Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's not about Big Names

The celebrity is the phenomenon of our age. People were once famous for doing something important and/or heroic. Today the famous people are mostly famous for being famous. We have the distinctly unedifying spectacle of people who are famous for having appeared on a vacuous reality TV show, or having been part of a manufactured band. These are the famous - the celebs.

Now, while I find the whole thing nauseous, I find it all the more irritating in the Church. It is no accident that the most famous writers whose books load my shelves are dead, and have been for a while. They are also diverse. I do not buy into the idea of the Christian celebrity, it's all about Jesus, after all.

There are basically a couple of problems with the Christian celebrity. The first is that people tend to follow the celebrity uncritically. I am reminded of our most rebellious tutor at seminary, who set an essay on a passage that was designed to test this. The seminary was founded in part by a noted preacher of the last century, one who has a couple of multiple-volume sermon series' on New Testament epistles. This preacher had written on this text, but it was the opinion of our tutor that the famous man was in error. Fair enough - I think he was too. But the essay wasn't about that - it was about proving that we did exegesis of the text and did not just follow the famous man - or any other famous man - uncritically. Those students who failed dismally in the essay were those who said in effect, "The famous man said it, it must be true." The celebrity culture tends to lead to people uncritically accepting the famous man's views without actually examining it.

Related to this is the presentation of the celebrity as a modern saint. I have two biographies of the famous evangelist Billy Sunday. One is a whitewash, to be blunt. It covers up all his faults, and presents a very flat view of a great man. The other is honest without being a hatchet-job. We have faults - we all do. We are all sinners, and we need to be honest about that. The best of men are but men at best.

Jesus is not a celebrity. He is our Lord and Saviour, and the eternal Son of God. There is no room for a celebrity in the Church. And that means that you and I, dear reader, have to avoid making celebrities. "For all are yours, and you are Christ's."

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