Friday, July 13, 2012

Tom, Katie, and Christian Celebrity. . .

We live in a day and age where our culture is the sea that plays host to a perfect storm of divergent systems that have come together to create a kind of idolatry that we might not even recognize. In fact, sometimes I think we’ve come to love getting tossed around in these waves. After all, we do have a sinister and powerful bent towards these things. It’s a perfect storm related to and promoting the pursuit and worship of celebrity. Why do you think we can't get away from all the "breaking news" about Tom and Katie? 

The explosion of media outlets has elevated the rich, famous, and those whose “15 minutes” has extended indefinitely to the forefront as our heroes and role models. YouTube and other social media encourage and allow those who worship celebrities to pursue and build their own audience. Excessive self-love – aka “Narcissism” – has moved from vice to virtue as high-profile celebrities more often than not selfishly embrace and promote themselves, thereby modeling for followers young and old alike a path we too often embrace. We value style and appearance rather than depth and character. And, in a day and age where we talk about ourselves as “brands” rather than persons. . . well, we go all out in marketing ourselves to build our “brand.” If you spend any time watching culture, you know these things (and more, sadly) to be true. 

But it’s not just happening “out there.” Let’s be honest, the same perfect storm is raging in our Christian culture. 
But let’s be fair. In the midst of the cons, there have to be pros. . . right? I continue to think long and hard about this. What are the pros? And what are the cons? To be honest, when Rick Lawrence at GROUP asked me about the pros and cons of Christian celebrity over a year ago, I struggled to come up with any pros. . . but I did discover one.

When the Christian celebrity has not sought out the spotlight, but has rather been thrust there due to their faithful and obedient service to Christ and consistent modeling of Christian character and humility, then that’s a good thing. While we must always strive to first and foremost be Christlike, it’s still good to have flesh and blood contemporary role models and heroes of the faith to look up to.  . . but not worship. I think of people like Joni Erickson Tada, Tony Dungy, N.T. Wright, John Stott, Mother Theresa, and Billy Graham. None of them have sought the spotlight. All have endeavored to embrace humility. Each is aware of his/her deep shortcomings. All are faithful and obedient servants. And all of them would recoil at the thought of being a celebrity as they want nothing more than to serve as signposts to Jesus. I like to be able to point my kids to people like this. It’s also nice to know that they don’t give the watching world legitimate reasons  - as many Christian celebrities do – to mock us as fools.

The cons? My list here was quickly built and much, much longer. The culture of Christian celebrity:
  • ·         Has fostered a movement towards building a following for ourselves rather than building followers of Christ. We can tap into the image-making machine (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, the blogsphere) to build our brands, rather than spending the time we should on quietly going deep in our faith while letting God do the rest. When we value style over substance, we encourage aspiring celebrities to pursue style over substance. Think about it. . . the cult of Christian celebrity might just be one of the most effective tools in the enemy’s arsenal.
  • ·         Has created an environment – let’s be honest here – where we worship and follow people (celebrities), sometimes at the expense of worshipping and following God. This is idolatry. Could it be that we are more ready to blindly embrace and accept what so-and-so says than we are to pursue and embrace what God says? And, do we blindly accept the words of our favorite celebrity without exercising Biblical discernment?
  • ·         Has led us to value some more highly than others. Didn’t Jesus talk about the error of playing favorites? At times, those we value the highest might have the best marketing and branding plan, rather than the greatest depth or character. We’ve created a pecking order that is anything but Biblical.
  • ·         Has caused us to follow the lead of the culture, rather than following in the footsteps of our humble, suffering Savior.
  • ·         Has led us to believe that the Christian calling incorporates a high-profile image, fame, and all that goes with that. . . rather than being about faithfulness, humility, and obedience.

Rarely is Christian celebrity good for the celebrity. Rarely is Christian celebrity good for the church. There’s a reason why the Bible is so clear on the seductive dangers that can come with money, sex, and power. It’s sadly ironic that that those thrust to the forefront who have been given the stage to speak the truth about these things, are  oftentimes more prone to fall victim to their temptations. Have you paid attention to the news over the last several years?

As I’ve wrestled with these things over the course of my own life and ministry, I’ve tried to remain true to a few little rules I’ve set up for myself. Never think too highly of yourself. You’re no different than anyone else. Pursue the Savior and not the stage. Be yourself. Endeavor to be faithful and obedient to Christ. Your calling is NOT to please people. And if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re saying things and people are listening. . . carefully choose your words because there are people who will believe anything and everything you say. And one more thing. . . surround yourself with people who aren't the least bit impressed with you and who will always remind you of these rules!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This spoke to me more than you know. I'm taking these wise, sobering words to heart. Thank you, brother.