Over the last couple of weeks Christian Twitter has found a couple of new heroes. I assume lots of people are talking in real life as well. But certainly they keep coming up in my Twitter feed. And while there’s good reasons for lots of what’s being said, I reckon they point out a couple of problems within our evangelical culture.
Six months ago, probably the only Christians to know much about the historian Tom Holland were those of us who were sad enough to take more than a passing interest in the history of classical antiquity. He had written decent, popular level, narrative histories of the Roman world, and a big book on the rise of Islam. I’ve read a couple of the Roman ones over the years and enjoyed most of them. A few people might have seen him on the telly doing his own stuff, or on Dan Snow’s excellent 1066 docudrama. But you certainly didn’t hear much about him on ‘evangelical twitter.’
But now that he’s doing the rounds plugging his latest book, Dominion, he’s everywhere on it. From what I can work out, having listened to a couple of podcasts with him chatting about it, Holland’s basic point is a good one. The West’s value system comes wholly out of the Christian worldview, and is completely at odds with the values of the Greco-Roman world. True dat. But it’s not exactly new, is it? Jesus was counter-cultural, and we don’t really like infanticide or institutionalised slavery, or a system set up to benefit the rich and oppress the weak. The West has developed it’s value system through 2000 years of broadly Christian dominance of the culture. Really?! Wow! Who’d have thunk it…
But my problem’s not really with Tom Holland. He seems a top fella, and has some sensible stuff to say, especially about the utter banality of bishops talking about Brexit instead of original sin. But I just want to raise the question as to why he’s suddenly the Christian poster boy. Why do we have pastors on Twitter telling us what a great historian he is, as I saw this week. Is he? Or is he just making us feel better by saying what we want to hear. And how many of us are actually qualified to judge his qualities as a historian. I did hear Holland say that, as a historian, he’s not qualified to judge the authenticity of the resurrection account. That’s the job of theologians. Surprising how many theologians feel qualified to judge his qualities as a historian though.
The other elephant in the Twittersphere of course is Kanye West. And, before I start, I’ll declare my bias. As far as I can see he’s just a dude who talks over records. I mean, he’s no Hetfield, Grohl, or even Kelly Jones is he?! My radio is tuned to ‘the Uk’s only 90’s radio station’. I’m not really in his core target audience, am I?! But then neither are quite a lot of people who are going on about what a legend he is this week…
Now, don’t get me wrong, if Kanye West has trusted Christ for salvation, then praise God. If he’s using his working life to give glory to God, then let’s join him in glorifying his Saviour. When anybody moves from death to life it’s a miracle only the Lord can do, by his Spirit, through the blood of Jesus. But is it anymore newsworthy when he does it in a dude who just happens to make music for a living, and give his kids odd names?
You see, I wonder if the reaction of many Christians to both Tom Holland and Kanye West in recent weeks betrays that we’re just as celebrity obsessed in Uk evangelicalism as we laugh at our American brothers and sisters for being. We, deep down, long to be affirmed by the world. Long for people with a voice in the secular world to think Christianity’s cool, or credible, or even just not as outdated as everyone thinks it is. We still believe that getting celebrities to tell the world about the gospel (or summat vaguely connected to it anyroad) will mean it’ll turn round and trust Jesus (you know, like it did with Cliff!). We feel like we’re validated a bit when people with a voice in the culture say summat nice about us, or even Jesus.
Perhaps that’s the reason that evangelical conferences in the Uk still have the ‘preachers with a profile’ on the platform. Perhaps it’s why lots of evangelistic endeavour looks like getting the famous person to do a testimony, or the person with the ‘amazing story’. Because they’ll draw a crowd, and the more people who hear the truth of the gospel the better, right?! Perhaps it’s why churches with big name preachers, and big ministries, and lots of resources, in big cities, have lots of people. And average places, with average preachers, and few resources, scratching out a ministry of gospel life together and seeking to speak of Jesus, are always struggling for people to join them.
I wonder if at times we’re in danger of tearing 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 out of our Bibles. We certainly get quite excited when the wise and strong of this world get saved, or even throw us a bone. Perhaps we need to remember that when God really shows off he doesn’t do it with flashing lights, and a banging beat. He does it with a humiliated, naked, peasant; beaten within an inch of his life, hanging on a tree. Broken, beat, and scarred…and winning the victory over all the cosmic powers of evil. Destroying the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent. Wisdom through foolishness, strength through weakness. That’s what turns the world upside down. Not celebrity endorsements.
And, funnily enough, as far as I can tell, that’s the entire argument of Tom Holland’s book…