How many times have you heard, “Ms. So-and-so Celebrity just gave their heart to Jesus. That’s going to have a huge impact for the Kingdom of God.”?
We were all once baby Christians – and baby Christians rarely make a huge impact. Like us, a “superstar’s” friends and family (and fan base) are going to watch them closely, to see if the change they acknowledge in their life is real and lasting and is something that others might want to emulate or avoid. The one major difference the celebrity faces is a greater degree of exposure, and therefore greater external pressure to revert back to their “old man.”
Sadly, the “Superstar” is expected to have it all together and have all the answers from day-one; and that’s never the case. For one thing, they didn’t have it all together before they came to Christ – that’s why they (just like the rest of us) needed Jesus. All they had was good PR and a successful agent that kept their weaknesses, their insecurities and their indiscretions from leaking to the media.
I’ll never forget the day I heard Bob Dylan had become a Christian. I grew up in the folk music era and played most of his songs on my acoustic guitar. Even when Dylan upset much of his fan base when he went electric in the mid-’60s, I stuck with him. In the late ‘70s, the Jewish-born Dylan, unhappy with his personal and artistic life, turned to Christianity. The man who had warned us “Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parking meters” was now admonishing us with, “There’s only one authority / That’s the authority on high.” And he started evangelizing with alarming venom. “Are you ready, are you ready? / Are you ready to meet Jesus?” he demanded to know back then. Touring in ‘79 and ‘80, Dylan wouldn’t even play any of his older, secular works, and he delivered declarations of his faith from the stage, such as: “Years ago they said I was a prophet. I used to say, ‘No I’m not a prophet.’ They’d say ‘Yes you are, you’re a prophet.’ They finally convinced me. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer.”
But after a couple of albums in this vein, he began to retreat from evangelizing and struggled to re-find his artistic feet. Dylan’s embrace of born-again Christianity was unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians. Shortly before his murder, John Lennon even recorded “Serve Yourself” in response to Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” By 1981, Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times that “neither age (he’s now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament.” And by 1985, his wretched, inebriated appearance at “Live Aid”, along with a series of poor albums, was enough to get him roundly dismissed once again as a figure from the past: “an aging star of no contemporary cultural significance.” Now that he’s in his 70’s, it’s nice to look back and see that his music has always reflected his career-long intimacy with, and adept deployment of the King James Bible. Hopefully he’s still serving God!
Michael and Lisa Gungor, recent Dove Award artists were born in Christian households. But in the last couple years they’ve questioned long-held religious beliefs. They’re now even using the lyrics of their songs to publicize their unbelief. “Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in,” they now refer to as mythological. The Gungors are now working with Pastor Rob Bell (author of “Love Wins,” where he exposed his own unbelief and doubt in Scriptural authority by denying the central Christian doctrines of hell and eternal judgment) – and various poets. The Gungor’s music is accompanied by spoken word poems on religious themes. But doubt and unbelief is expressed throughout: “What if we made this stuff up because we were afraid of death?” It’s amazing that they nevertheless recommend church or spiritual exercise, on the rationale that “sometimes just showing up, spices in hand, is all it takes to witness a miracle.” How they can still be “inspired by Jesus,” the One Who upheld the authenticity of Scripture, including the stories they now doubt, is beyond me.
There have been some recent notable salvations, including the likes of liberal news anchor Kirsten Powers (a contributor to USA Today and a columnist for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, and a Democratic commentator at Fox News.)
Writing for Christianity Today, Powers’ explains how her attitudes toward Christianity changed by listening to her Presbyterian pastor. She describes his preaching as “intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy, … usually bringing Jesus in at the end of the sermon to tie his points together…. I thought of it as just an interesting lecture…. Keller made the case for Christianity. He also made the case against atheism and agnosticism…. one night in 2006, on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, ‘Here I am.’ It felt so real.” Fortunately, she attended his wife’s Bible study to get a stronger foundation in Christ.
The notoriety of “stars” such as Powers gives them a following and a voice. She fearlessly declares that she is pro-life. Then she has even asked her Twitter and FaceBook followers to contribute to the Catholic Knights of Columbus fund to assist Iraqi Christians and Yezidis. But a “star’s” fame also gives them a platform to propound possible error. Powers recently used her USA Today column to write an article entitled “Christianity’s new look on gays.” She based her liberal stance not on the Bible, but on a book written by “Reformed” New Testament professor James Brownson and another book written by evangelical gay Christian Matthew Vines. Both men contend that the issue of sexual orientation represents new data that the church needs to consider. “Christians did not change their minds about (the sun revolving around the Earth) because they lost respect for … the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered.”
The problems attendant to notoriety and fame are nothing new to the Church. Paul spoke about it in his first letter to the Corinthians: “… you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” Paul and Apollos were some of the superstars of the 1st Century Church – and many people had begun to look to their works and to favor one or the other over even their true foundation: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase… For we are God’s fellow workers; … let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Babes in Christ have a story to tell – their testimony – how they were drawn to their Savior and the impact He has had on their life. And each such story is powerful. However, it’s mature Christians who make the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God, not the babes, even those with big names.
Until a person is fully established in Christ and the knowledge of His Word, the Bible, and its inerrancy, they are too prone to attack and failure. The old adage, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” is true also for the Christian believer. We’ve seen it time and time again.
It’s wonderful that Bob Dylan, the Gungors and Kirsten Powers have made a commitment to Christ, and have their eternal salvation guaranteed. But I pray that these and other celebrities who find a home in God’s Kingdom, exercise wisdom and restraint when they are asked on the big stage to make declarations on matters of Christian doctrine. For their public status also elevates them to positions of greater accountability. So they must take greater care to always confirm that whatever they declare aligns perfectly with the written Word of God. His Word is spiritually, not carnally discerned and not open to re-interpretation based on changes in cultural, social, scientific or political biases and opinions.