Shrink it and pink it!
This has been a common strategy in marketing campaigns geared towards women over the years. It has backfired on a number of occasions, most notably in Bic’s pink and purple pens “for her” which were 70% more expensive than their non-gendered pens.* The pink and purple pens elicited many snarky reviews, even eliciting jokes from Ellen Degeneres (“Can you believe this? We’ve been using man pens all this time!”**)
“Shrink it and pink it” has been applied to laptops, toolboxes, lighters, guns, and even beer.* And recently I wondered: Has it also been applied to the Christian publishing industry?
Faith in a consumerist culture
Kristin Kobes Du Mez claims in her book Jesus and John Wayne:
“The products Christians consume shape the faith they inhabit.”
When I read that, I stopped. I saw in my mind’s eye a parade of hundreds of products aimed at Christian women: devotionals in pretty packaging, books and Bible studies in full color with fancy lettering, Christian magazines with modern graphics, Scripture cards, prayer journals, mugs, sweatshirts, jewelry, marriage programs, parenting programs, homeschooling materials.
If the products we consume do indeed have a hand in shaping our faith, shouldn’t we take a more discerning look at what we Christian women are being sold?
In my senior year of high school, I attended a “ladies’ tea” put on for us by the staff at our small, Christian school. My friends and I sipped our tea and munched on pastries while the speaker talked to us about life after high school. I don’t remember everything she said, but one nugget of truth has stayed with me all these years later. She told us that it would take a “dogged determination” to grow in our relationship with God. In that 12th grade context, she meant that there would be no parents around making us go to church or attend a Bible study after we’d graduated and moved out on our own. There would be no more riding on the coattails of our parents’ faith.
How quickly I found this to be true! The impetus was on me—and me alone—to continue walking with God. But what is also true is that when you’re surrounded by Christian culture you can easily become apathetic in your faith and stagnant in your relationship with God.
You can bring your pink Bible to church and not do much else with it. You can easily rely on devotionals to feed you the carefully curated word of God in easily digestible, non-offensive bites. You can decorate your walls with Bible verses painted on gorgeous signs. You can put your faith on display with pithy sayings lifted from out-of-context verses and slap them on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. You can rely on celebrity Christians to tell you how to think and what to believe and how to vote.
I know this because I’ve done it.
Why should I figure out what I believe when others I look up to have already wrestled with the hard questions? Why bother engaging with doubt when the Christian publishing industry has an answer for everything? I can take shelter in my safe beliefs and only consume information that validates my opinion. I can buy the shrink-it-and-pink-it Christian products and know they are just for me.
Friends, this isn’t good enough. Our theology matters.
Don’t let me lose you at that word—theology is simply the “study of God and God’s relation to the world” according to Mirriam Webster. Or, as Carolyn Custis James puts it: “Since theology is really about knowing God, then anyone who believes anything about God is a theologian of sorts.”
Our theology matters because life is hard and no one will be spared sorrow and suffering. And when we are walking through dark valleys, what we know about God comes into sharp focus. A superficial faith won’t sustain us. The Christian platitudes and cliches we’ve been fed won’t satisfy. Instead, we need a dogged determination to know God more and more so that when we face our dark valleys our hope in God will not be extinguished.
“For all of us, nothing approaches the importance or the urgency of pursuing a deeper knowledge of God—a knowledge that makes thinkers and doers out of all of us. As ‘ezers’—daughters of Eve—we were created to know God, to probe his character and ponder his ways. We hurt ourselves and make life far more difficult when we try to subsist on inadequate ideas of God.”Carolyn Custis James When Life and Beliefs Collide
How can we know God more? How can we examine and develop our own theology?
You are a theologian
Though God reveals himself to us in a number of different ways, the Bible is a source we can always turn to in order to know God more. In fact, the Bible was written with that exact purpose in mind. It is God’s revelation of himself to us. Contrary to what our Sunday School teachers taught us, God is the hero of every Bible story (not Esther, not David, not Daniel, etc.).
In her book When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn Custis James suggests asking these three questions to enrich our search for God through scripture:
- What does this tell me about God?
- What does this tell me about myself?
- What difference does it make for me to know this?
Additionally, I want to encourage us, fellow sisters in Christ, not to shy away from Bible scholars and experts. We are smart and capable, so let’s be bold and sink our teeth into meaty texts and dig through commentaries. We don’t need pretty packaging to tell us it’s for us. We can reach for the heavier volumes, confident in our ability to understand complex ideas, and willing to grapple with nuance instead of being fed the same old safe answers.
There are other ways God reveals himself to us, to be sure. I’m thinking of nature, music, other Christians, and of course his Holy Spirit. But in our consumerist culture, it’s necessary to be discerning about what we purchase.
It’s time to take ourselves seriously as theologians, because how you know God and what you believe about God impacts your family, your church, and your personal faith. And our highest calling as Christian women isn’t what we do to serve God in our lifetime, but rather, it’s to cultivate our relationship with Him—which cannot happen unless we take the time to know Him.
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