Christmas and celebrities

Over at Knightopia, Steve Knight cites a former correspondent for NPR who is not religious, but who wants a “religious operating system for the rest of us.”

The correspondent, Eric Weiner, apparently is feeling left out at Christmas, and wants something similar for people who may or may not believe some day. He writes, in the New York Times:

We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive.

Knight suggests we already have Steve Job-ish like guys to show us the way, citing emergent church heavy weights like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne and Peter Rollins, who have, he claims, “played this role to some extent.”

That’s too bad. And I thought we needed guys like Jesus.

Knight never once points us to Christ, however, or to any source of authority at all in the “participatory church” he envisions. Just his own list of celebrities who can lead us to the place where we can create our “religious operating system.”

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the evangelical spectrum, the “new Reformed” movement is gathering in Kentucky next spring to celebrate its own Parthenon of celebrities. Piper. Dever. Mahaney. Mohler.

I like these men, and appreciate their passion for the gospel and the Word. But frankly they got bad advice on their marketing material, which looks as postmodern and as celebrity-driven as any. The entire inside of their over-sized marketing brochure is a picture of the speakers, lined up to look like the CD cover for a rock band.

And the website too has this look and feel. Just this week I heard of a young ministry student who aspires to be on the speaker list of this conference someday. That’s not a good place to start.

In fact, none of this looks good for a people who follow One who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” The incarnation, which we celebrate this week, is the antithesis of all motives to lift ourselves up.

The stable, the shepherds, the manger—all these things speak of obscurity and humility. Mary and Joseph were just ordinary but obedient servants.

I understand that throughout church history He has also gifted men to speak and lead with authority and passion. We are naturally drawn to such men. But whenever they began to seek celebrity they were soon destroyed with hubris and power. They often became (and become) as controlling and as petty as Steve Jobs himself, who, I assure you, never took on the form of a servant.

Christmas can teach us many things. It teaches us that the way up is always down. That God will provide the star and the wise men. That the angels will still do his bidding. That the first will be last.

And that the glory of God will appear, if we wait for it, “not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. (Romans 12:3)”

5 thoughts on “Christmas and celebrities”

  1. A well-timed and accurate blog, Wally. The insidious nature of the “prince of this world” and his subtle yet pervasive infiltration of culture (beginning in the human heart!) can easily blind one and all to the true nature of Jesus’ “upside-down kingdom”. May Christ’s Holy Spirit open our eyes and hearts to His powerful humility, and enable us to embrace His radical path of servanthood in our giftings… no little people, no little places (remember that book by Paul Little “back in the day”?).
    The joy of His Christmastide deeply bless you and yours this season!
    Holly in NH

  2. I was wondering if you might reflect on that article. I am glad you did.

    I think your reminder of Christ not being mentioned is a valuable note, but I don’t think doing so was necessarily critical to the question that Knight was addressing.

    The crux of Knight’s exploration in that article seemed to answer his stated question, “Who will create the religious communities of the future that will engage participatory people?”

    Understanding that Christ is still the head of the church is important, but I think Christ Himself, in all the humility He so divinely demonstrated would attest to is that His church is mysteriously built on and by the participation of His followers. Please ask me why no earlier than a conversation after our passing through this life.

    Obviously, Christ’s presence with us today is a spiritual one and continues through the ages to appear here and there through the metaphor of His embodiment by His church. It is sad to me that you don’t see this presence in the life and ministry of the leaders mentioned in his piece.

    Although I have a background of being deeply shaped by the expository teachings of the men you mentioned being on the other side of the evangelical spectrum, from my perspective, they resemble Christ less to me than those on the more emergent hues.

    I say this because, from my viewpoint, they hold onto their doctrines with clinched fists. So much so, that they seem to do so at the costs of verging on rude and disingenuous to not only the world around them, but to their own dear brothers and sisters. Maybe the feelings are mutual? I don’t know.

    At the same time, I appreciate your generous inclusion of all these men in the umbrella here. I also realize that although we are to follow those today who seem to follow the example of Christ, our humanity beckons us to realize that each attempt will be unique and flawed in our combined learning states.

    As always, your writing seems to articulate a strong understanding of this and I appreciate this blog greatly because it is seldom that I hear someone from more conservative hues who can demonstrate generous objectivity without taking themselves too seriously. Thanks, for being my favorite blogger in these regards.

  3. Dave, thanks for being a thoughtful reader. And a gracious one.

    I realized after I published this that I should have included a statement that I making no judgment about the men themselves. It is out tendency to put them on a pedestal and the temptation they all face to enjoy it that motivated me. The student who wants to be on the stage, and the blogger who wants to put certain writers and speakers there motivated me most.

    My face to face experience with leaders on both sides says this is a huge danger. So does my experience with my own heart.

    I do, of course, have reservation about the emergent movement. That would be another post entirely. I will say they sometimes underestimate the experience of Christ’s presence in the proclamation of the Word itself, and the potential for vibrant, faithful service to Him and to others in congregations where this is the standard.

    Many such congregations are unique and flawed, in your words, but they seem too easily discounted. My experience of His presence in the congregation I attend is rich and worthy. It is filled with college students, about a third of our congregation. But we have elders and doctrine and expectations. It can be done.

    Again, thanks for your generous and faithful friendship. I still think we should do a book together. 🙂

    1. Surely, fame is a flame for the destructive fires of pride.

      I agree with your mention that some within this emergent thing underestimate the experience of Christ’s presence and devoted lives to Him through the simple preaching of the Word among a congregation. I can see how the movement’s grander dissatisfaction with the status quo can be an interpretation of belittlement toward congregations like Countryside that seems to do the church thing so well for so many. I have heard and experienced nothing but goodness from those I have brushed shoulders with from the community there.

      In the same breath, I must admit that I enjoy countless benefits from my the home church I grew up in even though some of the ways they ran things, handled their doctrine (doctrine is certainly important), and community expectations caused experiences of distrust among dear friends of mine.

      Regardless, I continue to value some deep-rooted things I gathered from that formational time in my life. Since then, I have learned a great deal about the Word of God that has built upon these foundations in the past seven years or so from those who would be pinned with an emergent tag.

      All that to say, I think the leaders of our various tribes as well as the members of the tribes themselves could benefit from each other if we could just get off our stages and converse.

      Maybe there is an enjoyable and wall-breaking book here, hidden within the pixels.

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