Coke and the emergent culture

I remember back sometime in the 1980’s when Coke lost a couple of percentage points of cola domination to Pepsi. The people at Coke were afraid and decided to tweak the almost 100 year old recipe so that its flavor would more closely mimic that of a Pepsi/Coke hybrid. “New Coke” with its flashy label and multi-million dollar marketing campaign became one of the biggest busts in Coca-Cola history. People were outraged that they changed the flavor. So much so that Coca-Cola was forced to reintroduce the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic. It also got a new label and multi-million marketing campaign much to the delight of millions of satisfied caffeinated people.

Coke, New Coke, or Coca-Cola Classic, they are all a mix of sugar, carbonated water, artificial and natural flavors and colors, and caffeine. Sure their formulas have been tweaked a little here or there so that a minute difference might be perceived by the tongues that lap up the fizzy goodness. But when it comes down to their chemical make-up, truth be told, they are all the same. They all have their roots in the same pharmacy with the same creator. The only thing that is different today is the marketing scheme and the scale on which they are created. The same goes for Christianity in this day and age.

I have read about the current emergent culture, it roots in postmodernism and its desire to deconstruct modern Christianity and return to the roots the movement perceives as most valuable. There is a great deal of value in returning to simplicity, but it has been done before. Think about the desert mothers and fathers, the early monastic cultures, the house churches sharing meals and singing hymns. From my current vantage point, the emergent culture is nothing more than old wine in new wineskins.

In fact, I have to wonder if it is nothing more than the newest phase, much like the mega-church movement, the community church movement, contemporary worship, great awakenings, the social gospel movement, and so on. I have nothing against this particular way of doing things. In fact, there are several things that I admire about it (the community, openness, etc.). However, there is one thing that has bugged me from the beginning, the lack of definition.

As a counselor I see numerous people who lack definition in their lives. They have grown up not knowing who they are, not accepting who they have been created to be, not listening to their gifts, their shortcomings, their calling. These people often appear hazy to me, wandering aimlessly through life seeking the next great stimulation so that they might feel alive for a moment or two. These people often grow up in homes where they were not taught to be who they are, and instead have defined themselves by what they are not.

Simply put, you cannot define something (or someone) by what it is not. Several authors make this point when they discuss how men are raised (see Terrence Real I Don’t Want to Talk About it or Lynch and Kilmartin The Pain Behind the Mask). In these works the authors often discuss the idea that men are raised to be “not like mom.” They aren’t raised to be like their dads or other male role models, just not to be like their mothers. This leaves an incredible gap in their lives because there is no definition for who they should be, only who they shouldn’t be.

If I say to you, “I am not American Indian; I am not an engineer; I am not a table; I am not seven years old,” does that tell you anything meaningful about who I am? No. The result of these statements does not create authenticity or build on a relationship. Instead, it leads only to a sense of separation and vagueness which can cause relationships to flounder from a lack of intimacy and frustrate those involved. Authenticity can only be created when we can define and share who we are. The same is true for communities of faith in general and the Christian church specifically. This poses a problem for post-modern deconstructionist Christianity.

When we define who we are and state that authentically, then we defeat the purpose of deconstruction. By defining ourselves, a meta-narrative is created, a great truth is expounded, and the community is bound to that truth.

Coke, New Coke, and Coca-Cola Classic are all bound by the chemicals that make them a reality. They are defined by the specific proportions of their ingredients, which creates a different flavor for different palates. The reality, though, is that they are all the same, and that is not a bad thing.

Authenticity begins with who/what we are. If New Coke was marketed as not tasting like airplane fuel, does that tell you what it does taste like? Well, isn’t the same thing true for churches, for communities of faith? Telling me that “we are not like another denomination” or “this is not your parents’ church” or “we are not limited by labels” doesn’t tell who you are, and that is what I care about, that is what I think God cares about.

Moreover, being bound by a definition does not mean that we are restricted to viewing something from that perspective only. The purpose of empathy and compassion is to allow us to be open to our experiences that may bind us, and give us the ability to curiously look at the experiences of others. Defining oneself is the pinnacle of openness, because in doing so we are allowed the opportunity to see the image of God in ourselves and in others from a grounded position in our own life. We can only accept who others are, when we know and accept who we are. Without that, all we are defined by is a marketing campaign and fancy new label…

grace and peace



Visit InfoServe for blogger templates