Disclaimer: What I am about to comment on is something I have struggled with in the past and if I don’t stay on guard, I am prone to fall for again.
The following is an observation. It’s something I have seen as long as I’ve been alive. This past weekend, my social feeds were crammed with a non-stop barrage of comments on Kanye West’s newest release, Jesus Is King. The comments were largely astonishment, enthusiasm, and praise. Only recently has Kanye come out with a statement of belief in God and a mentor has come out and spoken about his conversion experience. The Christian community has long dreamed of a celebrity coming out with a profession of faith. There is a rush to accept it without giving it some time to see fruit.
When I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s being raised in a conservative environment, there were times a friend would tell me that Ozzy Osbourne or Gene Simmons of KISS had become a Christian. I would be ecstatic and spread the unfounded story to everyone (since I didn’t have internet or social media to verify or spread this new revelation). Also, we would have fantasies over celebrities we wish would get saved. Of course, our view was, “If they become a Christian, everyone else will want to become one as well!” We believed the impact of one celebrity was enough to change everything.
I still see this happening today. As we have seen with Justin Bieber, Bob Dylan, Kanye West and many others, when a celebrity makes a profession of faith, we elevate and promote it at an unhealthy rate. This is dangerous for several reasons.
One, it places unnecessary and unhealthy stress on the person making the profession. Imagine, after years of not following Christ, that you finally accept his gift of salvation. All of the sudden, the community that you joined expects the world to turn dramatically because of your profession. They demand you get out there and do interviews, concerts, speaking engagements and more. You are just figuring out the basics of following Jesus and have so much in your life to still deal with, and now you are the “team captain.” Who would want that pressure? How wrong of us to think one person’s conversion, no matter how popular or powerful they may be, will save the world. That job was already taken.
The second danger is that we unintentionally say this conversion is different than our own (better, more significant) and somehow gives our beliefs more credit than they had before. I think back to being an unpopular kid in my middle school. If one of the jocks or popular kids shared that they liked something I liked (music, movie, etc.), all the sudden, I felt some validation. I believed that somehow because of their mutual interest, I was now more popular or valuable in the eyes of the entire school. I wasn’t. I didn’t need their mutual interest to validate me. In Christianity, we often feel that way. If the celebrity accepted Christ, I now believe Christianity has more power and credibility in the world. The gospel doesn’t need celebrity to make it more credible!
Thirdly, if the celebrity profession is not genuine, we weaken our faith and testimony to the outside world when they abandon it. We spend our time promoting their newfound faith only to watch them walk away and turn on it. The unchurched world chuckles. They know how much weight we placed on the testimony and they see someone not being changed by it.
One cautionary tale about this from my high school years involved a heavy metal musician named Roger. His band was game-changing in the Christian music world. It was the hardest metal I had ever heard, and the lyrics were solid and grounded. I saw an interview with Roger. He was sharp and articulate in his defense of his young faith. He was touted all over the Christian metal world as a dynamic believer. He was given stages to speak his faith, celebrity treatment and was not given the time to be grounded in his faith even more. The church took advantage of him because it gave some feeling of validation. Eventually, the cracks started showing. Roger had never been fully discipled and within 10 years was professing himself an atheist. It was a classic representation of us taking advantage of celebrity professions to validate our faith.
When a celebrity or powerful person makes a profession, we need to celebrate. We also need to pause a moment. Not that we doubt God did a work in their lives, but to protect them and allow them to grow before they are thrown in the public eye with a faith they still barely understand. It was not uncommon for the early church to make a new convert wait three years before they were allowed to be baptized. There was a stress on the authenticity of the salvation experience. I’m not recommending we wait three years before a testimony is given by someone well-known, but I am saying- let’s wait and see what happens. And let’s remember, Christ validates the gospel, no one else.
Closing Note: “…He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:6 – though referring to the position of elder in a church, has a deeper principal to it- younger believers can easily fall. If we are responsible mature Christians, we would be well advised to protect them.