Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Desperately Seeking Fame

One of the major ends contemporary consumers seek is celebrity. A consumer culture seems to revolve around celebrity stars who tell us what we need and should want. Our attachment to these figures is not simply affectional. Rather, such people become a sort of materialistic guru to us. They preside over a goods-based spirituality in which they are the deities, we are the worshippers, and the means by which we ourselves might become transcendent is in purchasing.

David Beckham is one such figure, an insight developed in Ellis Cashmore's Beckham on the English soccer player David Beckham, now in Los Angeles. It's a good read, and here's a good quotation from it on this topic: "The excitement, love, glamour, and intrigue proposed not by Beckham but by the narratives drawn about his life say more about contemporary culture than about the player himself. They tells us that we now have a generation hooked on the irrational pleasures of celebrity watching, or, more accurately, celebrity fantasizing. People dream about becoming fabulously wealthy and globally famous but they have no effective means of achieving these ambitions." This is a telling quotation. I'm interested here in how Christians become consumers of celebrity. In today's age, even gospel preachers subscribe to "branding" and become larger-than-life entities.

Is this a healthy development? Or is it an accomodation, no, an embrace of a culture gone mad?


Anonymous Jed said...

"In today's age, even gospel preachers subscribe to "branding" and become larger-than-life entities."

Like John Piper?

4:19 AM  
Blogger Timmy said...


I would have to disagree with the attributing John Piper to the celebrity culture in evangelicalism. If there has been one person who has spoken out against the professionalization of the pastorate, the disneyland of American spirituality, and the "poshness" of casual Christianity, it is Piper. Because Piper garners the respect, admiration, and yes, even disciples does not make him a "larger-than-life entity" in my mind.

There's a right way and a wrong way to handle God-blessed influence, and that is redirecting it back to Him. From what I can tell, Piper is humbly doing a faithful job of living for the supremacy of Christ in all things, including his own life and reputation.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Jed said...

I've sometimes wondered whether there is a connection between the low view of the church held by evangelicals and the propensity of individual pastors and leaders to become "larger-than-life entities." Most conservative Evangelicals--Baptists, Pentacostals, undefined 'community churches--believe in the autonomy of the local church (that is, the local church is not responsible to sessions, presbyteries, dioceses etc). This allows leaders to exercise more individuality, to shape churches according to their own personalities with less attention to denominational or confessional distinctives. These churches also tend to be non-confessional (they don't adhere to any confessions or standards). Thus there is less of a sense of one being part of a larger entity (the church universal and catholic which spans the ages) and more emphasis on the individual and here and now. This outlook fits well with our individualistic American culture. As a side note, one reason that most of these Christian groups embrace believers baptism is that it is a model that fits very well with our culture's focus on the individual and individual decisions. It is very hard for people in America to grasp the idea that God establishes covenants with believers and their children. It's a shame because this is an important Biblical truth.

As far as Piper, he makes me a little uneasy. Among his followers it's always "Piper believes this" or "Piper holds that." Moreover some of his theology is sloppy and sensationalistic. He can do good work, however. His "Counted Righteous in Christ" is a very good exegetical defense of the atonement.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Timmy said...


The personality-driven churches has long marked evangelicalism, going back several centuries. Owen can attest of how, for instance, fundamentalists had their own "superstars" who preached at conferences, on radio, and in campmeetings. So often the local pastor is sized up to such a man and is found not as powerful, good-looking, funny, etc. and is held to some degree in contempt.

Regarding Piper, I'm not sure where his theology is "sloppy" and "sensationalistic." Perhaps such a charge could merit warrant.

6:21 PM  

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