The Celebritization of American Christianity

Scholars have written  helpful books on the juvenilization of American Christianity (Bergler) and the democratization of American Christianity (Hatch).  Similarly, we need one on the celebritization of American Christianity.  I don’t even need to explain how Christianity in America has its own celebrities, including pastors, speakers, and singers.  It is common knowledge that there are “rock stars” of Christianity.  Unfortunately, it is even very prevalent in calvinistic circles.  We are so accustomed to it we fail to see how deep and wide (and unbecoming the church) this celebritization actually is.

I suppose it’s a two-way street.  Sometimes a pastor craves the attention and basks in the spotlight.  Other times Christians (and Christian media) push pastors into the spotlight.  Concerning pastors, it might be good for a pastor who is in the spotlight to step out of it (stop speaking at so many conferences, stop writing so many books, stop blogging/tweeting, etc.).  Concerning Christians, it might be good for us to stop putting pastors in the spotlight (stop flocking to their conferences, stop buying every book they write, and stop following their social media).  Are these suggestions extreme?  Maybe they are debatable, but I don’t think they are extreme based on biblical ecclesiology and based on John Newton’s wise words on this topic.  He wrote these words to a fellow pastor and friend.  Notice the phrase “walking upon ice.”

“If opposition [in the ministry] has hurt many [pastors], popularity has wounded more.  To say the truth, I am in some pain for you.  Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies; your zeal is warm; and your spirit is lively.  With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher.  The more you are so, the greater will your field of usefulness be: but alas! you cannot yet know to what it will expose you.  It is like walking upon ice.  When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words: when you shall hear the well-meant, but often injudicious [impulsive] commendations, of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful: when you shall find, upon an intimation [announcement] of your preaching in a strange place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel?” [Proud?]

“It is easy for me to tell you to remain humble… but while human nature is in its present state, there will be almost the same connection between popularity and pride as [there is] between fire and gunpowder; they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp.  So, unless the Lord is constantly moistening our hearts (if I may so speak) by the influences of his Spirit, popularity will soon set us in a blaze.  You will hardly find a person, who has been exposed to this fiery trial, without suffering loss….”

The celebritization of American Christianity is a topic that has to be addressed.  For starters, especially concerning pastors, check out Newton’s entire letter of which I quoted a part: “On the Snares and Difficulties attending the Ministry of the Gospel.”  For all of us, this celebritization is something we should be aware of; it is a trend we should wisely and carefully seek to resist.

shane lems

3 comments on “The Celebritization of American Christianity

  1. matt says:

    great advice

  2. Glenn Harris says:

    This warning is definitely needed, but PLEASE not another book! 😎 Thank you for the reminder that we not imitate the Corinthians. Okay, that’s enough praise… Back to work!

  3. Monty Ledford says:

    Dead on. We learn more from failure than from success and are more ready to learn.
    The temptations and snares are almost exponentially increased by the visuality of our media, which can be toxic in this regard; I bet it would be a lot harder to work up a groupie or celebrity mentality when the voice goes over the sounds waves but there is no picture, either of the (more or less) attractive preacher or picture of carefully selected scenes and background that must always accompany a visual broadcast. I remember Joel Nederhood speaking once at Westminster regarding the qualitative change over radio that TV broadcasts introduce.
    Also, I recall with gratitude the ministry of men like Theodore Epp and Back to the Bible Broadcast, of MR De Haan of Radio Bible Class, as well as Walter Maier of the Lutheran Hour and Joel Nederhood–these men did so much good, but were not by any means sexy types or people who would make it in front of the camera.

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