In recent news, a fair number of celebrity conversions have been taking place in the public eye. Justin Bieber has been leading worship at large venues, Kanye West has been performing Sunday Service events, and Chris Pratt, Shia LeBeouf, and Selena Gomez have all been open about using the language of “faith” to describe their lives. We can reminisce back to Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan’s “Jesus phase.”
Some of these have gone terribly wrong, some have been validated by true life change and some are still in the works, but the question is: Do celebrity conversions reveal more about us than the celebrity?
In his recent blog about celebrity conversions, Trevin Wax says there are typically two types of responses from Christians when there is news of a celebrity surrendering his or her life to Christ.
Reaction #1: To beam with excitement while eagerly sharing all of the good things that God and his grace are accomplishing through, “even someone like this.”
Reaction #2: To cast a critical eye toward the celebrity, responding with cynicism toward what the celebrity is saying and doing.
So what is at the heart of these two reactions?
Wax says, “We live in a celebrity culture in which fame equals validation and significance. When we hear news about a celebrity conversion, we typically don’t picture the lone individual standing before God-stripped of all earthly trinkets and worldly success-on the same level as you and me and everyone else. We still see them in their celebrity form . . . and once someone professes faith, we tend to slip into the same worldly assessment of their true significance.”
What happens next? “We are too quick to lift up celebrities as examples of faith and leadership, and therein lies the danger,” Wax says. The kingdom of God does not operate the same way as the western culture that we’ve created, a culture of fast-paced living. To say it another way:
God takes years to change us into the image of Christ. It takes our whole life. So when the celebrity has a fallback (either a setback or totally walking away from their faith) it immediately gets public attention and backlash. This is why, over time, Wax says, the first “reaction” group slowly morphs into to the second group.
Check Your Heart
Both responses reveal the condition of our own heart more than they do the celebrity’s. They reveal that we can be in danger of adopting a worldly view of meaning and significance, relevance and validation.
If your first reaction to a celebrity conversion is utter joy, then ask yourself if you would react the same way if someone who, Wax says, has “lesser importance” claims to be a follower of Christ.
If your first reaction is to sneer at the celebrity and be critical, then ask yourself how you would react to a family member who made the same profession of faith.
Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to praise celebrities for their professions of faith, but we most certainly shouldn’t be cynical either. As Christians, we live for the moments when someone says, “I want Jesus.” Although Christianity has gotten a bad name from many celebrities in the past, far be it from us to put our hope in a celebrity “Christian” to give us validation and significance. Whether famous or not, we need to have patience and hope for those who are professing to know, love, and serve Christ.
(Source: The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax, What to make of celebrity conversions, September 23rd 2019)