Celebrity Christianity

LOS ANGELES, CA. November 9, 2016: Actor Brad Pitt at a special fan screening for “Allied” at the Regency Village Theatre, Westwood.

Following on the heels of public “deconstruction” stories (like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson) and the suicide of a well-known pastor, Jarrid Wilson, come the stories about newfound faith in God by public figures like Kanye West, Demi Lovato and now Brad Pitt. I feel like we need to be careful here.

Our faith shouldn’t rise or fall on the stories of public figures. The human tendency to follow and be interested in people we admire (or even idolize) is strong. A little perspective should be maintained, though.

God is no respecter of persons.

Though we put stock in what other people do or say, people are not the standard. God, alone, is the standard, and we should be careful to focus on Him. As big and bold as a person might seem, he or she is as finite as we are, flawed by sin and limited by our individual perspectives, influenced by any number of factors, many of which we may not completely appreciate (or even be aware).

One writer surmises that our reactions to celebrities becoming Christians (or renouncing Christianity) says more about us than them.

We live in a celebrity culture in which fame equals validation and significance. When we hear news about a celebrity conversion, we usually don’t picture the lone individual standing before almighty 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, as the avatar created by their promotional machine. And once someone professes faith, we tend to slip into the same worldly assessment of their significance.

This leads us to put too much emphasis (and faith) in the celebrity who becomes Christian, and that is dangerous for our faith – and theirs. We are quick to hold them up as examples and leaders, but faith, redemption, sanctification and growth in the knowledge and grace of God is a process. It takes time.

Joshua Harris wrote a book, Kiss Dating Goodbye, that catapulted him into the Christian limelight at the age of 21. Marty Sampson, the once Christian songwriter, became a worship leader for the megachurch Hillsong at the age of 20. Talent and fickle fame are not substitutes for depth and strength of character and faith.

We need to be careful not too put too much emphasis in the newfound faith of celebrities. We should not expect them to become overnight spiritual leaders. Neither should we be overly skeptical. They need room to grow and mature in Christ, like anyone else, and I fear that celebrity is not fertile soil for Christian growth.

Think of the rich young ruler.

Jesus described the way to follow him. It looks like taking up a cross. It involves learning the value of being last and adopting a servant of all perspective. Paul warns us that no one should think more highly of himself than he ought. Neither should we think too highly of others – for their sakes and ours.

Our rush to establish a celebrity as a leader in matters of faith does injustice to both the celebrity and also the church, requiring a sped-up sanctification process on behalf of the celebrity (because they’re already seen as a leader) and setting the church up for letdown when the movie star disappoints.

With said, I celebrate the newfound faith of any person, celebrity or commoner, like me. Let us pray for them and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith and ours.

Significance in the Way Christianity Spreads

Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity.

Os Guinness talks about differences between Christianity and other religions in an interview with Justin Brierley a few years ago. He made a statement that Christianity is the only “traveling religion”.

He observed that Hinduism began in India and remains primarily in India. Buddhism began in India and remains primarily in India and Eastern Asia. Islam began in the Middle East and remains primarily in the Middle East. Christianity, however, began in the Middle East. Then it moved to Europe; and then it moved to North America; and now Christianity is growing fastest in Africa and Latin America and Asia.

While I think Guinness overstates the case little bit, he got me thinking about the how the major world religions have spread. For instance, Islam, which rivals Christianity in numbers, grew very rapidly during the life and immediately after the death of Muhammad. It spread throughout the centuries into Europe and down into Africa and more recently across Southern Asia.

To that extent, Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity. This is the significant fact, in my opinion – not so much that Christianity has traveled through all the world (though it has) like no other religion.

Continue reading “Significance in the Way Christianity Spreads”

Some Thoughts by a Fellow Blogger with Mine Mixed in: On Apostasy and Genuine Faith

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Over the past month, two rather prominent Evangelical Christians have publicly announced that they are walking away from Christianity. First there is Josh Harris. Back in 1997, a 21-year-old Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye and became an instant celebrity within Evangelicalism. The book advocated courtship over dating, stressed sexual purity and abstinence before marriage,…

via Josh Harris, Marty Sampson: Why Some Christians Walk Away (…and why others, like Ken Ham, insist they have all the answers) — resurrecting orthodoxy

This is a thoughtful piece on the recent public “deconversions” of Marty Sampson and Joshua Harris. Most people (probably) (me included) didn’t know either name until they recently. They have become more highly visible in loosing their faith than they ever were in keeping it (so it seems anyway).

Before getting into the meat of the piece I am reblogging, I note that both men stepped into prominence in the Christian world at very young ages. Like childhood actors, that seems to me to be a recipe for difficulty. They might have been mature 21-year olds (I don’t know), but 21-year olds don’t have the life experience and perspective of, say, a 60 year old. There is a difference.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to thrust influence on people so young. Just a thought. Talent for writing or singing doesn’t necessarily mean spiritual maturity. That’s another thing: we do tend to idolize the naturally gifted. But these aren’t really the points of this piece.

Joel Anderson, the blogger whose piece is the subject of this article, observes some things about the Christian culture that I think are worth examining. He says,

“Now, if you were an unbeliever who became a Christian, the external signs are obviously going to be pretty obvious: your life is going to look considerably different.
But sometimes it’s tricky if you grew up going to church and grew up in a decidedly Christian subculture. You’re already living among all the trappings of what it looks like to be Christian: you already go to church, go to youth group, etc. What do you do if you’ve grown up with all that, but then you’re faced with the clear Gospel message that to follow Jesus, one must repent and ‘crucify the old man’? What does that look like if you’ve always grown up in a very Christian environment?”

I grew up Catholic. I didn’t know I had an “old man” inside of me. I did know I was a sinner, something was wrong, but I saw nothing of any relevance to me in the church with its staid ritual. When God drew me and awakened a new spiritual reality to me, it was largely through evangelical Christians.

When I came to identify with being born again, it was a real experience. It wasn’t a doctrine taught to me in Sunday school. To that extent, it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to grew up in evangelical Christianity where being born again is “normal”.

But, I have noted that people who grow up with evangelical Christianity have similar experiences to what I experienced in the Catholic church. They get just enough of the “virus” to inoculate the from the real thing. Not that I see evangelical Christianity as a virus: the point is that mere familiarity with Christian “doctrines” without personalizing them and having a real faith experience can prevent the gospel from ever taking firm root.

Birth happens with pain, tension and angst. Perhaps, new birth must also occur in the same way. I don’t know. I wouldn’t make doctrine out of it, but there might be some truth to the idea. Joel continues:

“I remember growing up, both in church and at my Christian high school, there was just this unspoken assumption that said, ‘Well, we are obviously all Christians; we’ve already said the sinner’s prayer when we were 8 (or whenever), got baptized when we were 12 (or whenever), and now have all the answers right in this book (i.e. the Bible). So, are you doing all the right things and saying the right answers? You’d better—they’re clear, everything is clear. Don’t be a compromiser, here are the right answers you are supposed to give. It’s easy. Just stick to the script and everything will be okay.’ Nobody purposely pushed that, mind you. It was just the feeling that permeated everything.”

I often hear people blame the church for what Joel describes here, but I don’t think we should necessarily blame the church. The church is a place where we can encounter God with other believers, but the church can’t make a person a Christian. A person isn’t a Christian just because they go to church.

(Remember the car in a garage analogy? Just because you park yourself in a garage doesn’t make you a car.)

The reality of faith most be born in each person. Each person must be born again. We don’t inherit faith from our parents, grandparents, ancestors or culture. God has no grandchildren; God only has children.

That means the experience and the reality of faith must be personal… to each of us. We can’t ride anyone’s coat tails into the kingdom of God. We have to find our own way and encounter God for ourselves. Joel continuances:

Now, even though I grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night, and went to a Christian high school (and in a sense have been a Christian my whole life), it wasn’t until the summer after my junior year in high school that, after reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that Christianity really started to challenge me and make sense. But that was also the same time that realized I no longer felt at home in the particular Evangelical trappings of my church and school. Sting’s song, ‘Consider Me Gone’ was my personal song for my senior year. When I came to Christ and made Christianity my own, a part of me died to, indeed repented of, the Evangelical Christian type culture in which I had grown up.”

What Joel says here may be hard to swallow for many evangelicals. Just like my leaving the Catholic church was difficult for my parents and my priest, no doubt. But I identify with him in what he says. Hear me out.

I embraced evangelicalism when I become born again. I found my home there, so I don’t say these things lightly. I still consider myself an evangelical, but I have learned that we have to be careful with the degree to which we identify with anything other than Jesus and the Gospel.

It’s axiomatic, and certainly true, that there is no perfect church. There is no perfect denomination. There are no perfect pastors, no perfect parents… no perfect people, period. This reality should give us pause to be humble.

It should also give us pause to be slow to try to control the journey for someone else. A lot can go wrong when we insinuate too much of ourselves and try too much to control outcomes for other people.

I am rambling a bit now, so forgive me, please. I see a lot of things wrong with evangelicalism today, though I still identify as an evangelical. But that’s true of every Christian stripe, every denomination and every church. To the extent that these labels are all human constructs and our corporate and individual attempts at maintaining “the body of Christ”, they are going to fall short.

Jesus said the tares will grow up with the wheat. God won’t destroy the tares now for fear of taking the wheat with them, but the tares will be separated from the wheat in the end. In the meantime, we should be mindful that God sees the difference. We might not accurately be able to identify the difference, but God knows.

The Father knows His children. The Father knows who is connected into His body through Christ. Many will say, “Lord, Lord!”, but the Father will say, “I never knew you.”

The “apostasy” of a couple of somewhat prominent men in Christian culture may (more not) create a crisis of faith in some. If a person is wrestling with a crisis of faith as a result, maybe that’s a good thing. If our faith is grounded only in the people we see as our spiritual guides, maybe we aren’t following Jesus as closely as we should.

Our faith must be genuine and rooted in Christ in a personal way to be real. While there is a corporate element to faith, we must be personally born again. The change (and there should be a noticeable change of some sort) should be real, personal and deep seated in the life of each individual who professes faith in Jesus. 

We don’t maintain that personal connection merely by going to church, identifying as a Christian, or through any other ritual or pronouncement. That connection is maintained between us, individually, and God.

Until we realize, as David did, that we can’t go anywhere that God isn’t present, that we can’t think a thought or say a word, that God doesn’t already know it, we may be tempted to think that God is only in our church, our labels, our rituals and our doctrines. These things can all be shaken. Even our understanding of the Word of God can be shaken.

When I went through a crisis of faith of sorts after leaving a “perfect” church with “perfect” leaders, I leaned heavily on Paul’s statement to the Romans: Let God be true, always, though every man be a liar. (My paraphrasing) When that “perfect” church crumbled, self-destructed and disintegrated, and some of the leaders walked away from the faith, I had to cling to God.

And, I’ve learned that clinging to God is the best place to be.

Climate Change and the Gospel


Many Christians deny that climate change is happening, perhaps because many Christians distrust science. More accurately, perhaps, they distrust scientists, as a large number of scientists are atheists, especially some extremely vocal scientists who “preach” a form of scientism[1].

As Christians, though, we need to be careful here. We need to respect truth wherever we find it and wherever it leads. Without letting go of the revealed truth of God in Scripture, we need to recognize and acknowledge truth that science reveals – the truth of God’s creation.

We also need to recognize and understand the difference between science and scientists. Science, done right, reveals the truth of God’s creation. The scientists who do science are influenced by their own biases, assumptions and preconceptions, worldviews and individual perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that the results of the science they do can’t be trusted.

We have to separate out the science and the conclusions drawn by scientists from the science. Even there, those conclusions shouldn’t be discarded without consideration. Scientific conclusions (conclusions that naturally and inevitably follow from proven premises) should be distinguished from philosophical conclusions (extrapolations from the scientific conclusions that go beyond the bare facts and enter into philosophical territory).

What does that mean? A very extreme example might be the assertion by Neil deGrasse Tyson that science has replaced philosophy and made it irrelevant. He maintains that science tells us everything we need to know about reality. This very statement is a philosophical statement. (Hint: it’s not science.) Just because a scientist says something doesn’t make it true.

We also have to keep in mind that science has been reduced over the decades and centuries to mean something more limited than what it once meant. (Theology was once known as the Queen of the Sciences). Science is now limited in its definition to mean the study of the natural world and its material components and processes. Scientific method is limited to what can be proven by observation of the material world and its processes.

Science is a species of knowledge, but we sometimes conflate science with knowledge, thinking that science is the end-all and be-all of knowledge and that knowledge is only that which science reveals to us. As Christians, we don’t believe this. Philosophers don’t believe this. Artists, and poets and musicians don’t believe this. Many scientists don’t believe this as well.

But, I digress. I believe that the science for climate change is accurate – at least to some extent. To what extent, I am unable to conclude, as I don’t know the science well enough. But that the climate is changing is fact. It is changing, and we shouldn’t be ignorant of that fact.

It is also fact that we are contributing to that change. CO2 emissions, for example, have gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution. That is science that can’t (shouldn’t) be denied. It’s been substantially demonstrated in a multitude of ways.

To what extent has our activity contributed to the change? To what extent is our activity driving the change? To what extent can we reverse the change? Can we reverse climate change by our efforts? I think these are all open questions as I understand the state of the science.

As Christians, I think we need to be careful to respect the truth of science; otherwise we are guilty of denying and misrepresenting truth. We need to respect truth wherever it is found because our God is true, Jesus was truth personified. For that reason, also, we have no reason to be afraid of the truth.

Our approach should be appropriately nuanced on issues like climate change. How we deal with the truth and respond to it must be placed into context. There is a higher truth than climate change: God and His purposes that we learn from revealed truth found in Scripture.

For the Christian, the prospect of climate change does not appear as the ominous a threat it is for the non-believer. This is because we understand that the earth is passing away;[2] and God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.[3] In fact, Jesus warns us not to store up our treasures on earth where they are subject to rot, decay and destruction (sounds like the second law of thermodynamics), but to store them up in heaven.[4]

But we also need to be mindful that God made us stewards of the earth, and He expects us to be good stewards. Continue reading “Climate Change and the Gospel”

Thoughts on Christian Persecution


The blasts that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 sent shockwaves all over the world that reached the United Stated. Finally, the targeted persecution of Christians was reported in the mainstream news. The tsunami of reaction, if we can call that, even led to a Newsweek article acknowledging that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, and the targeted hostility is on the rise.

The news is not that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise. The news is that mainstream news reported it. Not that it could be ignored. The numbers were too big. They were too big to ignore, unlike the ongoing killings in Nigeria, and India, and Pakistan and arrests in China and burning and demolition of churches that occur increments that are easier to let slip by.

But, let’s be real here. Christian pleas for recognition and sympathy, as was shown for the killing of Muslims at Christchurch or institutionally marginalized people in our own culture who are rising on the shoulders of the Christian notion of the exaltation of the weak and oppressed is largely falling on deaf ears. And Christians aren’t happy about it.

Let’s be even more real here. Christians are not persecuted in the United States and never have been. That the tide of popular opinion about Christians and Christianity is turning, has turned, is not the same as persecution. That Christians are seen as the oppressors, the privileged and the keepers of the gates to be stormed by the cultural elite who have secured themselves in the cultural command center does not equate to persecution… yet.

But, we need to be careful here. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to follow His lead, and not react out of our flesh. We need to maintain the right perspective. The perspective of people for whom Jesus has made a place with Him.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Christian Persecution”

Of Church Heretics and Heroes

Who are the William Tyndale’s in modern culture?

The Tyndale Monument, Gloucestershire, UK was built in honor of William Tyndale, a translator of the Bible, who was born nearby.

I listened recently to the Unbelievable podcast on the subject of William Tyndale. (Unbelievable? Why William Tyndale’s Bible changed the world: Melvyn Bragg and Ben Virgo) Tyndale lived from 1494-1536, during a time in which illiteracy was the rule, not the exception. The Bible was read only by the educated elite.

The 1600’s was also a time of great corruption in the church itself. The church was the largest employer in the land. It had great power, and it was corrupt. The vast majority of people, including clergy, were ignorant of Scripture. According to the experts on the Unbelievable podcast, many clergymen didn’t even know the 10 commandments. This was a very dark period in church history, the culmination of centuries of church/state alliance that twisted the Gospel to serve the power of kings and popes who lived like kings.

Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther who also a rebel that opposed the church consensus and power structure of the day. Tyndale was influenced by John Wycliffe who a century before had translated the Bible into middle English, but the church opposed the “unauthorized” translation and rejected it. The church even declared Wycliffe a heretic after his death, and many of the Wycliffe Bibles were burned and not widely distributed.

Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the Bible into English for the common man. Though Wycliffe had already done that, the Bible was still virtually inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and even clergy were ignorant of it. He suffered exile for his efforts and was eventually arrested, jailed, convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and his body was burned at the stake.

We celebrate Tyndale now as a martyr for the faith who took up his cross and followed Christ even unto death, a leader of the reformation that led believers out of the corruption of the organized religion of his day.

He and other “rebels” paved the way for the Bible to be made available worldwide in every language spoken on earth. Tyndale now is the name of a major Christian publishing company. Luther is the namesake of a major church denomination. Wycliffe is the name of the organization that translates the Bible into the rarest languages of the farthest flung tribes of the world.

Just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees and Sadducees in the 1st Century, Tyndale opposed the popes and bishops in the 16th Century. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop Jesus and had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spreading the Gospel, the popes and bishops tried to stop Tyndale, had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for translating the Bible including the words Jesus preached into English.

The main opposition to Jesus, and Tyndale, came from the religious leaders. Those religious leaders employed the power of the state to oppose the spread of the Gospel (in Jesus’s case) and the spread of the translation of the Bible into English (in Tyndale’s case).

When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify [Jesus]?”, the chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) I think about these things in light of the current religious and cultural climate.

Tyndale was viewed as a rebel and, a renegade, a heretic. He opposed the status quo, including the status quo within the church. He was despised. He was opposed by the church. He could not even return to his homeland, England, for fear of his life, and he eventually lost his life to the church and state authorities of his day

Today, the church and state are no longer joined in power as in Tyndale’s day. Many modern Christians in the United States rue the loss of power and advantage, while modern secularists would like to negate completely all influence of religion on society. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, instead of Trump, most Christians feared an incremental loss of power and influence in the affairs of our nation. Christians have embraced Trump as the man to fight the tide of growing secularism and maintain Christianity in that position of power and influence.

But is that a good thing? We all know of the challenges, difficulties and even persecution of the church that result from state government that is opposed to the church, but history suggests that the confluence of state power with church governance leads to corruption of the church. Would we rather accept corruption in the church to avoid challenge, difficulty and persecution?

Listening to Tyndale’s story, makes me wonder, “What about the church today is like the church in Tyndale’s time?” What influence lingers or has crept in to modern Christianity that will cause future believers to look back and wonder at the corruption of the 21st Century church?

Who are the heretics of our time who will be hailed as heroes in future generations?

Three Things Christians Need to Know about the Border Wall Emergency

The wider the door swings open to presidential exercises of power that fly in the face of the constitutional protection of the separation of powers, the harder it will be to undo the change in the fabric of our democratic form of government.


Christians, evangelical and otherwise, are on both sides of the wall debate. I have my own firm convictions based on hours of studying the Scriptures for help. But this blog isn’t about the propriety of building a wall on the southern border; it’s about the declaration of an emergency to get it done. We need to be wise. We should not be rash. “He who hurries his footsteps errs” (Proverbs 19:2); and “Do not go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor humiliates you?” (Proverbs 25:8) Following are three things that Christians should consider about the declaration of an emergency to build a border wall. Continue reading “Three Things Christians Need to Know about the Border Wall Emergency”