On Using Fame as a “Platform” for Christian Witness, Pt. 2

I do not think it’s a good idea for Christian public figures to use their well-knownness as a “platform” for Christian testimony for a second reason.

Such a strategy partakes of the same dynamics as modern advertising.

Modern advertising works by inviting consumers to participate in some kind of desirable reality that has little or nothing to do with the actual product being advertised.

Advertisements do not trot out the facts about products and list their possible uses.  They don’t give information that would help people make wise choices about whether or not to purchase the product.

Advertising doesn’t focus on the thing itself.

Advertising creates idealized identities that will appeal to people who sense some sort of inner emptiness.  The product is then associated with satisfying that longing to belong, to participate in an idealized identity.

“You want to be just like your favorite celebrity or sports figure, don’t you?  See how happy and ideal their life is?  They use this hair product, wear this shoe, drink this coffee, drive this car.  Acquiring it will give you the satisfaction of owning a _____ , making you the envy of your friends, just like _____ .”

The very same dynamic is at work when Christian figures use their well-knownness as a “platform.”  According to this dynamic, Christian faith is commended on the basis of association with this well-known figure. 

“You want to be just like your favorite celebrity or sports figure, don’t you?  Well, he’s a Christian!  Doesn’t that make you want to be one, too?  You can be just like _____ !”

Paul encountered a culture just like ours in Corinth.  He was quite familiar with these very dynamics and he resisted commending the faith on any other basis than its counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, and cross-shaped realities.

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Paul refused to dress up the gospel in ways that would be culturally appealing.

The dynamics of advertising and celebrity are distracting, empty, and vapid.  They discourage sustained attention to the core reality of anything.

This is disastrous when it comes to the Christian gospel because it demands precisely that—sustained attention to its core realities.

Again, I’m not saying that Christians with public profiles ought to remain silent about their Christian faith.  It seems to me, however, that Christians ought to reflect a bit more on the shallow and ephemeralizing dynamics at work in our contemporary culture.

Commending Christian faith ought to work in radically different ways than commending an energy drink or a line of men’s trousers.

** POSTSCRIPT: Daniel Boorstin analyzes the dynamics of advertising and celebrity brilliantly in his classic work The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.  I wrote about Boorstin’s description of celebrity and the character of cruciformity here.


6 thoughts on “On Using Fame as a “Platform” for Christian Witness, Pt. 2

  1. jeff

    Have you seen the FRS commerical ?

    Makes me want to ask Tebow, “what fuels you, FRS or IHS?” Be careful when you share the glory.

    Our failures may make a better platform than our successes. The infamous woman at the well got the whole town to turn out when she invited people to “come, see a man who told me everything I ever did”

    1. timgombis

      This precisely illustrates the problem, Jeff. Tebow uses his story to sell an energy drink AND to promote faith in Jesus. So, Jesus and the energy drink are more or less on the same level. They are two parts of Tebow’s “portfolio,” making up aspects of his “image.”

      I think Christians should regard Jesus and Christian faith as on some other level than brands of shoes, energy drinks, etc. So the issue isn’t that Tebow shouldn’t talk about Jesus, but that his talk about Jesus should be in some other venue or on some other level than his talk about these other items.

      1. Andrew Gleddiesmith

        It feels to me that Tebow’s talk about Jesus does function on a different level in at least two ways. First, he doesnt simplify his Christian faith to simply overcoming what other people have said. It doesnt appear to me at all that he says that Jesus will help you overcome in the same simplistic way that the advert suggests that the drink will help you overcome. Second, Tebow’s talk about Jesus is backed up by his actions. College holidays helping out in the Philipianes. Setting up a charity as a student. It would seem simplistic to pretend that anyone in our culture thinks that an advert for which he is paid has the same value to Tebow as what he chooses to do with his free time.

      2. timgombis

        I largely agree. It seems to me that Tebow is an unusually sincere person, for all the reasons you mention, and more. Talking about Tebow, though, raises the question about Christians doing this in general, so I’m trying to think about this more generally, beyond Tebow specifically.

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