Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Trueman, Celebrity Culture, and All That

When I first read Carl Trueman sniping at the celebrity culture — and did not know Carl at all — I wasn't much impressed. It just struck me as sour, maybe even sour grapes, and overdone.

Here's why: I've known people who are famous — celebrities, even — who use their platform to do the most good they can. Take my friend Phil Johnson. He's well known the world around. And what does he use that fame for? To get out every bit of God's truth as effectively as he can, with every opportunity he's given. What's more, as anyone who knows him will attest, he is incredibly generous in every way with what God's given, and remains as accessible as humanly possible. Turk and I have often chuckled about how walking from Point A to Point B with Phil is never that quick of a proposition, given all the people who want to talk with him.

I could speak similarly of Lig Duncan, Thabiti Anyabwile, and others. Generous, gracious men.

So naturally, I think (A) first, of Phil, and (B) second, of my naive assumptions. What are those? Well, they run along the lines of a Gospelly noblesse oblige. That is, I just assume (assumed) that prominent pastors would all do the same, that they'd expand the "tent" as broadly as they can, support good brothers and good projects, take joy in every legitimate expansion of the Word of God, grow the base as much as possible along ideological lines. That's my model, and that was my assumption.

But reality kicked open the door, yanked me out of my La-Z-Boy, shook me like a pit bull with ragdoll, and threw me across the room.

I won't go into much detail, except to say that right now Carl Trueman's critique (read some here) is the only explanation that makes sense of what I've reluctantly been forced to learn over the last three years. I don't like it any better than I did at first. In fact, I hate it. But I've had to come, reluctantly, to grunt acknowledgment: Trueman's more right than wrong about this, and more right than I wish he were.

What else explains the overwhelming clubhouse-mentality I've been forced to see? What explains good and decent men promoting folks who say and do absolutely outrageous, harmful things, circling the wagons and/or turning a blind eye? Worse, it explains why Christians take it — why they continue to flood their churches, inflate their traffic, crowd into their conferences, buy their books.

They're celebrities. Adoring enablers, and a tight-knit club — not a happy combination. But it does explain why those in the club can do no wrong, and those outside The Club are for all intents and purposes invisible, even if they're moving professed club objectives forward.


LanternBright said...

Careful, Dan--don't let Steve Hays hear you say that. After all, Steve thinks Carl Trueman is cheating his seminary students by not taking his job too seriously.

danny2 said...

Felt the same way initially about Trueman's celebrity comments. If I remember correctly, didn't he (begrudgingly) attend the last T4G? And didn't he (begrudgingly) admit that it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be?

If that was Trueman, and I think it was, I remember thinking, "Ok, this is ridiculous that he's worried about the likes of these guys," but then I realized the problem goes two ways:

1) You're right. Celebrity cannot simply be defined by popularity. There have to be other features that make a famous, well-known pastor a celebrity.

2) We (the non-celebrities) are part of the problem as well. If I were to disagree with Phil, I admit I would first double, triple and even quadruple check my own thinking first...but ultimately I should not agree with him simply because he is THE Phil Johnson!

So how do we properly navigate through honoring a brother for his obvious gifts without bowing down to him?

Anonymous said...

Dan, Can it be that with the recent Reformed Rap (Which i still have not had anyone please explain or define that term). Did we hit some Hip Hop Celebrities here too??

Scot said...

Perhaps it's just me, but couldn't you make a distinction between being famous and being a celebrity? A celebrity seems to be someone who is famous, yet has a very inflated view of his knowledge, influence, or competency. "I'm a well known and sought after speaker, therefore I must be competent to speak about many things." Whereas someone famous be may be so because he has a incredible grasp on a particular subject.

Anonymous said...

"it is possible that the reformed evangelical world will take this opportunity to put its house in order in an open and public manner: those who were swift to criticise Ms. Mefferd will offer apologies as public as their original pejorative statements; publishers will pull books they know to be ghost-written and they will dismiss the brand names on the covers of the same from their list of approved authors; churches will suspend pastors who plagiarise or who employ ghost writers and place them under discipline; and other Christian organisations and conferences will withdraw their goodwill and invitations to speak from the same. "

I couldn't tell if Trueman meant this as sort of sarcasm. Like saying, "it is possible we have will national repentance about electing Obama, and in 2014 we're elect a congress who will turn the tide against abortion and homosexuality, and gas prices will be 45 cents a gallon again".

Unknown said...

The celebrity status problem has been around on a smaller scale in my relatively short lifetime, spanning back decades. Almost every little church conference has their Celebrity that gets to color outside the lines a bit and get it called great art. Mostly these amount to inflated testimonies, attendance figures, and egos, but eventually the spotlight fades and they get compared to the buffoon at at the end of the bar.

Since the interwebs, these Bigger Than Life mini-Celebs are now nationally coloring outside the lines with more people looking the other way. Ergun Caner and Mark Driscoll will be fighting for those stools at the end of the bar one day, but they would have never been known (for the wolves in sheeps clothing they are) had it not been for internet buzz.

Memo to the current celebs: Mike Warnke is waiting for you at the roadside saloon.