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A couple thoughts about Christian celebrity

There’s been a lot of talk about Christian celebrity the past several days, but Richard Beck hits on something important this morning by making the distinction between being popular and being a celebrity.

In short, the diagnostic test that you are dealing with a Christian celebrity isn’t the fact that the person is in a spotlight speaking to thousands. Because that might just be a talented and popular person up there. And there’s no shame or elitism in that. What makes the person a celebrity or not isn’t the size of the crowd.

What makes the person a celebrity is where the person is before and after the talk.

Let me repeat that.

The test of Christian celebrity is where the person is before and after the talk.

If the person giving the talk is in the audience before and/or after the talk then that’s not a Christian celebrity. That’s just a talented and popular speaker. By coming “down from the stage” to be with the crowd–it’s an Incarnational move here–the speaker is erasing any elite distance or distinction between themselves and their audience. Connecting with the crowd before and after is an act of solidarity, hospitality, humility and service. The speaker is making themselves available. And that availability is the exact opposite of celebrity.

This is a very helpful distinction. I remember attending a Desiring God pastors conference probably a decade ago and seeing Mark Driscoll ushered in by security after everyone else had already been seated, and quickly ushered out after he had spoken and before anyone else could get up to leave. That gives one sort of impression.

On the other hand, two years ago I went to Nashville to a small event where N. T. Wright was speaking. Dr. (Bishop? Rev.? not sure what title he prefers) Wright had just flown in from England that day. While clearly the focus of the event, he spent the first hour of the evening sitting in the crowd enjoying the local musicians who were there to sing, then after speaking for an hour spent at least another 90 minutes patiently signing books, taking pictures, and talking to a long line of folks. Popular? Yeah. Celebrity? Not that day.

The discussion also reminds me of this picture which I saw recently in the news:

Pope Francis attends retreat with cardinals and bishops outside Rome

Here’s the Pope, on a Lenten retreat, just another priest in a pew. Now, granted, Pope Francis is a celebrity by about any definition; but it seems clear to me that he’s trying as hard as he can to not be a celebrity; to be personal, real, accessible, and pastoral even in the most visible religious role in the world.

Even us non-celebrity (and even non-popular) folks could learn a lesson or two from the good Bishops of Durham and Rome..

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