Christian culture has a ton of celebrities, from pastors to musicians to writers and more. It would be too easy and very hipster-ish to write them off just because they’re popular, but being a celebrity does indeed come with a bunch of problems, especially in Christianity. Not only do you have all the usual pitfalls of scandal and disgrace — Christianity is to secular culture as Ted Haggard is to Lindsay Lohan — but since God is involved, people relate to these celebrities in strange ways.
The problem with God, or rather the concept of God, is that when we start thinking and talking about God, we start thinking in ultimate terms. That is, if God says something, then that’s the end of it, or so we would think. Problem solved, party’s over, let’s move on to something else.
Yet there is a big difference between saying that God says such and such and God actually saying it. People seem to miss this point.
This is the number one issue I see with Christian celebrity culture: we have a bunch of people running around saying “God says this!” or “God says that (which is the opposite of what that other guy said; don’t listen to him)!” We look to these celebrities to solve the mystery of God’s will and then magically fix our messed up, confusing lives.
Take the issue of gay marriage for example. While there is a plethora of different positions, there are two primary sides with opposing viewpoints: one side which thinks Scripture forbids it, and one side which thinks that Scripture says nothing about it at all. Both have extensive support for their sides, and so people trying to figure out what to think end up in a very confusing position.
Observe, though, the role that the concept of God is playing here: both sides are so fixated on trying to unlock the Bible’s secrets that God is actually serving as a distraction from the gay people they are discussing, and you know what? I bet those gay people have something to say. Let’s look up from our texts to see the world around us. Let’s listen to the people whom we are discussing.
In almost every area where Christian culture is strangely out of touch with the world, the underlying problem is that we have buried ourselves in the theology and teachings of our celebrity icons and failed to grapple with anything real.
Instead of evaluating the merits and struggles of women themselves, we see what Mark Driscoll has to say about the Bible.
Instead of looking at scientific evidence and hard data about evolution, we listen to Ken Ham about how will will throw the entire concept of truth into chaos if we question a literal Genesis.
Instead of hearing the testimonies of gays, lesbians, transgender people, and others, we let James Dobson’s Focus on the Family tell us what to think.
Or, in each of these cases, we might do the opposite.
Instead of listening to women, we pick some lesser-known scholar to tell us the Bible says it’s okay to let women preach.
Instead of learning science, we pick up on some stupid new trend about how Genesis actually fits within an evolutionary framework if you just read it the right way.
Instead of getting to know the LGBT community, we read some blogger who tells us that the Bible was actually saying this, that, or the other, so it’s not really against gay marriage.
Do you see how using God this way is serving as an obstacle to our moral development? Why do we need Christian celebrities to validate us in how we think about God? If God only speaks to us through these celebrities, and if religion is about making up our minds about the world without ever engaging with it, then I am proudly an atheist.
Christian celebrities should use their positions of influence not to tell people what to think but to inspire Christians to engage the world while pursuing God. They should grow our faith and build our concern for ultimate things, like goodness, justice, beauty, virtue, and so forth, opening our eyes to how those might manifest in the world around us. Instead, I find them trying to dictate our lives to us like we are rehearsing a script.
But script-following is not virtue. Staying within the lines is not goodness. Failing to question is not faith. Just as God incarnated Himself to be with us, so must we also be with the world. Christian celebrity culture often serves to shield ourselves from reality by trying to give us all the answers, but we must not allow this.
Follow people who open your eyes to the world around you, who encourage you to listen to the unheard voices, who guide you into knowledge and understanding, who build up love within you. These sorts of celebrities are worth your time.