Written by Todd Mangum
Monday, 01 July 2013 00:00
For the last month or so, CNN has been running a story that lists famous people who have self-identified as “born again Christians” — see http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/31 /living/gallery/born-again-celebrities. Some are no surprise (everyone knows of Kirk Cameron’s outspoken and very public Christian testimony; and most people know about the youngest Baldwin brother, Stephen, being a Christian). But some really do raise the eyebrows. Alice Cooper is a Christian?!! (OK, some readers are too young to know who that man — yes, man — even is; but those of us who do. . . . ) Bob Dylan’s conversion was pretty well publicized, but still piques my curiosity; same with Jane Fonda. Mickey Rooney? . . . Interesting.
American evangelical Christianity is fascinated by the celebrity culture, and is sucked in for good or bad by it; American evangelicalism also forms its own celebrity culture — often to the great embarrassment of the cause of Christ. Pride and ego end up getting nourished (rather than checked) by this, and little good can come of that. The exaggerated fascination of our culture with famous people is a problem. The paparazzi scourge is a symptom. Likewise, the Christian celebrity culture is worth its own analysis (a separate blog perhaps).
All that recognized, here are a couple of observations on CNN’s “Born Again Celebrities” list from a missional perspective:
“These powerful people can really make a statement for Christ” is the wrong instinct. The power of Christianity lies in scores of “ordinary people” being transformed extraordinarily for Christ and by Christ. The testimony of hundreds of ordinary Christians showing up after the tornadoes to help feed, shelter, and clothe the victims and help them rebuild — before FEMA could even get the paperwork processed — is a more powerful testimony than an actor getting a Christian “zinger” in at his or her Emmy-award acceptance speech. The role of Christian celebrities is to participate faithfully in the Kingdom work of Christ, not carry it.
Look at how many of their testimonies describe conversions after a great loss, or after fading from the limelight (and finding the hype and hysteria at the height of their careers superficial, vain, and empty). Ecclesiastes is true — and for many of these celebrities, they were given the grace to discover the truth before it was too late. Praise God.
In this vein, I observe that 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 is still true:
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no one should boast before God.”
There are at least two implications that apply here:
There are not “many” noble (skilled, famous, all-American, Emmy-winning, etc.) who will be Kingdom heirs . . . but there are a couple now and then. Some of this, if I’m reading 1 Corinthians 1 right, is due to the plan and purposes of God — God prefers to do His work among the lowly, the non-descript, the common; such that the extraordinary works He does through such ordinary people is recognized as all the more extraordinary. Some of it is explained by other, broader biblical principles. Celebrities tend to be full of themselves, overachieving, selfishly-ambitious narcissists. And God opposes the proud; and likewise, the proud resist submission to the Spirit of God.
The temptations confronted by celebrity Christians must be enormous. These are people whose attention other “normal” people clamor for. These are people who are exceptionally good-looking, or talented, or otherwise simply superior to the vast majority of other human beings. The being catered to, the attention, the constant affirmation and being surrounded by people eager to please them represents a constant soul-corrupting challenge. It should not be a surprise to us when a “Christian celebrity” stumbles or even falls. Not to make any excuse; but rather just to make the point: Christian celebrities we know and admire deserve our prayers.
I’m curious as to what your reflections might be. Or what implications you might draw from CNN’s list of born-again celebrities (or your own list of same).
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum