User Review or Salesman Pitch?

In the age of online buying and selling, the thing that any astute buyer wants to read is the "user reviews." There's nothing more honest and detailed than the observations and recommendations of the people who have actually bought the thing and are using it. Whether it's a product like a TV or a blender, or a service like landscaping or plumbing, every buyer wants to see the user review, and every seller fears it.

This is in contrast to a salesman's pitch. Nobody trusts the pitch. It's scripted, it's learned, and its motive is completely different. The sales pitch is meant to solicit a response from you that is favorable to the salesperson and who s/he works for. The sales pitch emphasizes the positives and the objective is to get you to buy. The salesperson may or may not use what's being sold him or herself. But the user review is completely different. It is candid, told from experience, and its objective is to simply give you accurate information. Before I take the leap and invest in something, I want to hear from others who already have.

It's the same way with religion. Which makes we wonder - why do so many of us Christians put forth a sales pitch rather than a user review?

Actually, many Christians, especially those of the Southern Baptist and independent evangelical variety, are being taught by their churches how to give salesman pitches rather than being encouraged to share a user review. Popular authors like Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, and many others use book after book and seminar after seminar to teach Christians how to defend the Bible and argue for the truth of their beliefs. There is now even an Apologetics Study Bible whose reference notes are there to help prepare you for that frightful moment when a free-thinking person might ask obvious, down-to-earth questions about the Bible.

Here's my question: if you have to be taught to sell it, have you really used it? When you sit down to write a user review, the words just spill out. You don't even have to think about it. You've been using the product or service, you know what has worked and what hasn't, and nobody has to tell you what to say or how to say it because it's simply your own experience in your own words. But is this what we do when it comes to faith? There's a lot of talk in Christian circles about sharing your "testimony," which is what I'm getting at, but even the testimony has been co-opted by the salesman pitch. We're taught to give our "before Jesus vs. after Jesus" 30-second commercial.

Are we so unconvinced by the answer we claim to have that we have to be taught how to give it? Instead of being real and vulnerable and sharing from our own personal experience, we detach the conversation and talk about things like the Bible, the church, theological concepts, etc.

This is why we're sometimes surprised when we read about people wanting to follow Jesus only to have Jesus give them a response that could turn them off (Luke 9:23-24 and Luke 9:57-62). Didn't Jesus want followers? He's lacking in the marketing department here, isn't he? But he's not giving a salesman pitch, he's giving a user review. A user review is honest and authentic. "This could be hard." "You might have to sacrifice." "Make sure you really want it because it's a commitment." Or, as Donald Miller puts it:

I'm not convinced by a salesman's pitch that only gives me the positives. I want to hear an honest review by someone with first-hand knowledge, and I can accept some cons and down sides if the thing in question has made a positive difference in the person's life. User reviews are simple, flow freely from our experience, and can't be denied. For another great example from the Bible, see the story of the blind man in John 9. Notice that a simple, honest "user review" from the blind man freed him up from having to "own" something else or try to sell it. He originally made no definitive statements about God, Jesus, or theology (until the end) even though the religious leaders tried to bait him to do so. He simply shared what Jesus had done for him. Christians who are still a part of the institutional church are getting beat out in the user review department. All the good, honest user reviews out there are coming from those who left the church and had bad experiences. Those on the inside are sticking to salesman pitches that no one trusts.

You can't give a user review if you're not using what you're selling. I'm convinced we haven't personalized this stuff. Think about how Christians are taught to present the gospel: the "Romans Road" or the "4 Spiritual Laws" or some other way of talking about "salvation" in the abstract. But how has it transformed you? What is your story? You may know someone in our family or circle of friends who "got saved" and ended up becoming more obnoxious and arrogant than they ever were. What happened? They've merely been converted to a worldview, a belief system, instead of being broken, transformed, and renewed. This is what it means to be "born again" (John 3:3).

Believing in God helps us sleep at night; but actually meeting God can keep us up at night. Our beliefs help us feel we are right; but actually meeting God shows us how wrong we are and how incomplete our knowledge is (see Isaiah 6:1-8). Assent to a certain set of beliefs gains us acceptance into the church of our choice; but if God gets a hold of us and transforms us into people of love and forgiveness, we risk being called a "friend of sinners."

Earlier I mentioned the heavy emphasis on apologetics in some Christian circles. Ironically, these efforts hinder faith instead of helping it. For example, there's a lot of anxiety in the system about high school graduates going off to college and facing the challenge of "secularism" in the university. We're scared to death they'll lose or question their faith in college, so during youth group years, we teach them not to. Or, we at least give them ready-made responses to questions they might face. But by doing this, we shelter students from the very thing that will make their faith stronger and more personal: doubt and questioning. These efforts merely serve to prolong the amount of time that a young person's faith is borrowed. It must become their own, and the agent by which it does so is doubt and questioning.

Have you met the God you believe in? Has God messed up your life and diverted your path? Have your priorities, habits and behaviors changed because of what you say you believe? What is your user review?

1 comment:

  1. Good article..many believers really don't understand what they claim they believe in...many more who think they know what the bible teaches, do not! And the bible's message has far too many layers to explain meanings to anyone not willing to put in the work to uncover those layers.

    For me,'testimony' can be given about life changes made for many reasons without religion at all...so explaining faith in the bible's message can only be done systematically through study.