When Christian Celebrities Crash and Burn


Tim TebowWith a recent long losing streak and a new coaching philosophy in New York, Linsanity is dead.

As of yesterday, Tim Tebow is riding the bench again and likely will be traded.

Two evangelical sports stars are now no longer lighting up the heavens. And that’s OK.

Well, it’s OK with me. Some other people may be taking Tebow’s and Lin’s descents hard. Seems we have a way of doing that when it comes to Christian celebrities. Christian sports stars are particularly ripe sources of adoration, but as the old axiom goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

There is something desperate in evangelical Christian circles to be both taken seriously and liked enormously. Whenever a Christian “comes out” in Hollywood, it gets trumpeted in every Christian media outlet that follows popular culture. Somehow, it becomes news by the sheer force of will of people who are struggling to hold onto the idea that Christians are just as cool as everyone else—and possibly cooler. Like moths to a flame, Christian media outlets stampede to dub some Christian sports, music, political, or film sensation the next Great Christian Hope and the model for us all to emulate. That many of these celebs have a Q Score in single digits and often show up in a higher number of direct-to-DVD film productions seems not to trouble the true believers.

And then there are the celebrity pastors/preachers and their all-too-visible ministries.

Aside from the B-list nature of most Christian celebrities in the entertainment industry, once in a while we get some notable Christians in sports, with Jeremy Lin of the NBA Knicks and Tim Tebow of the NFL Broncos being the latest headline grabbers. Tebow has endured a level of scrutiny I wouldn’t wish on a presidential candidate, while Lin suddenly had all of Asian sports hopes dropped on his Ivy League shoulders. We Christians only made the hype worse, finding ourselves compelled to comment and to wish the very best for these golden representatives of Our Side®.

Then comes the inevitable fall. In the case of Christian celebs, that fall comes in the form of either some sin that becomes public or a rapid descent into averageness or irrelevancy.

This troubles the true believers to their cores because, honestly, their true believerdom is much shallower than they care to admit. It is as if the success of a Christian celebrity somehow is essential to proving true our Christian beliefs. Sadly, the triumph of a Christian in the public eye is too often seen as validation not only of the existence of God, but also that He favors us Christians above all other people.

I’ve been around a while, and I can say with all assurance that more often than not, our dependence on Christian celebrities to confirm our beliefs fails. And often fails spectacularly. We may no longer trust in chariots (Psalm 20:7), but we still trust in humans to meet our need for validation. Yet there is no more fragile receptacle for faith than fame. That it gets in the way of the Gospel far more often than it boosts it should be obvious to most Christians. Yet when the latest celeb comes around, we’re hopping on the bandwagon in droves. If experience should have taught us anything, it is that such bandwagons have an affinity for cliffs.

We won’t know who the real superstars in the Faith are until we get to other other side. Curiously, the overwhelming majority will be folks we never heard of. I suspect that’s the way the Kingdom works best. God doesn’t need celebs to advance the Gospel. He needs dedicated, mostly average, anonymous people who aren’t impressed by worldly accolades. In America 2012, those folks are rare indeed.

So please, can we stop with the hero worship? Clay feet are part and parcel of this world, and too many of the modern Christian heroes of our own creation come equipped with deluxe models. No one should be surprised, yet we always are, which only makes us look silly when a Christian celebrity we hyped to the max crashes and burns.

We don’t need celebrities to prove our beliefs true. Jesus more than validated Himself. Of course, God added the “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” If we can’t trust God, then what’s the point?

Jesus had no need for a Q Score, and neither should we.

9 thoughts on “When Christian Celebrities Crash and Burn

  1. Bryan

    The only quibble I have with this is that Jeremy Lin really hasn’t fallen off. If anything, the coaching change that brought about a new offensive philosophy has helped Lin play better. He’s making fewer mistakes but maintaining his stats pretty well. Comparison:

    For the whole season thus far, Lin’s averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 3.6 turnovers and 1.6 steals on 45.9 percent shooting.

    Since Woodson took over as head coach and made Stoudamire and Carmelo more of the focus on offense, Lin is averaging 14.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 3.5 turnovers and 1.0 steals per game on 54.8 percent shooting

    Basically, everything isn’t falling on Jeremy’s shoulders offensively any more. He’s taking fewer shots but coming close to the same point totals and his percentage has gone up. He can focus on just being the point guard now instead of being Superman.

    Other than that, I agree with your main point.

    • Bryan,

      Thanks for the feedback. I’d read two harsher stories about Lin and the Knicks just yesterday. If they aren’t the case, then my apologies to Lin.

      That said, averageness is still an enemy. An average Christian sports star can’t maintain the illusion of superiority some Christians desire. Some would always have us Christians be superlative at all times, and that’s just not possible.

      I wish all the best to Lin and Tebow, even if they only are average for the rest of whatever careers they have. They are finer young men than I ever was (and am, even in my middle age), and they handle the hype better than I ever would.

      I just wish we could be more satisfied with Jesus and less needful of heroes who may end up less heroic in the public arena than we want them to be.

      NOTE: I updated the post to add text about averageness.

  2. Good points, though I think “crash and burn” may be a bit premature. They are young…it’s a long road they are on. Too much success too soon probably isn’t good.

    But your argument is sound, and I think should be applied to the Christian celebrity pastor, author, singer, etc with the same vigor. Glory and honor are heaped upon the high profile, talented, and good looking, while the true heroes of faith will likely never be acknowledged this side of eternity.

  3. may only be a curiosity to some, however…
    early believers did not voluntarily participate in the games. They understood that the Roman development & pursuit of entertainment was part with the religion of the Empire. Little of substance has changed since. Entertainment (i.e., competitive events, melodramatic showings…) still broadly serve in the West as a State/social-sanctioned power [deity] of fellowship & kinship.
    There is another competition we press and endure in the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Neither Tebow or Lin yet give a clear testimony of Christ: a life to hold much more than faith words or moral reaching.

  4. sarahmorgan

    Dan said: “There is something desperate in evangelical Christian circles to be both taken seriously and liked enormously.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. One of the characteristics of the evangelical churches in my area that baffles me is how so many folks in these churches always seem to be looking for a physical ‘Messiah’, someone who will raise them up from wherever they’re at, someone who’ll lead them to a better place (in their life, their finances, their popularity, their image), someone who will validate and affirm them for who they are, someone who will save them from their current messes, et cetera. It’s like Jesus Himself won’t do, or is not enough, and they’re looking for something better, something more concrete, something closer to their level. It’s absolute hell for a person with any perceived ‘Messiah’-like characteristics (confidence, skill, knowledge, experience, spirituality) to show up at one of these churches, as every expectation that church has for a Messiah will be placed upon that unsuspecting person’s shoulders. Naturally, the person will not be able to fulfill all of those expectations (they’ll be lucky just to learn what most of those expectation are), and sooner or later the response from the church will be anger and resentment at what they feel/believe is a gross (even personal) betrayal, with subsequent unChristian behavior towards the now ‘false Messiah’. It saddens me terribly when I see this, because it seems like such a failing on the part of the church leadership. But it seems to go hand-in-hand with evangelicals embracing and engaging in celebrity worship.

  5. Joe Lacy


    Have continued to enjoy your insight(cite)ful commentary on Christendom. Loved the “Our Side” comment. When we look to the imperfect instead of the perfect, someone will flop and we’ll be deflated. Bang-on always: the church should enjoy other believers, encourage them, but always follow Christ, not men.

  6. Chitown Doc

    Dan, I have been a Christian since I was 18 and cannot say that Christian athletes, artists, actors, doctors, businesspeople or most any other profession are any different from anyone else (some are just as sinful too). Anyone who believes that God grants special powers to us because of our faith is really off base. What I respect is the really decent, giving lives that many Christians try to lead (but many fail too, and that is ok if we learn from it and move on). Some of the best Christians I have met have failed miserably from time to time (including me). Forgiveness and love is at the heart of the Lord. If a follower of Christ wishes to honor Him, then it is best done so with humility, love, selflessness and a desire to serve others. I know a number of non-Christians who are also great human beings; goodness is not exclusive to any religion (or the non-religious). Anyway, I appreciate your honesty. I try and not generalize about anyone or any group, and hope the same courtesy is afforded me.

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