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Theology in ‘contact with its own times’:
Advertising and Evangelization



The Catholic Church's efforts at evangelization must include even its own members in an age of growing secularization wherein religious impulses can be subordinated to culture even unconsciously. Bernard Lonergan observed that religious values should transcend cultural and personal values. But prominent advertising confirms that in contemporary Western societies religious values are subsumed under others, even where spirituality may be held important. The goal before the Church, then, is a transposition of values possible in focus upon a common perception of theology and the culture reflected in advertising—the felt transcendence of the human person. The Second Vatican Council called for the Church to engage with the world; if the message served by the Church is to be heard above the din of the larger culture, it must be delivered in manners persuasive upon the sensibilities of contemporary people. The powerful cultural transmitter that is advertising may assist in this task, for study of the anthropologies of advertising and theology reveals certain surprising commonalities suggesting that methods, if not media, could be equally effective in both realms. Advertising's use of ethnography and narrative, in particular, may provide lessons for the Church in defining audiences and targeting the message to them.