It’s always happened. An international or local Christian celebrity will build a following based on talent, communication skills or even biblical exposition; and then he or she evolves into something less biblical. Those keeping track choose sides—“So and so is a heretic,” or “So and so is brave.” In our day, we’re blessed with more celebrities than ever before and more access to an international following. We’re also encumbered with a trending cause that pulls the sentimental among us across the line from biblical orthodoxy. That process was played out over a couple of days in July when author and retired pastor Eugene Peterson affirmed same-sex marriage in an interview and then later reaffirmed the biblical view of “everything.” This is the closest thing to a real recantation of a pro-LGBT statement I remember seeing.
But what do we do when one of our favorite singers or teachers or authors finally gets in touch with his inner LGBT-affirming Christian influencer? Part of me wants to discard the CDs or the books that I liked pretty well a month earlier. Another part acknowledges that insight or talent is not less useful than it was last month; although I’d not likely make any new purchases or recommend these works to others—assuming that whatever new insight this celebrity can offer will have a strange agenda.
How is that different than my acceptance of Presbyterian theologians (infant baptism), Anglican C.S. Lewis, Roman Catholic G.K. Chesterton or any number of my favorite Pentecostal Jesus Music performers from the 1970s? Is it just a matter of accepting what I like without any judgment and rejecting for convictional reasons those things that I won’t miss having around? Back when it was popular for churches to ask teenagers to bring their “secular” albums or CDs to church for a bonfire, I remember one long-haired kid being interviewed by a TV station about the event. The kid proudly displayed his mother’s Englebert Humperdink and Perry Como records he had brought to burn. I assume he left his own Led Zeppelin records at home. But there doesn’t have to be any hypocrisy in us if we discourage our people from reading Jen Hatmaker or Rob Bell but continue to quote Martin Luther from the pulpit. It’s a question of direction or trend.
When I read Lewis or Luther I see redeemed men who were moving in their theology, and their sanctification, toward the teachings of Christ as recorded in Scripture. Their evolution was spiritual and their submission was to the things of God. The fact that they did not arrive at what I consider to be a thoroughly New Testament understanding of theology does not mean that they were farther from that ideal at the end of their lives than they were earlier. They were closer. It’s biblical to trust people who are growing toward Christ, even if they haven’t arrived yet.
But we can’t so easily trust someone whose trend is on another path. It is a rare person, one I’ve never met, who willfully disagrees with the Bible on only one or two things. Some of those disagreements they haven’t yet named are revealed over time. We choose a destination, whether we know it or not, when we choose a path.
There is also a sense of betrayal or deception in these “wandering stars” (Jude 13). Bookstores still sell the books or recordings they made when they purported to be orthodox. They still receive royalties from those works, even though they no longer believe what they wrote or sang. Some people don’t get the word and are led astray; most readers don’t practice much discernment. Most believers don’t have time to keep up with everything that changes in a day. There are some books I don’t mind having in my library that I wouldn’t give to most of my friends or family. So yes, I’d pull copies of those books and CDs and DVDs out of my church library and my bookstore. They are no longer trustworthy resources because their authors are no longer trustworthy leaders.
Contrary to some things I’ve read from writers and entertainers who bemoan the fact that they now have fewer customers, this discernment is not hateful or unfair. No one has an absolute right to our ears, eyes or money. It makes me chuckle when someone is praised for “courageously” doing what most of our culture says he should do. It’s ridiculous when he complains that there is a price for adopting a new constituency, which values vague Christianity even less than they do orthodoxy.
The culture of celebrity is inherently dangerous, and there will always be things we don’t know about those we follow from a distance. But when we know that what they believe is willfully unbiblical and headed farther away from the teachings of Christ, we need to stop following them or letting them teach us. We’re inevitably on the wrong path if our teachers are on the wrong path.