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.