Back in May of 2007, I asked the question, “Are We Creating a Reformed Celebrity Culture?” which, at the time, gained considerable traction. A year later, Carl Trueman shared some of his concerns about the celebrity culture while reflecting on Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed. Most recently, Trueman again picked up on the cult of personality and celebrity culture in America. Here’s an excerpt:
I had often wondered why certain British figures – Jim Packer, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath etc., were much bigger this side of the Atlantic than back home in their native country. Was it just the accent? Surely it couldn’t be the dentistry…..? Maybe the dress sense? No. It is all to do with the way America is a personality/celebrity oriented culture in a way that Britain, while she may well be catching up, has historically not been. The American church reflects the culture: ministries built around individuals, around big shots, churches that focus on god-like guru figures, all of them pointing to one door. I have lost count of the conversations I have had with church people anxious to tell of who they heard at this conference, of which person they corresponded with, of how this opinion or that opinion would not sit well with this demi-god and is therefore of little value; and, of course, of how anyone who disagrees with, or criticizes, this chosen hero must, of necessity be morally depraved and wicked. People want the gods to do their thinking for them. All of the Pelagian, Manichean celebrity malarkey of the American political process is alive and well in the church as well. The question is: when it comes to churches and ministries built around messiahs who are supposed to point not to themselves but to the true door, who is going to have the guts to leave the temple?
My good friend Owen Strachan has interacted with Trueman’s article, and offers these thoughts:
Our culture can leave us susceptible to the vicissitudes of a personality-driven atmosphere, causing us to trust more in the speaker at the conference, perhaps, than in the Lord of the church. Trueman is right about the way some Christians lean too strongly on certain leaders, seemingly aligning themselves more with earthly leaders than the Lord of the church. The same is true of contempoary political leaders, not least among them our current President. In sum, his political analysis is generally on target, and he gives some needed cautions about a celebrity church culture.
[ . . .] At the end of the day, I’m sure that I have a great deal of agreement with Trueman. I would love for American Christians to put way more trust in the church–and more than this, the Lord of the church–than in conferences, speakers, big-name organizations, and the like. More of us everyday Christians need to invest in the local work of God and give a little less devotion, perhaps, to big-name Christians.
We could all do a little self-examination on this point and consider whether we’ve bought into celebrity Christian culture and how it might be affecting our view of the church and its mission. But don’t take my word for it–take Carl Trueman’s.
Good words, both from Trueman and Owen, words we need to hear more than just once, or twice.