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The following is a blog post from 2014 that seemed fitting as we are about to welcome a local Christian celebrity to our church this coming Sunday. Tim Hague Sr. Winner of the Amazing Race Canada will be here to share about his partnership and involvement with Compassion Canada – the organization that does child sponsorship. Tim will share with you a lot about his own journey with Jesus and the good work that Compassion Canada does around the world and I have no doubt that God will be honoured by his message. But while I have great confidence that Tim’s message will bring glory to Jesus and educate us about important things, we always need to be careful not to be swept up in the phenomenon of “celebrity.” Which is why this week I’m revisiting this post with fresh eyes.

I hope it encourages you,

Chris

In 2011 Tim Tebow burst on to the national stage as an unlikely star in the National Football League. A back-up quarterback playing for the Denver Broncos who after a poor 1-4 start to the season gave him the ball to run with (quite literally). Over the balance of the season, the Tebow-led offence managed to turn their fortunes around even to the point of winning the AFC West title and defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL Playoffs that year.

In 2012 Jeremy Lin burst onto the scene during a particularly dark time of the New York Knicks season and captivated a city and a nation with “Linsanity.” A career minor league player who was on the verge of being released and who was contemplating giving up basketball was given a chance to play for a team who was willing to try anything – and he made the most of his chance. Over the course of the next 26 games he averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game, and the New York Times called Lin the franchise’s “most popular player in a decade.”

In 2013 the inexplicably popular A&E television series Duck Dynasty stole all the headlines when Robertson family patriarch Phil made some controversial comments about homosexuality and civil rights in an interview with GQ Magazine. The network suspended Phil indefinitely for his comments and the Robertson family retaliated by stating that the show would not continue without his participation. A firestorm of debate exploded on the internet and before too long the network was forced to reverse its decision and Phil Robertson was welcomed back to the show.

What do all three of these people have in common? They are massively popular celebrities who have publicly acknowledged their faith in Christ and who have as a result received the (seemingly) undying and uncritical adulation of a huge portion of the Evangelical Christian culture. They are elevated to the status of role models, praised as examples of Christian virtue, and defended vociferously against any who would call into question their competence, skill, talent or relevance by those who also publicly acknowledge their faith in Christ.

Tebow became an object of immense fascination when his habit of “Tebowing” to give praise to Jesus after scoring started being seen on national TV. Linsanity was entered into by Christians and non-Christians alike but the Evangelical community idolized him long after his star had faded in the general populace of basketball fans. Robertson, was defended by many as though he was Jesus himself (perhaps it’s the beard – religious people are suckers for a man with a good beard) by hordes of people who see him as an icon of Christian pushback against the mainstream media’s infatuation with immorality and filth. These men are just examples, but their names are interchangeable with any important celebrity these days who names Christ as Lord and Saviour, Kirk Cameron, Stephen Colbert, Mark Wahlberg, Bono, Chuck Norris, and the list goes on. This week, with the Super Bowl matchup now decided, the faith of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, which has been long established but infrequently talked about, is spamming my Facebook feed as if it were the most important thing the world needed to know about today.

There is a whole other tier of Christian celebrity within the confines of church culture. Celebrity pastors, preachers, authors, popes and the like who we venerate and elevate to a place right next to, if not higher than Jesus. But that is an issue for another post – today I want to talk about mainstream Christian celebrity.

It doesn’t matter that Tebow was an underachieving passer whose charisma couldn’t sustain his career and who within 2 seasons was out of football entirely. He’s one of us. It doesn’t matter that the Knicks were suspicious of Lin’s long-term prospects and allowed him to sign with Houston instead, where after a short stint as the face of the franchise settled into his role as a back-up player. And it certainly didn’t matter to most Christians that Robertson, while espousing the traditional position of the church with regards to homosexuality did so in a way that was neither compassionate or tactful, and at the same time made some highly controversial comments about race that most Christians seem to gloss over – because he is one of us. We rally behind people like this because they have done something that we have failed to do, something that by and large the church has failed to do, something that even Jesus hasn’t been able to do in this day and age – make Christianity cool again.

Secretly many of us are nervous to put it out there that we’re sold out for Jesus, we don’t think that the world, our neighbours, co-workers friends or family will understand. We don’t truly believe that this wandering Jewish prophet from 2000 years ago who said some legitimately crazy (not untrue, but crazy) things is someone that will resonate with our culture so we keep our faith quiet and to ourselves. Faith is a private part of our lives and no one has any business knowing about it – that is until someone breaks that mould. Someone, who happens to be a Christian, becomes famous and then because they have come out of the closet (to mix metaphors here) as a Christian we think it’s okay to declare our faith in Jesus too. Except most of what I see online, or hear on TV is not people identifying with Jesus – it would be great if some celebrity’s bravery inspired us to do so, but rather I see people identifying with the celebrity who identifies with Jesus. I can be public about my faith because Tim Tebow says it’s okay, or because Duck Dynasty is the most popular reality show ever. Those cool celebrities make it okay. Jesus becomes cool by association with them.

Let me say that again. Jesus becomes cool by association with the Christian celebrity du jour.

Do you see the problem with this? Jesus becomes reduced to an accessory to celebrity. Like all the women who got the “Rachel” cut in the 90’s when Jennifer Aniston made the style popular on “Friends.” We profess faith because the celebrities do. We talk about Jesus because the celebrities do. We justify our religion by what a celebrity believes. We have inadvertently turned the celebrity into God and Jesus into their prophet.

There are so many problems with this phenomenon that I don’t even know where to start, but the one that jumps out at me as foundational is that we get off on the wrong foot by mistakenly believing that Jesus is concerned with being cool. That Christianity needs to be trendy, and desirable and fashionable. But Jesus wasn’t cool. People who saw him from a distance hated him. The establishment rejected him. No one was buying his jersey to wear. It’s true that people in the gospel found Jesus irresistible, but only some people, and only when they met him. In person Jesus was remarkable, but as a celebrity – well let’s just say Good Friday would look pretty different if Jesus was as cool as today’s Christian celebrities. Jesus never cared about being cool. Cool is being part of a passing fad, what is cool today is not necessarily cool tomorrow, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

There is a great clip from the old animated TV show “King of the Hill” in which Bobby Hill goes to youth group and discovers that following Jesus can be cool. He gets wrapped up in the coolness of everything that he actually kind of misses out on the point of all of it (as does his youth pastor ironically). There is a touching (and poignant) scene at the end of the episode where after being at odds with his son, Hank explains why he doesn’t want Jesus to be just another cool fad that Bobby gets into and then falls out of when the cool factor has passed.

When we make Jesus subject to the popularity of whomever is publicly identifying with him we reduce him to a passing fad. When the only person’s faith we talk about is someone else’s we reveal an uncomfortable truth about our own faith. When we reduce our relationship with Christ to just another aspect of fandom, we miss out on the irreducible call of discipleship. Jesus doesn’t want us to be fans of the God worshipped by Tebow, or Lin or Robertson (and I should state at this point that I am in no way calling into question what is probably a very legitimate faith of these men and others mentioned in this blog), he doesn’t even want us to be fans of him – what he really wants is for us to be his disciples. Fandom depends on popularity, on what is cool, or current or trendy – but discipleship is a commitment.

So, before you share that next story on Facebook about how amazing it is that someone famous believes in Jesus – think about what you’re saying by doing so. Think about what you’re reducing Jesus to – an accessory to someone else’s celebrity. Perhaps it would be better to say nothing at all, and simply go about the task of following Jesus with how you live your life – or if you have to say something at all – perhaps it might be better to talk about YOUR relationship with Jesus; about your faith and about your witness. That’s a story, that as your friend, I am actually interested in reading about.

#Celebrity #VintagePosts

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