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Christian Celebrity Culture

I am not part of the gospel coalition, or the president of a seminary, or a megachurch pastor...so I am not going to pretend that many people are paying attention to what I say. And while I fear that another entry on this topic will simply "add to the noise" surrounding Rob Bell and his newest book, I also know that I have a unique perspective that seminary presidents and most pastors don't have.

What's that, you ask? It's that I am a 20-something. While this may not be advantageous on many accounts (only because being in your 20s usually means you think you know more than you actually do), in this particular scenario, I think it's important. Why? Because unlike my elders, there is a part of me (and most everyone in my generation) that is initially attracted to voices like Rob Bell that question our traditional (and sometimes legalistic) way of thinking about things. To be perfectly honest with you, when I hear Rob Bell teach on something "controversial", my first reaction is usually excitement. But after the emotion of hearing something "new" wears off (however long it may take), I'm ready to dissect whether or not what he's saying is something that I believe to be consistent with Scripture.

I fear that most people in my generation never come down from that excitement, and so they begin to form their lives around any "new" doctrine that sounds appealing. I also fear that those falling outside of the 20-something category respond to these "new" doctrines with a lack of understanding (or acknowledgment) on why it looks so attractive to our generation. The collision of these two communities, especially when something controversial comes up, is never pretty.

Of course, there are exceptions...so before you accuse me of age-stereotyping, I know there are plenty of 20-somethings who consider Albert Mohler their hero; and plenty of 40-somethings who are following Brian McLaren's every move. But I don't think they are considered the majority.

And so we get in these debates over relevance vs. tradition...and honestly, it's exhausting. Do I think the conversation is important? Yes. But worth sacrificing the command to love each other and live in unity with each other? Nothing is. I propose that we find a way to debate (and maybe even disagree) WITH love, but that's not actually a point of emphasis I'm trying to make by writing this.

Here's what I would like to say:

Forget Rob Bell's theology for a minute. Personally, I am withholding thoughts and opinions about Bell's theology until I actually read his book. And while I can be quoted as saying that I consider his marketing skills "impeccable" surrounding the launch of his new book (whether he intended to or not); his leadership skills in this situation, on the other hand? Disappointing. What authority do I have to say that? Well, 1 Corinthians 10:32 to start. "Do not cause anyone to stumble..."

Most of the people engaged in this debate have enough education and foundation to be able to make decisions on whether a person's theology lines up with biblical truth. But there are plenty of people sitting in churches (or not...because they believe they don't need to submit to the authority of an institution thanks to, in part, non-orthodox leaders who have encouraged them to do so) that do not have the spiritual maturity to weed through a lot of the pop-culture theology that, while it may sound good and is presented in a "sexy" way, is contrary to the Gospel.

I think Albert Mohler said it best when he talked about Bell performing a "theological strip tease" in this article. If the book comes out, and we all learn that Bell is not, in fact, a Universalist...great. But I have to wonder how many people who are young in their faith are being led astray by the voices of Christian "celebrities" that are just trying to say something to gain attention.

Now, before you go off on me for accusing Rob Bell of either A. being a heretic, or B. just saying something to gain popularity, hear me when I say this: I'm not just pointing my finger at Bell. I'm pointing it at everyone who has influence over people through their words because they have been given a public forum and asking: are you leading people astray? With your relevance, with your legalism, with your pride, with your idolization of theology, with your need to be famous, with the way you love people...

I'm pointing the finger at myself too.

And while I know that a leader cannot control what every person does with their lives as a result of something they taught, that doesn't make James 3:1 any less true.

Don't like it? Don't teach. I'm sorry if that seems harsh, but living in a world where 99% of the people I know are addicted to people pleasing (including myself), we don't need Christians that are speaking out of their need to gain popularity. It's wreaking havoc on our generation already.

And so I don't hate Rob Bell. I actually don't think that anyone who has publicly disagreed with him over this whole controversy does either. I actually respect him as a creative thinker and a man who is willing to think outside of the box and ask tough questions. 

If there's anything I hate, it's the Christian celebrity culture that has been created, where people are more prone to follow a human being than Jesus Christ. I'm guessing that most of the leaders we idolize never really wanted the fame, but because of our human tendency to worship the creation over the Creator, they find themselves elevated to a place far above what they are comfortable with (and if they are comfortable with it...they are in a dangerous place).

None of these men are perfect, including the one that stands up in front of your congregation and preaches every week. We react and analyze their every move like we expect them to be. Instead, we should be praying for their godly influence on this culture.

Also, we need to remember that at the end of our lives, we will answer and be judged by one person, and he won’t be wearing skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses. He won’t have thousands of followers on twitter, and he won’t ask you to categorize yourself as reformed, emergent, or any other label we use to divide ourselves.

Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s some irony in my first paragraph. People ARE paying attention to what I say. It may not be in the thousands, but I’m still held accountable by those I influence to represent Christ in my words and actions.

And so are you.


(I had part of this post written yesterday, and then my mom forwarded me a staff e-mail from my home church in IL, written by Mike Baker, that inspired me to finish this post; so I will gladly give him credit for some of this thought.)

Reader Comments (1)

I do not know about all of the controversy ,but I do love how you stepped out to speak what GOD has placed upon your heart.His will be done .I do hope that your insight will bring others back to trust in God's word rather than mans. keep thinking growing and loving. thank you for the insight. austin s.;)

Mar 8, 2011 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered Commenteraustin simpson

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