On Earth as It Is in Advertising

WIPF & STOCK, 2010

In a world where practically anything can be manufactured and where faith in God is often hard to find and hold on to, simulations seem easy. We may believe the world could be a better place, yet ingredients like security, acceptance, dignity, etc., don’t materialize with the flip of a switch. God promises these valuable items, but sometimes it feels like he works too slowly. We want goodness now, and we’re willing to settle for second-rate options if the good stuff is too hard to get. Combine our human longings and lack of patience with the motivation for companies to advertise and sell products, and what we get is the SimGospel.

The SimGospel is a simulated version of the biblical narrative. It is goodness, borrowed. The SimGospel takes what was intended for good and reproduces it in a lesser (albeit, more seductive) light. Whether intimate relationships, meaningful work, invigorating rest, or anything else God intended, the SimGospel preaches them in a simulated form.

I say “preaches” as if the advertising pulpit has a mind of its own. Ironically, it doesn’t. The SimGospel is our own invention. It is an invention very much like the Gospel, just as the game SimCity is very much like a city. In this Gospel simulation, we assume control over a set of truths that do not belong to us, and then we program SimGospel “theology” into our culture so that it propagates itself.

The problem? A simulation isn’t real. And if it isn’t real, then it can’t solve real problems, or provide real answers, or produce real fulfillment. It is just a host of empty vows.

—Adapted from chapter one, “Stolen Goods”


“Sam Van Eman takes aim at the simulated gospel of advertising and hits the bullseye. Better still, he offers us the real thing.”
— Art Simon, author of How Much Is Enough? Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture


“If, as Dallas Willard insists, distraction is the greatest problem keeping us from a more vital experience of faith, then surely advertising is distraction’s most effective agent. Van Eman’s concise analyses and helpful prescriptions can equip us to negotiate the dangerous curves and slippery slopes of advertising so that we will be less likely to be distracted from our kingdom calling to live for Christ.”
— T. M. Moore, author of Redeeming Pop Culture


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