I came across this article on the Fox News website a couple of weeks ago. The headline asks what can be considered a fairly provocative question. "Are young, religious stars like Justin Bieber and Tim Tebow making Christianity cool?" The intro to the article chronicles how Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and Tim Tebow have all been in the news lately regarding their Christian faith. Author Jo Piazza then asks the question:
"So are these young, hip and very public Christians in the worlds of music, television and sports are making it cool for the highly connected Generation Z to embrace Christianity?"
It strikes me that this question–while it may be a valid question–makes two categorical mistakes about Christianity. The first is that celebrities might be good for Christianity in general. The second is that Christianity needs to be perceived as cool in order to be embraced–particularly by young people.
Celebrity Christians create a complex set of issues. First celebrity status is so fleeting so those that are popular today can quickly fade into oblivion. On top of that the news cycle today is so short that we usually do not get much more than soundbites from people. This means that complex thoughts and belief systems are distilled down into just a few sentences at most and sometimes end up being just a phrase or two. Then there is the "sensational news sells" mentality that is pervasive in our culture. It is far bigger news when a celebrity couple goes through an ugly divorce than the existence of Mr. and Mrs. Average's happy marriage. What this then means is that it is far bigger news when a Celebrity Christian stumbles than if they continue to live a solid life. The sordid details of a stumbling Celebrity Christian are shared far and wide while the repentance and restitution details are either ignored or viewed skepticism.
I don't share this as a complaint against the state of the media; that is a completely different post. I share this because it isn't a matter of if a Christian is going to stumble. It is only a matter of when. We all make mistakes. Being a Christian doesn't mean being mistake free rather it means that our mistakes are forgiven in the eyes of God. It also means that we should be taking steps to correct our mistakes and quite often those corrections come over a long period of time. Unless we are a close personal friend, we never observe Celebrity Christians on a personal level over a long period of time.
While Tim Tebow sounds like a great guy that is living an authentic life (I really don't know much about Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato), we should not really be holding him up as an example of how to live a Christian life. That role should be left for those that we observe on a daily or weekly basis. It is far more important to watch someone going through the ups and downs of life and handling them well. It is far more powerful to watch someone go through the long process of getting up, dusting off and walking again after they have made a mistake than to observe a Celebrity Christian for a short period of time. It is far more powerful to watch someone endure a period of suffering and pain only to come out stronger on the other side than it is to watch a sports figure point to the sky after a great play.
Christianity is not about being cool enough to be acceptable for young people. There may be those that decide to investigate Christianity because some celebrity said it is what they do. But the staying power of Christianity will not come from a cool factor it will come from everyday people living lives that are obviously transformed by their faith in Christ. Without that authenticity, young people will only be around until the next cool thing takes hold. And in this day and age then next cool thing won't be too far away.