Celebrity pastors and leaders had their time in the spotlight this past week. I returned on Saturday from a twenty-four hour seminary course taught in a retreat format and discovered the blogosphere humming with the antics and doctrinal claims of several nationally recognized evangelical leaders.
Most incendiary: John MacArthur dissing the Pentecostals and charismatics for their false worship practices at his annual conference named for his soon-to-be-released book, “Strange Fire”. When a Christian spokesperson and seminary president takes on a few million people generally considered to share the broad evangelical tent and warns them of God’s impending judgment for their beliefs that the sign gifts have not ceased, the flint is making sparks. MacArthur also claimed the Charismatic movement is made up largely of non-believers who focus on the prosperity gospel and worship which titillates the fleshly feelings. House cleaning by burning down the house?
Most debatable: To gamble or not to gamble; that’s the question on the poker table. World magazine’s article on the poker-playing habits of “Left Behind” series author, Jerry Jenkins, his filmmaker son, Dallas Jenkins, and “Act Like Men” conference leader and pastor of Harvest Bible Church, James MacDonald documents the growing acceptance of a previously taboo activity among evangelicals.
I’ve written before about the responsibility of elders in dealing with celebrity pastors here. Today I want to ponder what responsibility, if any, John and Jane Does like myself bear in these kinds of incidents. What role have I played in the creation of Christian celebrities? What changes can I make to shift my focus from people on platforms to the triune God?
Without a doubt God has gifted some speakers, preachers and writers with extraordinary gifts. They ably use words with great affect; inspire, encourage, challenge readers and listeners and the audience grows. Soon there’s a buzz, “Have you heard ____? Have you read ______? Did you see the blog post? What do you think of _______’s podcast? Are you going to the conference?” And we get pulled in; I get pulled in.
I like to read well-written books, listen to well-crafted sermons and feel up-to-date on hot topics within Christendom. Not bad desires in and of themselves, but I easily drift from quality and consume the latest and hottest because it is the latest and hottest. I contribute to the celebrity culture when I choose buzz for buzz’s sake. I want to choose quality instead.
The celebrity culture focuses on the here and now. If I use a lens crafted over two-thousand years to view the current batch of evangelical celebrities, I’m less inclined to view them as whiz kids. I’ll see them instead as part of the long line of the faithful extending from the first century to today. I want to choose the long-term view.
When I place someone on a pedestal, I put both of us in a precarious position. I’m less inclined to use critical thinking skills and too ready to adopt their teaching and doctrinal arguments. I can forget they are human and become disillusioned when my unrealistic expectations remain unmet. I can be quick to excuse the kooky behavior of one of my favorites. I can prize the messenger and forget the sanctifying purpose of spiritual teaching. I want to keep my eyes on the Throne-Sitter instead of the pedestal sitter.
It’s hard not to be attracted to the focus of the spotlight’s beam – whether you’re the one featured or the one following the beam’s illumination. Instead of following the celebrity spotlights, I want to notice the people who faithfully and obediently serve God’s kingdom in the shadows. Their stories won’t generate a media buzz or light up the blogosphere, but their lives are the examples I want to follow.
What do you think about celebrity mania among evangelicals?