The campaign “will find itself at odds in the pulpits across the U.S.” claims Aaron Crocker, of Birmingham, Alabama in a comment on AdAge.com. Echoing this view, Jonathan Keck, of Theology21.com, writes that Pepsi’s campaign provides evidence that “the ancient error of Epicureanism has taken root – emphasizing pleasure since there is no afterlife or final judgment.”
Mainstream Christian publications have yet to weigh in on “Live For Now,” and their prevailing silence may be an early indication that the campaign isn’t rubbing Christians the wrong way. But it’s still worth pondering whether “Live For Now” presents a problem for Christians across the world, because there are 2.2 billion of them, Pepsi’s new campaign is its first unified global effort, and if “Live For Now” is taken the wrong way, measurable market share could be seized by Coke in the next few years.
So the question is this: how should Christians interpret “Live For Now?” Is it really a call to hedonism (or at least Epicureanism?) Or is Pepsi calling for a style of thought and behavior which is fully and happily consistent with the requirements of a proper Christian life?
The answer — as answers so often are in both advertising and theology — is complicated.
Pepsi and the Christians: recent controversies
Back in 2010, Pepsi organized an advertising contest called Crash The Superbowl. The prize was $5 million. A spot submitted by a Philadelphia production agency was called “Feed Your Flock.”
“Feed Your Flock’s” story was this: a pastor is losing his congregants, in desperation he prays, and hears what appears to be God popping a soda can top. The idea is thereby put into the pastor’s mind to substitute Pepsi Max and Dorritos for the traditional Catholic wine and wafer. He performs the replacement, the result is a hit, and the congregation grows to a mighty size.
Was the spot clever and edgy? Yes. Was it blasphemous? Enough Catholics seemed to think so to make a public stink, espcially after the spot — which was eliminated from the contest finals but still made its way to the Web — went viral (“Feed Your Flock” currently has 200,000 Youtube views).
In 2011, Pepsi again became the target of Catholic groups when information surfaced that it had contracted with Senomyx, a biotechnology company allegedly using cells from aborted fetuses in some of its research projects. These groups called for a worldwide boycott of Pepsi products, and this boycott was only lifted in 2012 after Pepsi issued a formal denial. In recent years Pepsi has also found itself in the cross-hairs of Christian groups objecting to its sponsorship of LGBT events.
Whatever the merit of any of these complaints, it is certainly true that the Pepsi brand has clashed with certain Christian factions repeatedly, and that these encounters are recent enough to color the reception of “Live For Now.”
This is why what Christians think about Pepsi’s current messaging is important.
Christian perspectives on the issue of “living in the present”
Which brings us to “Live For Now.” What precise meaning does this phrase have for Christians? Should believers accept Pepsi’s command enthusiastically, reject it totally, or accept it with qualifications?
Let’s look at some recent online Christian commentary on the issue. Before beginning, let me note that the exact phrase “Live For Now” does not appear in the Bible itself. The term itself has not been the subject of any theological discussion. However a closely related and practically identical phase, “living for the present,” has been actively discussed in Christian circles for some time.Why? For Christians, the question of whether one’s orientation should be toward the “now” (the transient, fleeting, and mutable world) or toward what lies ahead (the eternal, everlasting field of existence) is a profound one — one of the most important questions a Christian need consider in daily life.
Let us proceed to some recent Christian perspectives on this issue. (Note: the following perspectives have been excerpted from online video lectures which can be viewed their totally in this page’s Video Addenda section at the bottom of this page. Text transcripts for each are available on Youtube.com).
Jay Link: Jesus lived in the present
According to E.G. “Jay” Link, President of Stewardship Ministries, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, living “for the present” runs the dreadful risk of causing people to head “down a dark road of self-indulgence and immediate gratification with no regard for either the past or the future.”
At the same however, Christians must heed the command of Matthew 6:34 (Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.) Furthermore, the quality of “living in the present” is one displayed by Jesus himself. To Link, “Presentness” is a good quality that provides an important balm for the suffering we experience when our thoughts oscillate exclusively between the past and future, allowing the sweetness of life to escape.
However Christians should not, in Link’s view, live their lives in an “either/or” mode in which outlook and behavior are based exclusively on considerations of past, present, or future. What’s called for is a worldview which integrates an awareness of the special, precious character of the now with an understanding that life in the present – while a wonderful gift – is a fleeting one that is ultimately traded for a far greater one: the life eternal.
Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation: we must not be imprisoned by a sinful past
A similar view is voiced by Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation , a prominent conservative Catholic nun. She cites the revelation of Angela of Foligno, to whom God is said to have said “”the past is dead and the future unborn.” To Mother Angelica, the error that many believers make is to “live in the worst moment of their lives,” e.g. in sinful memories “for which you cannot forgive yourself.”
To Mother Angelica, “living in the present” provides liberation from the prison of the past and the worrisome, “unborn” future. Each “now” moment provides a “new sheet,” a tabula rasa that represents a new beginning for the believer.
Matt McCarrick: let us rejoice in the day the Lord has made
Finally, let us hear from Matt McCarrick, who heads up a Christian online ministry called The Phosphorus Project.” He notes that “we think that life is made up of big events, but it’s not. Life is made up of the millions and millions of tiny, insignificant moments that can turn out to be divine moments. And so today I challenge you to keep looking to the future. That we can look ahead to the future but live in the present.”
For McCarrick, living for the present – in the now – is not only a good thing; it is something Christians are called upon to do by Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Conclusion: is Live For Now pro- or anti-Christian?
Although E.G. Link, Mother Angelica, and Matt McCarrick cannot be said to constitute a scientific sampling of contemporary Christian thought on the “Live For Now” controversy, there are enough common themes here to offer the hypothesis that Christians have nothing to fear from Pepsi’s enjoinder to “Live For Now,” so long as they do not misunderstand this message as a call to “Live Only For Now.”
Christians, in other words, should rejoice in the moment, but not in an exclusive, binary fashion that disregards the lessons of the past or ignores the fact that the Kingdom of God is coming and that one need prepare for it – now.
Perhaps it is too much to expect Pepsi to have anticipated that some Christians might take the “Live For Now” messaging to connote the advocacy of an exclusively present-oriented view. Advertising messages – in their very brevity and ambiguity – can often be taken the wrong way.
But it appears – at least to me – that Pepsi’s messaging does not rule out the kind of holistic, trans-temporal understanding required to reconcile the “Live For Now” message with the callings of a Christian Life. As Pepsi’s Global Beverage President Brad Jakeman has noted, “Pepsi consumers absolutely look to the future. They just don’t forget about embracing present in the process.” (italics added).
Let us hope that Christians around the world understand that the command to “Live For Now” is taken in exactly the way suggested by Mr. Jakeman. Not as an exhortation to hedonism or active denial of the eternal reward ahead, but as an invitation to a fuller, more holistic embrace of the mysterious temporal trinity of past, present, and future, one in which one’s “now experiences” are faithfully illuminated by the glory that lies ahead.
“Feed Your Flock” (Pepsi/Doritos Superbowl spot (never aired))
E.G. “Jay” Link on “Living For The Present”
Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation on “Living In The Present”
Matt McCarrick on “Living In The Present”