I’ve been considering well-known Christians—especially athletes—using their well-knownness as a “platform” to speak about Christian faith.
Some claim that Christians should never waste opportunities to speak in some way about faith in Christ, conversion, sin and salvation.
I’ve given several reasons why I think this isn’t necessarily a wise or good thing to do. I’ll add a few narrative devices from the Gospels to buttress my case.
In his Gospel, John employs the device of “Jesus’ hour” in order to note that Jesus refused to exploit opportunities to capture momentum, to ride the wave of popularity in order to advance his cause.
In John 2, Jesus attends a wedding in Galilee:
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:1-4, NIV).
In John 7, Jesus’ family, who are fairly skeptical of his messianic identity, prod and cajole him to go to Jerusalem, to exploit his ministry’s building momentum and make a big splash in the big city during the festival.
But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come” (Jn. 7:2-8, NIV).
Now, Jesus did go to Jerusalem, but he went in a different way and for different reasons.
There are other appearances of this device in John’s Gospel and they all serve to generate momentum in the narrative toward Jesus’ climactic moment. When has his moment arrived? If he doesn’t act climactically on behalf of Israel’s God in these other instances, when and how does he do so?
Two more appearances of this device answer the question in a radically unexpected way. In John 13:1-4, Jesus, knowing that his time has come, quietly washes his disciples’ feet in an act of astonishing humility.
In his prayer in John 17, Jesus acknowledges that his moment has arrived to glorify God, which will happen through his humiliating death (Jn. 17:1).
There’s much to say about this device in John’s Gospel, but what’s relevant here is that Jesus actually refuses to exploit opportunities to advance his cause. He was well aware of the misguided messianic notions that dominated his culture and he knew that he was not going to be the Messiah they were looking for.
Further, as John says in 2:24-25, he knew the fickleness of the human heart. When things were going well, he’d be popular. But when the costs of discipleship became clear, followers would abandon him in droves.
Jesus saw through the pretensions and hollowness of “buzz,” momentum, well-knownness, fame, or whatever we want to call it. Rather than seizing opportunities to exploit it, Jesus actually resisted doing so.
This seems hard to fathom in a public relations age where Christianity is shaped by church growth strategies and oriented by the latest cultural fads.
But discipleship to Jesus is a rich and complex reality. It involves a lifetime of discovery, long-term perseverance, ever-deepening joy, a slow and painful education in the turn toward self-sacrifice, and journeys through the valley of the shadow of death.
Because of the shifting, shallow, and ephemeral dynamics of well-knownness, it just may be the wisest thing to see them for what they are and steer clear of them.