Friday, 16 September 2016

The Christian obsession with celebrity has to stop

Commentary by Carey Lodge of
You can't have missed it. Mission resources being advertised by TV stars, conferences headlined by musicians famous – gasp – in the 'secular' world (Switchfoot doesn't count), and rumours abounding about celebrities who have supposedly converted to Christianity.
This website certainly isn't immune – Christian Today regularly reports about celebrities and their faith; but what does it tell us that these articles are often among the most popular?
Why do we appear to value the faith of celebrities more than we do 'normal' people?
There's something really unhealthy about a church culture that holds celebrity in such high esteem, and uses it to somehow validate faith.
We've got it into our heads that this is what people want: this will entice people to church. Offer them a celebrity who affirms a Christian worldview and somehow that might make it seem a bit more true. A bit more tempting. We're not so out of touch after all – look! It's not all old ladies and weirdos! Come and see for yourselves!
But in doing this, have we bought into the same narrative the world offers? A superficial culture that values fame – sorry, 'influence' – more than anything else? Are we justifying a slide into where culture leads by claiming that we're just being 'relevant'?
The church has to offer something different. The narrative of our culture celebrates ostentatious success – measured in very narrow terms – fame and fortune. None of that speaks of what Jesus valued, and the way he conducted his ministry.
He actively avoided taking on celebrity status; retreating from crowds and refusing attempts to make him "king by force" (John 6:15). And he had little interest in surrounding himself with important people to boost his own profile. He hung out with fishermen and tax collectors; prostitutes and sinners. Not the rich and powerful, even if hobnobbing with the elite may have given him a 'wider reach'. He had no interest in that.
Instead, he commissioned the 12 to spread the gospel to all nations. A motley crew of slightly dim (and not all together loyal) teenage boys, who hadn't proved their worth or influence with a six-figure TV deal or magazine spread. Most of them weren't even very good at fishing. They were simply captivated by the message of grace, and were trusted to tell other people about it.
Two millennia on, with that first 12 becoming more than two billion Christians around the world, it's starting to look like not such a bad plan after all.
Of course, it's brilliant when people in the public eye come to faith, but because they're people, rather than because they're famous. There's no doubt that celebrities talking about Jesus may engage people in discussions about faith who would usually avoid going anywhere near a church, and it's commendable when people want to use their platform for good. But is that the best we have to offer? If it is, surely we've lost our grip on just how good the gospel actually is.
We don't need to make it more palatable. The gospel isn't attractive because a handful of good-looking, famous people have sanctioned it. It's attractive because it offers a message of forgiveness, love and grace to all people, regardless of their status.

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