November 2003
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Perspectives Journal
4500 60th St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
editors@perspectivesjournal.org

November 2003: Essay

Will There be Marketing in Heaven?

by Todd Steen and Steve VanderVeen

The Bible tells us that we are to anticipate a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). In this new heaven and new earth we read that we will plant vineyards and eat their fruit, build houses and dwell in them, and that we will long enjoy the works of our hands (Isaiah 65:22-23). Before we call to God, he will answer us, and while we are still speaking he will hear us (Isaiah 65:24). Revelation 21:3 states "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." Our eternal home does not need a temple, "because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. This city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it" (Revelation 21:22-24).

The Christian view of "heaven," the place where we will spend eternity with God, is based in part on the descriptions of the above passages. These images, although given to ancient Near Eastern peoples in terms of their own cultures, are still instructive for us as we develop our concepts of what an eternity living with God will look like. The Bible describes a new heaven and new earth, where all aspects of life will be transformed and redeemed when the Lord returns. The new heaven and new earth is not a place where we will float around like angels playing harps, but instead is a holy city, where God's throne will reside, and we his servants will serve him in a variety of ways. When we use the term "heaven," we use this (as a shorthand term) to refer to God's renewed creation, no longer a garden, but instead a holy city where all of God's intentions for his creation will come to fruition.

As we work and live and worship in the very presence of God, as we "build houses and plant vineyards" and live in the "New Jerusalem," will there be a need for marketing and those in the marketing profession? Will marketing be part of the glory and honor of the nations that will be brought into the city (Revelation 21:26), or will it be one of the items described in Isaiah 65:17: "The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind?" If marketing is to be part of the new earth, what implications does this have for our current age?

The authors of this essay teach business and economics, so marketing is natural area of interest for us. But marketing should be of interest to everyone because it is ubiquitous, even shaping the behavior of churches. Every day we are inundated with images and words meant to influence the products we buy and the ideas we adopt. Can marketing, which is often viewed as a necessary evil (or just evil), be renewed and find a place in God's new creation after His return? Could other disciplines and professions and activities find a place as well? In addition, how does our vision of heaven impact our activities today?

Our examination of the Biblical description of the new heaven and new earth leads us to believe that marketing will have a role there in the lives of God's people. Thinking about how marketing will ultimately be redeemed and reordered can aid in our redemptive task today. Such thinking can provide us with an ideal for what we might do now, a realistic idea of the costs of discipleship, and a source of encouragement when reality does not readily shape itself to our ideal.

Isaiah 60:
When the Kings Come Marching In

Richard Mouw, in his book When the Kings Come Marching In (Eerdmans, 1983), admits that those in the Reformed-Calvinist tradition have often stated their case in "too facile" a fashion, choosing to debate issues almost exclusively on philosophical and systematic-theological grounds. In response, he chose to concentrate directly on the Biblical passages concerning the new heaven and new earth, focusing on Isaiah 60 and comparing it to other passages such as Isaiah 2 and Revelation 21 and 22 (Mouw, p. x, xi). Mouw interprets the Biblical imagery of the day and attempts to draw conclusions for believers in the present age.

In Isaiah 60 is recorded a vision of a magnificent, transformed city: "many of the people and objects from Isaiah's own day appear within its walls, but they have assumed different roles, they perform different functions" (Mouw, p. xii). Mouw pictures the Holy City "as a center of commerce, a place which receives the vessels, goods, and currency of commercial activity"; for instance, "camels come from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba, carrying gold and frankincense" (v. 6), ships arrive from Tarshish, "bearing silver and gold" (v. 9), and expensive lumber comes from Lebanon (v. 13) (Mouw, p. 7). Mouw notes that the animals "are primarily important as commercial goods and vehicles" and that, along with sailing ships and lumber, they are no longer "signs of pagan cultural strength or displays of alien power." Instead, they now "proclaim the name of the Lord;" these things "are gathered into the Holy City to be put to good use there" (Mouw, p. 8, 9).

However, this description seems inconsistent with other passages of Scripture, such as Isaiah 2, which condemn the wicked and their works. Isaiah "seems to picture God as destroying the same kinds of things which are then brought into the Holy City in chapter 60" (Mouw, p. 10). According to chapter 2, these things are to be judged by the Lord because "people trust in these things for their security" (Mouw, p. 11). Mouw answers this dilemma by stating the following:

My own impression is that the judgment that will visit the ships of Tarshish is of a purifying sort. We might think here of the "breaking" of the ships of Tarshish as more like the breaking of a horse rather than the breaking of a vase. The judgment is meant to tame, not destroy. The ships of Tarshish will be harnessed for service in the Holy City--a process that will require a "breaking" of sorts (Mouw, p. 13).

The structure or function of the ships will not be destroyed, but instead their direction will be changed to one of full obedience; ships will bring silver and gold, but they will do so to bring complete praise to the Lord, for this is what they were created to do. No longer will they symbolize "haughtiness and rebellion" (Mouw, p. 13). Isaiah was optimistic about the future of many elements of pagan culture, "but he did not mean to encourage people to embrace that culture in its present forms" (Mouw, p. 14). Mouw summarizes by stating that "as we think about what will be gathered into the Holy City, we must look for present-day analogues to the ships of Tarshish and the cedars of Lebanon" (Mouw, p. 18), keeping in mind that some things "will be changed almost beyond recognition. Swords will become plowshares" (Mouw, p. 19).

We believe marketing is a "present-day analogue," for even though its structure and purpose were created good, it is often used in service of the kingdom of darkness. What is marketing's God-ordained function? What might it look like in the Holy City? To these questions we turn next.

What is Marketing?

When we think of marketing, we tend to think of advertising and selling, two of marketing's most visible activities. But marketing is fundamentally a process through which people attempt to meet their needs by helping other people to do the same. The mechanism of marketing is exchange, which occurs when two or more parties each have something of perceived value and are free to communicate, accept or reject, and deliver that value to each other.

If we consider the definition of marketing in terms of the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-39), we believe that marketing should be a means for loving God and neighbor and that the mechanism of this love is exchange. We see marketing as a process created by God to meet needs by creating need-satisfying products, communicating about those products and about how to meet needs, and delivering those products to others in an ethical manner. Therefore, marketing's function is to help people fulfill their God-given roles (Genesis 1:28; Deut 6:5, etc.) according to the gifts God has given them (1 Corinthians 12), to the glory of God and the service of others.

However, because of sin, marketing is not practiced the way it is supposed to be: though its function remains intact, its activities are misdirected. For instance, marketers often teach people to define needs in terms of some perceived ideal that is either unattainable or hollow; they also concern themselves only with people who have something of value to exchange. As an extreme example, consider the products pornography and cigarettes: marketers deceive those who can afford to pay into thinking their needs are going to be met in a positive way, when in reality they can become addicted and enslaved to these products. As a result, all of society suffers. Marketing also often fails to meet needs because it neglects some people (such as the poor), and consequently it doesn't fully utilize the gifts that all people have.

Because heaven will be a place and time without sin and a place where the world will exist as God originally intended it to exist, marketing will continue to perform its function, but in a redirected manner. So what might marketing look like in the new heaven and new earth?

"Marketing in Heaven"

There are a number of key issues about which we make assumptions in our treatment of marketing in heaven. These assumptions are important in our understanding of how marketing will exist in heaven, and the implications of this understanding for marketing activity today. Two of the assumptions are "economic" in nature, dealing with issues of scarcity and information, while the third is "theological," addressing the diversity of spiritual gifts.

Scarcity

Revelation 21 describes a city where there are streets of gold and walls of jasper, sapphire, and emerald. Will there be any form of scarcity in the New Jerusalem, or will we have access to unlimited supplies of goods? Scarcity is always a relative term, relating our wants and needs to the availability of resources. Given the Biblical message concerning the richness of the New Jerusalem and the vastness of God's created and redeemed heavens, we believe that there will be limitless (or nearly limitless) amounts of goods available for human use. We also believe that our wants (which today are often based on greed and envy) will be scaled back so that we will have a true appreciation of what we have and of God's good provision.

However, even if scarcity doesn't exist in heaven, there presumably will be choices to make about the sequential ordering of activities that we choose to engage in. Will we choose to paint a picture or plant some flowers, run a marathon or organize a worship service, play piano or play a round of golf? We may need goods (or products) in all of these cases to participate in these activities. Issues of timing and sequence usually do not come to mind when we think about our lives on the new earth, where "now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them" (Rev 21:3). However, if we exist in time as we experience it now, some things will have to come before others. If we need to make choices about our activities and how to best use the good gifts that God provides for us, we believe that a redeemed and transformed marketing can play a salutary role.

Information

Will we know everything in heaven? Although we are told that the redeemed "will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 22:5), there is no suggestion in the Bible that we will become like God and be omniscient. We will see His face and understand much that we did not before, but we believe that we will still need to acquire and use information as we go about fulfilling our callings in heaven. Given the passing away of sin, we also assume that all information available in heaven will be completely true and useful to God's people. We will know things to a greater depth than ever before and appreciate God's goodness and sustaining love throughout all of his redeemed new creation.

However, given the finite capabilities of humankind, we will be able to process only limited amounts of information at one time, and will need to make decisions about which information is useful in completing a particular task at any one time. We may have an eternity to enjoy and worship God, but for us as humans, we presume that there will be some temporal order in which we live our lives. As a result, some information could be more useful than another at any one particular moment. Marketers can provide us with this information, information that would ultimately teach us more about God and his provision for us.

Spiritual Gifts

The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians gives a beautiful description of the distribution of spiritual gifts and our roles within the Body of Christ. We are told that some have the gift of teaching, others the gift of administration, and still others the gift of helping others, and that we should eagerly desire the greater gifts (vv. 28-31). We believe that on the new earth, although all of God's people will be in full communion with the Holy Spirit, there will be still be a distribution of gifts among his people, and that we will still function as a body. In fact, all of the different gifts that God gives to his people will be spiritual gifts (see Exodus 31:1-11). The ability to provide information and to innovate will be a spiritual gift that will in many ways benefit the Body of Christ.

We will have an eternity to develop all of our spiritual gifts and learn from the lives of other believers. It may seem unusual to think about a variety of spiritual gifts being present even when we live in the very presence of God. However, the alternative is that everyone has all possible gifts and that there is no need for the gifts of others. God's design in creation was that we would always need and benefit from the gifts of others, and we expect that this will continue to be the case in the new heaven and the new earth.

The assumptions described above provide the foundation for what we believe will be the nature of marketing when Christ returns. Marketing will be a process for loving one's neighbor as well as a process for loving God, since, as Martin Luther proposed, we show our love for God by loving our neighbor and we show love for our neighbor in our daily work. According to Ephesians 2:10, "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We believe this calling, initially given in Genesis under the auspices of the "cultural mandate" (God's command to rule and take care of the earth as found in Genesis 1:28), will continue on in our lives with our Lord in the new heaven and new earth. In order to do these good works, people will still have choices to make, and marketers will provide helpful information so God's people can glorify Him and enjoy his new creation. Marketers will invent products and provide information, not intending to manipulate our desires or to satisfy our needs in a negative, misdirected way, but instead helping us to discover new and better ways to love both God and our neighbors.

Implications for the Present

But even if there is marketing in heaven, what does it matter for marketing now here on earth? Can we make any useful connections between what our lives will be like when we live and reign with God and our situation now where sin affects all that we do? The Lord's Prayer makes a direct link between our earthly existence and the future we are promised: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus prayed that God's will would be done here on earth similarly to how it is done in heaven. For those involved in marketing or any type of business, marketing in heaven can be seen as a model (although not completely attainable) for how we are to live our lives today.

To start in this direction, marketing must become the process God intended it to be. For example, it needs to redefine what markets are so that the needs of all people can be satisfied. This may require that marketers use their expertise in the not-for-profit sector, such as finding alternate distribution channels for needed goods and services. Marketing also needs to communicate the truth about products including appropriate usage rates and what the long-term risks of using the product are to both individuals and to society. In order to do so, marketers must make available all relevant information and avoid using misinformation when communicating. Gone should be the practice of depending on over-consumption by a few, especially when the products are addictive and/or unhealthy in large quantities, or when using the products lead to negative consequences for all of society. Marketing needs to keep developing new products and new ways to meet needs, not in some program of planned obsolescence, but instead to participate in God's ongoing creative activity. As they bring about innovations, marketers must also see that their great influence as "culture formers" needs to develop into a sense of calling as "cultural transformers," teaching the market to consume in a more stewardly fashion. In this way, they will be using the "cedars of Lebanon" and the "ships of Tarshish" to God's glory and to the benefit of us all.

Conclusion

Will there be marketing in the new heaven and new earth? We believe that Scripture suggests that marketing will exist when Christ returns, although in a manner that is thoroughly transformed and renewed. Those involved in marketing will provide God's people with useful information, and they will assist us in being good stewards with our time and resources. Marketers will also aid the Body of Christ in fully utilizing our spiritual gifts to both glorify God and serve others; in doing so they can do their part in bringing shalom to the New Jerusalem.

This vision of marketing in the heavenly city offers us an ideal, an image of how we need to begin to implement the phrase in the Lord's Prayer, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." This task is by no means easy, and the costs of this type of discipleship may be quite high as we work out what marketing should be according to the revelation of God's Word. Therefore, the vision also gives us encouragement, for we know that our good work done now is not done in vain, but that it has a connection to the eternity we will spend with our Creator. When we live with our Lord there will be harmony between what we need and want, what is good for God's kingdom, and what marketing will provide us. This vision of the future provides us with both purpose and hope today and everyday as we look forward to the new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.

Todd Steen is professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
Steve Vander Veen is professor of economics and business at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.