Steve Jobs, Jesus Christ, and the Bland Conformity of Western Christianity


Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.
—Apple Inc., “Think Different” ad, 1997

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
—Acts 4:1-21

In the wake of the death of Steve Jobs, people all over the world have lamented the passing of Apple’s charismatic leader. Gene Veith, provost and professor of Patrick Henry College and a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, attempted to understand this outpouring in his article “The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs.” In it, he writes:

I would say that it isn’t just that Jobs has been turned into a saint.  In our newly-minted paganism, he and other celebrities have undergone apotheosis.  That is, they have been turned into gods.  The parallel is what would happen in the Roman Empire.   An accomplished emperor dies.  So the Senate votes to proclaim him a god.  Whereupon he enters the pantheon and citizens are enjoined to perform sacrifices to him.


Unfortunately, Veith is blind to the real feelings of people who seem unusually grief-stricken by the death of a business leader they didn’t know. He represents the typical Evanglical Christian position that interprets the world through personal perspective only, not from any view larger than the individual. “Personal Jesus” indeed.

Everything we need to know about the lament over Jobs and what it means for Western Christianity can be found in two Apple commercials, “1984” (hailed by advertising experts as the greatest commercial of all time) and “Think Different,” which followed 13 years later with the identical message:

The average American slogs through the wreckage of the industrial revolution, commuting through endless traffic to a job he tolerates simply for the (diminishing) money, rushing through some “quality time” with the fam, and then collapsing into bed—only to start the relentless process anew the next day. His life consists of buying things he doesn’t need so that people will think better of him. He buries himself in his work, his family, and his home, walled off from the greater world—and from any hope of transcendence. He consumes for 70 years, retires, takes a job as a greeter at Walmart to make his insufficient pension last, and then he dies, having made no mark on the planet at all save for a pile of garbage.

The epidemic of prescription psychoactive drug use, the Occupy movement, the Tea Party, the overwhelming worry and angst people everywhere are feeling—much of it is due to the collapse of ideologies we once held dear. Industrialism made us little more than cogs in a broken machine, and the American Dream imploded.

What Steve Jobs and Apple sold better than any individual or company in the last 100 years is a break from that oppressive conformity. The kingdom Jobs promoted told people crushed by it all that their thoughts can make a difference. That they could be more than just a cog in an impersonal machine. They could think different. They could toss the hammer into the face of the oppressor. Each of us was creative and could make a difference, a better world for ourselves, our families, and the rest of the world.

Now whether Jobs was a true visionary or just a marketing genius is debatable. So is his kingdom’s ability to pull off what it sold.

But the only thing that mattered in Jobs’ message was that other people bought it. They hated being crushed down by the world and they thought Apple products might be able to unleash their inner world-changer.

The outpouring of grief over the death of Jobs reflects two similar trains of thought.

Those who had a teacher or coach who stood by them when no one else did, who challenged them to reach further, who believed in their potential when others scoffed, understand the loss of that mentor.

Those who look around the world today and believe even more strongly that we must break out of conformity and conventional thinking to solve the problems of the world feel the loss of someone who urged them to do just that.

This explains the continuing lament over the loss of Steve Jobs.

It also starkly frames what is wrong with the Church in the Western World.

Jesus Christ came to establish a Kingdom that turned every status quo belief and practice on its head. Everything we thought was right about God and what He desires of us was out of kilter with reality. The Kingdom of Heaven comes and upsets the conventional, bland, and mundane.

Read the Book of Acts and tell me if today’s Western Church resembles that dynamic, supernatural, communal, loving entity that was the Early Church.

How is it that we Western Christians have become so bland? Why are our services so dead? Our people so disempowered? Why do we settle for living like dogs who eat crumbs from the Master’s table when we are supposed to be seated beside the Master Himself?

Steve Jobs was a man. He’s dead and gone. Jesus Christ was not only a man, but He was God Himself too. He lives and reigns forever. His Kingdom is infinitely better than anything Steve Jobs could whip up, and it’s not based on clever marketing or tapping into some cultural angst, but on everlasting truth.

The reason for the almost religious fervor over Apple products and over Steve Jobs’ death comes because people today are starved for transcendence. They need not only to know that there is more to this life, but they want to feel empowered to reach out and make a difference. They want to live and think differently from the status quo. They want to be extraordinary.

We Christians can pooh-pooh that desire, but the fact is that God lit that flame in us. He made Adam to be remarkable, creative, strong, and intrepid. Those qualities reflect the fulfilled man of God.

So how is it that the Church has driven out the creative class? Why do we love conformity and the status quo? Why do we endorse the conventional rather than the unconventional? How is it that we are so reactionary rather than revolutionary?

We are the square pegs in the round holes, the fools for Christ. We have a better Kingdom! How then can we let our churches continue to be so conventional and bland?

Steve Jobs tapped into mankind’s discontent with bland conformity. How the Church continues to ignore that discontent and go on doing the same old same old is one of the tragedies of our times.

18 thoughts on “Steve Jobs, Jesus Christ, and the Bland Conformity of Western Christianity

  1. Veronica

    I go to a church that gives lots of lip service to creativity and authenticity. We use all the right buzzwords. But real creativity is rarely allowed. Instead, our leaders visit big-name churches’ websites to see what they’ve done that “works,” and then we re-create it. Those in our body whose talents don’t coincide with what we’re re-creating are never given an opportunity to use those talents. If they want to use their God-given creativity within a church body, they have no choice but to go elsewhere.

    This thinking permeates most aspects of our church life – find out what the “successful” churches do, and copy it. (I find it hard to see the “authenticity” in this mindset, but they assure me it’s there.) The most important consideration, apparently, is to avoid taking risks. We think we are embracing success, but in reality we are afraid of failure.

    • Veronica, that is an amazingly astute statement and I agree 1,000 percent. One of the reason that local churches are failing is that they fail to grow their own people and therefore fail to differentiate themselves. Their very God-given skills are stymied in favor of conformity. “Grow where you’re planted” is made an impossibility.

  2. Dave S

    I really don’t think Apple’s success was attributable to “a break from oppressive conformity.” That’s a myth pushed by Apple’s marketing dept. What they sold– and still sell– are products that are amazingly reliable, secure, innovative, and easy to use. It’s that simple. There have basically been two choices for home computer operating systems, and Windows is a mess. Where a company has come up with a product of equal quality, Apple is vulnerable. That’s why Android is outselling the iPhone two to one. The new Amazon tablet is a big threat to the iPad. I know that doesn’t fit the message in your post, but that’s what’s the studies show.

    • Dave,

      Disagree. Having worked in Apple’s marketing department, I can accurately say that most of the company was not aware of Windows when I was there. I was also there at Apple’s nadir—and they were still pushing reliability, security, innovation, and ease of use. That message was still front and center, but it was not working. The major difference was that Jobs was not there. He came back while I worked there, but he was not CEO again until after I’d left.

      People weren’t buying what Apple was selling then because the company had abandoned the Jobsian vision of overcoming conformity. If anything, the company had become mired in the rest of the industry’s conformity. Immediately after assuming the lead in the company, Jobs went about purging that mentality. He fired almost all the conformist middle management and put the company back into visionary mode. In fact, the demographic department once told me that the only demographic that Apple retained back when they were at 3% market share were those people who self-labeled as visionaries. Jobs tapped that again. Plus, he sold the idea that everyone could be a visionary. And that kicked the company back into high gear.

      I’ll stick with my assessment.

      • Dave S

        Perhaps our difference is due to my use of the word “sold.” I agree that Apple markets the concept of non-conformity. In that way, you use the term sold more accurately that I did. And I would also agree that people may buy into that idea. But I contend that the reason that the popularity of Apple products is due to the reasons I cited: their products are reliable, secure, innovative, and easy to use.

        So I don’t disagree with you about Apple’s message. I’m just saying that without the features I describes, no one would be buying their product. And when another product has those features, people buy it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          I agree that Apple markets the concept of non-conformity.

          And if counterculture movements of the past are any indication, said nonconformists are probably totally conform to each other in their nonconformity.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Dave S, how long ago did you Accept Apple Macintosh as your Personal Lord and Savior?

      Because when Microsoft started overtaking Apple, Apple reacted by making Mac into a religion. And as Microsoft pulled ahead to gobble up a vast majority market share, Mac became a Fundamentalist religion. “APPLE AKBAR!”

      When I switched my home system from Mac to Windows years ago, I lost ALL my Mackinista friends. Shunned for Apostasy.

      And the main Mackinista I knew told me that “Apple will completely displace Microsoft and drive it into bankruptcy by the Year 2000.” This was in the late Nineties. When I tried to point out this was not very realistic, he literally Hulked Out — face went bright red, cords stood out on his neck, and the screams of “MAC IS THE SUPERIOR SYSTEM! DIE, HERETIC!” began.

  3. bob

    I was sad at his passing because he was an innovative human being. I admired his committment to quality, (a nonconformity in itself) and the ability to learn and bounce back after dreaming big and then being betrayed and then comming back to dream and produce quality again.

    Indeed I would love a Macpro but something is lacking. Jobs gave us good stuff and electronic toys? What did he really change?

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy

    You know where there’s a BIG explosion of creativity going on as I write this, Dan? “Bronydom” — My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom. Derivative fiction (from shorts to novels, expanding the show’s universe with varying results), art jamming DeviantArt and FurAffinity, original-composition music and mashup music videos jamming YouTube in a contiuning torrent. Don’t believe me, go to a website called “Equestria Daily” and see the torrent in action. (Warning: Use discernment on stuff tagged “Shipping” and “Grimdark” — this often indicates sexual/slash and/or splatter.)

  5. Don’t tell me, Dan. Let me guess. You use an Apple?

    Unfortunately, the world loves, LOVES, conformity. Conformity is what we have to deal with every single day of our lives. Let me mention the one word that irrefragably demonstrates this: MICROSOFT.

    Just wait till they dump Windows 8 on the entire world. Does it have a usable user interface? Nope, doesn’t matter. Does anyone really want all these mobile device gewgaws running on their desktop PC? Nope, doesn’t matter. Will Windows 8 be faster, have fewer bugs, easier, and be more beneficial? Nope, doesn’t matter. YOU HAVE TO USE IT BECAUSE IT IS MICROSOFT.

    Is there a lesson in all this for the Church in general? I don’t know. I do find it interesting that in my experience I am finding more and more churches don’t allow their congregations to vote on anything. All decisions are handed from the top down, although a variety of terms get used for this polity. But the surprising thing to me is that everyone seems to accept this. Does this prove anything profound? Again, I don’t know.

    By the way, I once considered getting an Apple, but I have to use Windows at work. It was just too much to have to deal with two different operating systems. Nonetheless, I thought the Apple with its OSX a good machine, even though I thought the keyboard was too flimsy and clumsy to use. Long ago, the very first PC I ever owned was an Apple IIc.

    • Oengus,

      I was a committed Mac user. I eventually worked for Apple in Cupertino in their Mac Platform Marketing group (which, had it not been dissolved in the waning days of the Amelio regime, before Jobs took over for the second time, would have been responsible for the iconic “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” ads).

      But we bought our rural Ohio house with the assurance of Time Warner Cable that we would have Roadrunner cable Internet. Only a few weeks before we moved in did an engineer from Time Warner inform us that the folks we talked to previously about this were nuts: There wasn’t a hookup for TWC within 8 miles of our home. Scrambling, because my wife had to have VPN access to work from home, we got on with Starband, a satellite Internet provider. As we were awaiting our new system from them, which was to work with Mac OS, Windows, and Linux, Microsoft bought into Starband, with the stipulation that the upcoming modem be crippled so that it only worked with Windows (grr!). So I ended up having to buy a Windows box to make things work. I’ve been on that same Dell since 2001.

      DSL finally came to us in 2008. (Thank the Lord. Satellite was a mess. Worse, Starband kept reducing our speed rather than the other way around.)

      I hope to buy a new iMac as soon as the next model refresh comes out. Patiently waiting…

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy

    He represents the typical Evanglical Christian position that interprets the world through personal perspective only, not from any view larger than the individual. “Personal Jesus” indeed.

    What has always weirded me out is how a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation often results in total conformity. It’s wildly anarchistic only on the macro level; at the micro (one-on-one) level it’s often total conformity and total groupthink, with anointed control freaks “laying down the Law” to their “disciples”.

  7. Great post. I personally could not get past how broken up all these people were about his death. Lots of comments about him resting in peace or in heaven. But his life did not reflect fruit and I didn’t see any footage of him giving glory to God, so I can only hope in his last days he repented and surrendered his life to Christ. My mourning did not come from who he was or what he did, but from the possibility that his soul was lost forever.

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