Brant Hansen- the best blogger in the world (Take that so-called best bloggers!)- riffs on Gary Smalley’s revelation that he didn’t have it all together. As Brant says, “Don’t let it happen again.”
Hansen makes me think that just about the worst thing evangelicals have come up with is their version of the Christian celebrity. Now we have Christian publishing and music interests pimping- that’s the right word- celebrities to us on a daily basis, and it’s a nasty business.
Remember the girl who befriended the murderer/fugitive and read to him out of her Rick Warren book? She got her own book, but it turned out that she had some problems of her own and didn’t make the cut for Christian celebrity. That’s what we’ve got coming to us from NashVegas these days.
If you go to a Lifeway, you’ll notice that the new book section is regularly populated by books written- amazingly- by the guys and gals in Contemporary Christian Music. The chubby bald guy who sings “I Can Only Imagine” has a book. So do DC Talk, Michael W. Smith and David Crowder. One might suspect that someone is calculating
how much we could make uh…..how much the body of Christ could be helped if singers wrote an accompanying book around the time their big musical projects came out. The Casting Crowns Study Bible is probably on the way.
If Pat Robertson were the pastor of a local church, he’d be preaching to crowds of several dozen, but because he’s a celebrity he gets to sit on television and say all kinds of stupid things about who God ought to kill off, how much weight he can lift and how he prays hurricanes out to sea. Just the other night, I heard him say J.K. Rowling was a witch deeply involved in the occult. That’s a lie, and he ought to be sued for saying it. He probably got the story off The Onion’s satirical send up of Christian reaction to the Potter novels, which means he’s also way too ignorant to be telling people what to think, but because he’s a celebrity, he gets a pass.
Some of my favorite celebrities are preachers and teachers adored by their various fan clubs. These are often people worth listening to and reading, but when they rise to celebrity status, their fans get very weird. Oddly, the reformed- who are supposed to believe in that total depravity stuff- are among the most drooling fanboys in all of evangelicalism.
For example, how much do you think I could make selling John Piper t-shirts outside any Reformed Conference or convention? I’ve been hearing from Piper’s fans for years. I love Piper and compliment him frequently, but when I’ve differed with him, I never fail to get several letters that seem to come from people who need to get out more, to say that least. And yes, we can put the shoe on the other foot and sell N.T. Wright t-shirts as well. In fact, I’d buy one.
Two of my close friends are still in shock that one of their favorite TBN superstar pastors has become a gay-promoting universalist liberal. The show at this fellow’s church was so convincing in its announcements that God would make you healthy and wealthy, how could he turn out to be an apostate? Should I tell them that the Christian celebrity circuit thrives on taking people who have almost no spiritual depth and making them into leaders and icons? That’s a recipe for apostasy, and it happens over and over.
Christian celebrities usually garner such loyalty by playing the potent combination of gullibility, manipulation and God-talk. If your local church pastor asked for several million for a jet and a Florida home, you’d think poorly of him, but if Benny Hinn or like celebrity Christians do the same almost NO ONE NOTICES. In fact, implying that following their advice just might make you a celebrity as well is part of the con.
A student was recently telling me about her desire to be a “Christian rock star.” She cited two examples and when mentioning one, squealed with that adolescent girl squeal that the Beatles frequently heard from thousands of fainting fans. This was for a WORSHIP BAND, however, and nothing seemed odd in the least to her about doing this in front of me.
I found it profoundly sad.
Evangelicals have become so passive in the face of their own celebrity culture that the assumption is we all buy into it. We all know Rick Warren and Joel Osteen have the word from God for our time, right? We all know that Beth Moore is the best Bible teacher in the country. Right? We all know that when a country singer sings a song about Jesus or a rapper mentions Jesus in a rap, they are testifying to their deep commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, right?
If you don’t believe that, what’s wrong with you?
If you never did believe Gary Smalley or John Maxwell or Max Lucado or Brian Mclaren or John Macarthur or Charles Spurgeon were ever worth the celebrity treatment we give them, what’s wrong with you? If you happen to believe that the Gospel puts us all on equal footing and celebrity categories don’t apply, what’s wrong with you?
If you don’t believe God anointed so and so to sing that song, you must just be unable to discern what the Spirit is doing. That must be your problem.
If you are not impressed by the adulation of preachers or the adoration of singers promoted as spiritual leaders, there must be something wrong with you.
If you believe the entire Christian celebrity culture is a dangerous and polluted waste of mind, heart and money, you must just want to be difficult.
If you believe that those following Jesus closely are quite unlikely to be loved by millions of worldly, culture bound Christians, you must be looking at things in a very distorted way.
What we honor, adore, spend money on and fill our time with largely defines us. It’s the goal of evangelical celebrity culture to make us buy a product or become a consumer, not to see us become like Jesus in character, community and mission. If you seek his kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, you won’t be popular and you won’t spend time giving undue attention to any person. You’ll be able to receive the ministry of other Christians as the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but you won’t become a lemming in the stream of consumeristic evangelicalism.
Remember when the man was freed from Legion, he wanted to follow Jesus? Jesus said, “No, stay here and tell your family and neighbors what the Lord has done for you.” There’s a lot to learn in that story. If you can’t live it and tell it in the small places of your household and your community, don’t long for a larger stage. God has a different way of looking at the world.