has run astray (hint: it has something to do with hypocrisy). Chapter 7 pushes on in spite of the difficulties, offering encouragement for navigating the rough waters of promoting Jesus in our culture. Chapter 8 begins Sinclair’s sketch of ideas for a better approach to marketing Jesus in our culture, which amounts to being more relational in how we share our faith. Chapter 9 continues this plea of relationality but focuses on honestly communicating our faith. Chapter 10 adds another dimension, pointing out that we should be recognizable by our fruit, and that fruit should be compelling. Chapter 11 then suggest we reshape our lingo and not talk to non-believers as if they had grown up in church. Finally chapter 12 closes with a rather lengthy (for this book) set of questions to get the reader thinking about ways to move forward and let some of the ideas from Branded affect their own approach to evangelism/marketing.
Overall, I thought this was a good book. It was a quick read (I read it in one sitting) but if these ideas are new for you, then this is a book you’ll likely ruminate on for a while afterwards. For me, there was not anything particularly revolutionary for me. Most of what Sinclair pointed out I had already noticed and reflected on myself. For people who have not reflected on why we do the things we do in our Christian culture, this book is a gentle nudge to reconsider and perhaps reframe how they approach sharing their faith. It would be a particularly good book to go through in a small group setting since it comes with discussion questions in the back of the book for each chapter. We actually talked about some the issues Sinclair brings up last week in our small group, even though we are going through Galatians right now. Judging from the discussion, going through a book like Sinclair’s over a series of weeks would be quite the conversation starter.
In terms of criticisms, there are only a few I might mention. I didn’t find the chapter on statistics to be that compelling (chapter 3), but part of that is my own suspicion of the rationale behind statistical data like this. I understand the point Sinclair was trying to make though (people are rejecting Christianity in greater numbers today) but I don’t actually think that this is true, nor if it was would it be because we’re doing a poor job of presenting our faith (which we might be). The two conditions might correlate, but it would be hard to prove our poor methodology causes rejection. Needless to say, Sinclair is right to question our methods even if they are not causing more people to reject Christianity because they bottom line is that some of those methods are definitely not helping advance the gospel.
Additionally, I think the hypocrisy of Christians can be overblown at times. Sinclair doesn’t push this point too hard, but in chapter 6, part of his argument is that our hypocrisy pushes people away. To some extent, it does, and I’ve seen it first hand. But it’s not the actual hypocrisy that turns people away so much as the “sweeping under the rug” of our hypocrisy. Christians will always be hypocritical to some extent, and when that is coupled with honesty and humility it admitting our faults, we have a powerful apologetic. Interestingly enough, we can always push the hypocrite card across the table and point out that nobody else consistently lives consistently with the ethic that corresponds to their religion. The question really is, which religious option actually welcomes hypocrites and offers them grace?
Lastly, while the questions in chapter 12 provide a good exercise in brainstorming, many of them are not very helpful. They’re a move in the right direction, but some of the ideas seem like throwaway options that shouldn’t receive serious consideration. A group thinking through them critically and biblically (and theologically) could benefit from some of the suggestions, while simultaneously recognizing the ideas that would make matters worse. Discernment should be used in reading any book, and especially books that suggest new practices. Most of Sinclair’s thoughts are beneficial, but several suggestions in chapter 12 have either been tried and found wanting, or have no relation to the problem of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively.
These criticisms shouldn’t ultimately deter someone from checking out Sinclair’s book if they are interested in the subject. The book is short and to the point, and Sinclair has some valuable things to say for people who are looking for a new way to think about sharing their faith in our consumer culture. I enjoyed reading through it and see his work as short and to the point contribution to a discussion on methodology in evangelism. If you’ve run into the problems he addressed (methods that seem to push away non-believers, hypocrisy turn off, and language fail) then you’ll find Sinclair’s book a valuable starting point to a corrective course. The value of his book lies in pointing out the problem from marketing standpoint, not so much in offering a clear solution. For that, one will need to look to other writers have wrestled with similar problems and offer biblically sound solutions.
Thanks to Kregel for providing this review copy!