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.