The Gospel Coalition is one of my favorite websites on the big, wide interwebs. I have never had the privilege of attending one of their conferences, but the countless helpful articles by great writers, pastors, theologians, missionaries, and smart people have been a huge help to me, my wife and countless others.
I really enjoyed Richard Clark’s article from Monday’s posts talking about celebrities as not being commodities. Richard Clark continued that conversation on Wednesday’s podcast at Christ and Pop Culture where he is the editor-in-chief and discussed a little more about our culture’s obsession with celebrities and particularly the Christian culture obsession with pastors, theologians, professors, writers, etc. I would suggest checking out that podcast for the whole thing and enjoy Nick Rynerson’s story about being rebuked at the Gospel Coalition Conference.
Where the slight irony comes in is that two days later The Gospel Coalition posts a baker’s dozen of pictures from Day 1 of their TGC Council Meeting which includes a good spread of photos of who many of us would consider to be the celebrity pastors of our day. Right out of the gate, “Hey! There is Tim Keller with a red pen!” “Look, there is John Piper typing something on his computer! Mark Dever talking! D.A. Carson praying! I bet a mountain just moved! Al Mohler with a bow tie!” (BTW, well done, sir)
I see this juxtaposition as a microcosm of our own hearts. One day we can be very aware that our hearts are sinfully lusting to make a connection with the people that we look up to and admire and then two days later we indulge in that by drinking in pictures of the famous people we admire doing very ordinary things. AND it is worthy of its very own blog post to share with everyone!
“We look to the celebrity pastors as our example to emulate and that turns from a healthy admiration into an obsession that borders on weird and ends with us having them sign our Bibles.”
That is the amazing and terrifying power of our internet age. Celebrity is not something new, heck, Jesus was a celebrity in his day and had to steal away in the early morning to pray without being interrupted. However, the internet allows us to look at those pictures, listen to a sermon, read a blog post, listen to music, or read a tabloid and soak in a one-sided, nonreciprocal relationship with that person we are holding up. What we fail to realize, and what Clark points out in his article, is that we merely capture moments of these people’s lives that we can live over and over again and dehumanize them by either putting them on a pedestal for their exemplary or fascinating lives, or we do the opposite and we demonize them for their non-exemplary lives or views we don’t agree with.
In Christian circles this can be particularly dubious. We look to the celebrity pastors (i.e. Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Dever, etc.) as our example to emulate and that turns from a healthy admiration into an obsession that borders on weird and ends with us having them sign our Bibles. It is even worse when we turn our sights on them for doing something or writing something that we disagree with and our obsession turns to revulsion. I can’t help but think of the slow about-face many have done to Mark Driscoll as a result of some recent “journalism” in the past calendar year.
The bottom line is that these pastors, and celebrities as a whole, are not a good or service that we ship out to consume and rate on Amazon. They are people, with real feelings, real families, real ministries, real needs, real fears, and real lives. I think the toughest part for celebrities has to be that they face a battle that comes from within and without. Just think about pastors who are famous and well-known. These guys have a church in their own city with people who criticize them, idolize them, and listen to them and they need to address those needs within their own church context. Add on top of that they have people outside who criticize them, idolize them, and listen to them, as well. That adds up to a lot of pressure that I don’t think we, as normal, not famous people, don’t really understand. In the same situation that you and I put those famous people in, would we react like they did? Or would it be a lot worse? Makes you think, doesn’t it? I think we could all benefit from a little more thought experiment when it comes to our celebrity obsessions and take a few moments to humanize those who seem very inhuman (both in a good and bad sense) when we listen the to them, watch them, or obsess over them.
One final word on this. I come out of this knowing and sensing the irony in this very article. I don’t mean this as a way to say, “I have it figured it out and I don’t obsess over famous people ever.” I do, and when I stop and think it makes me cringe and get on my knees and pray. I get that writing about observed irony can itself be ironic and hypocritical. I get that it is slightly ironic I write this and one of my first posts ever on this blog was an oozing ode to John Piper as he stepped out of the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist. I get that the fact I know when John Piper was retiring from preaching at Bethlehem Baptist can be considered obsessive. I get it and I want my heart to avoid falling into the trap of having an unhealthy view of people who are completely normal but are in a position of power and influence because of their talents.
My point can probably be best summed up by what Richard Clark said to close his article:
“We’re entirely too comfortable with the morally meticulous games we play with celebrities and other renowned personalities. Celebrities aren’t commodities who give us a break from loving our neighbor. Despite what we’ve been telling ourselves, Brangelina, Bieber, Obama, Piper, and Keller are as worthy of being treated with dignity as our neighbors or friends.”
Thanks friends. Listen to those podcasts, songs, and sermons and watch TV, movies, and YouTube videos with discernment and remember that, “The heart [that means my heart and yours] is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable–who can understand it,” (Jeremiah 17:9), but, “since we have a great high priest [Jesus Christ]over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful,” (Hebrews 10:21-23).