Margaret Feinberg, prolific author and conference speaker–whose books include Scouting the Divine and critically-acclaimed The Organic God—offers her top ten books of the past decade in Q. (For complete article click here.)
One of my favorite social commentators, Andy Crouch, offers a wonderful piece in Q listing the Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade: Ten trends in North American culture “that accelerated dramatically in the 2000s—almost always for better and for worse at the same time.”
One | Connection…
Two | Place…
Three | Cities…
Four | The End of the Majority…
Five | Polarity…
Six | The Self Shot…
Seven | Pornography…
Eight | Informality…
Nine | Liquidity…
Ten | Complexity…”
I highly recommend reading the entire article and joining the conversation.
What do you think Andy missed, understated, or overstated?
It’s hard to believe that Two Handed Warriors has only been up and running for two months. I cannot thank you enough for all the encouragement and support.
I started the blog in hope of fostering an ongoing conversation for professionals committed to both culture making and faith building. You have exceeded my wildest dreams. Conversations have evoked marvelous responses from audiences as diverse as Ivy League professors, Hollywood executive producers, seminary deans, college students, pastors, student development professionals, campus ministers, film and television writers. Thank you!
Bottom line: Paparazzi really seemed to hit a nerve. It turns out that there is a great deal of angst out there regarding how to maximize the potentialities of the electronic age without being drawn into the “dark side” of self-promotion. So this January I’ll be posting on ongoing series on Servant Leadership in an Age of Celebrity in hopes of teasing out the issues involved. (Watch for the first post, “Lost” Lessons of Leadership: Sawyer, Jack and the Power of Gun, next week.)
I would love your feedback and questions in order to shape the conversation and explore if it is worthy of a future book project. (I SO appreciate all the emails directly to me, but if you could find it in your heart to post comments on the site it would help foster a broader conversation.)
Thank you again for letting me into your head over the past 60 days. Lord willing, it is the beginning of a genuine community of two handed warriors in Hollywood, the Ivy League and beyond.
Happy New Year!
PS Special thanks to Identity Specialist, Lem Usita, as well as to Jon Stanley and the staff of THE OTHER JOURNAL for all their help in conceiving and lauching this project. Thank you to Chris Easterly, Kathy Bruner, Shun Lee Fong, David McFadzean, David Ridder, Dennis Ingolfsand, Peter Kapsner, Rich Gathro, Jack Gilbert, Clyde Taber, Brennan Smith, Jim Hull, John David Ware, Robb Kelley, Todd Burns, Bob Cornero, Tom Provost, Carol Shell Harris, and Michael Warren for helping get the conversation started. Thank you also to Scot McKnight, Key Payton, Keri Lowe, David Medders, McCoy Tyner, Ralph Enlow, and Ken Minkema, for their personal encouragement, professional input, and help in getting the word out. I never could have made it without you all!
I thought it might be a good idea to end 2010 by revisiting my most popular posts of the past year. According to Word Press the most popular post of the year was Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview (updated and improved in 2013.) It evoked a solid conversation with screenwriting experts, Jim Hull, Key Payton, and Stanley D. Williams. Frankly, they kinda schooled me on my understanding of screenwriting, complete with a two-hour personal tutorial from Key Payton (who has agreed to do a guest post in the new year.) Still, it was fascinating to see how concepts I “reverse-engineered” from Academy Award-winning films in order to teach worldvew were helpful to real live screenwriters.
Toward that end, I found this very cool chart laying out a construct to the four levels of worldview (not sure where it came from, so if anyone has seen it before, please let me know.) It calls only the central/core level “worldview,” but it lays out the elements of all four levels very clearly and concisely. I’d love to know if you find it more helpful (or less) that the simplistic chart I’ve been using.
Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais’s atheism joke and his holiday message in the Wall Street Journal, “Why I’m An Atheist,” provide a perfect backdrop for examining one of the best attempts to defend Theism in Hollywood history–It’s a Wonderful Life.
Hollywood legend Frank Capra made It’s a Wonderful Life specifically to “combat a modern trend toward atheism,” which certainly appears to make Gervais his ideal target audience. Yet, Capra’s approach to combatting atheism was in no way as simplistic as one would expect. It’s a Wonderful Life is not only one of the best Christmas movies of all time, it is also a remarkable example of using worldview conflict to construct a compelling story… and live a wonderful life. Students seeking to understand worldview and filmmakers seeking to make culture-influencing movies would be wise to pay careful attention.
Ironically, much like its main character, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), It’s a Wonderful Life entered midlife as an apparent failure.Before its release, Capra believed it to be his greatest film. However, after a disappointing box office, and a complete shut out at the Oscars, Liberty Films didn’t even bother to renew the copyright for “Capra’s masterpiece” when it expired in 1974. This lapse in judgment proved to be precisely the angelic intervention It’s a Wonderful Life needed. Television networks turned to the now public domain film to fill their desperate need for cheap programming in the slow holiday season. Soon “a whole new generation of movie-lovers discovered and fell in love with the previously-obscure release.”  Capra had the last laugh when the film grew to become a beloved classic, now regarded as one of the best films ever made. (It is currently #20 on the prestigious AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list.)
Much of the greatness of It’s a Wonderful Life stems from Capra’s deliberate use of worldview conflict in the film. (Don’t worry, I won’t ruin your Christmas buzz with a bunch of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, but this first part is important). When philosophers speak of a “worldview” they actually mean more than one thing:micro worldviews and macro worldviews.
At the micro level, a worldview is a description of the stories that shape the principles that support the conventions that an individual uses to make their daily decisions. (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview). The problem is, nobody’s worldview is actually “personal.” While we each have unique experiences that form the backbone of the “story of our life,” we interpret these experiences through the stories transmitted to us by our larger cultures. (See, Crash Goes the Worldview). Our personal worldview rests within concentric circles of larger and larger worldviews. In other words, (1) my (micro) worldview rests mostly within, (2) my family’s (slightly less micro) worldview, which rests mostly within (3) my sub-culture’s (even less micro) worldview, and (4) my current society’s (more macro) worldview, and (5) my historic civilization’s (macro) worldview.
While it is a gross oversimplification, you could say that the history of Western civilization has been comprised of the interplay of two key macro worldviews: what I will call physicalism and idealism.
Physicalism is a macro worldview that roots our understanding of reality in the physical world.  Physicalism starts with what you can see, feel, touch, and taste as the only “really real” things in the world. If you can measure something’s length, weigh its mass, or quantify it in some way, then it is a reliable source of knowledge.
The worldview of physicalism can best symbolized by a BOX, because in physicalism the “closed system” of the material universe is pretty much all you can rely on. You can extrapolate from sense perceptions of the visible universe to a “spiritual” world, but every effect in the physical universe owes its existence to a cause within the physical universe. This makes physicalism perfect for scientific experimentation. A laboratory technician wouldn’t be able to maintain a proper relationship between experimental variables if they had to account for factors from outside the physical universe messing with their data. As cosmologist and former host of Cosmos (PBS) put so eloquently, “The universe is all there is and all that there will ever be.”
Ricky Gervais’ Wall Street Journal essay is a beautiful example of using physicalism to defend atheism. Ricky explained the rationale for his lack of faith by asserting, “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe… (Science) bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence…” By “hard” evidence, Ricky means things you can touch, taste, see, and measure. If there is no “hard” physicalist evidence for God, then he won’t believe it. It is a common position for modern physicalists (more below.)
Idealism is a worldview that roots our understanding of reality in the world of ideas, values, spirits, and/or gods. Idealism starts with what you cannot see, touch, taste, see or feel as the only “really real” things in the world. You can’t weigh a pound of love, or measure a mile of justice, or put a soul in a beaker, yet idealists view these intuited unseen ideals as what really matters. As Immanuel Kant asserted, “All human knowledge begins with intuitions, proceeds from thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.”
The worldview of idealism is best symbolized by a CIRCLE. Normally this circle surrounds the box of the physical universe, because in idealism the physical universe exists within the broader field of unseen realities. This makes idealism perfect for, say, artists and lovers. Everyone “knows” that beauty and love are what make life worth living, even if you can’t quantify them. To reduce love to mere chemical reactions, or art to the properties of sculptor’s materials is neither romantic, inspiring, nor “real.”
Idealists look beyond the hard realities of the physical world and point to something they view as much more “real.” When the Beatles sing, “All you need is love,” or Jean Valjean declares in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” they are giving voice to an idealist worldview. They are not appealing to hard physical evidence, but to an ideal so intuitively true they need no “proof.” When Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” or MLK declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” they were appealing to something beyond the physical world and calling others toward it.
The struggle between these two worldviews is at least as old as the study of philosophy. Plato (and later Augustine and Kant) advocated for idealism, while Aristotle (and later Aquinas and Hume) sided with physicalism. Neither side has ever scored a decisive victory, yet the philosophical underpinnings of each era of Western history can often be described by the relationship between the two at a given cultural moment.
For over 2000 years, Muslims, Jews, and Christians used both Idealism and Physicalism to support their faith. For Christians, the Hebraic worldview Jesus inherited from his Jewish heritage was more or less free from the dualism of having to choose between these two sources of knowledge. Truth was found both in the invisible God and in his visible creation. Faith-building and culture-making were therefore two sides of the same coin.
However, as the early church became less and less Jewish and more and more Greek, dualism began to plague the church. Idealism held the upper hand in ancient Greco-Roman society and nearly overwhelmed early Christianity with a radical form of Idealism known as Gnosticism. Augustine and other key thinkers restored sanity through a more moderate form of Idealism that helped salvage Christianity when the Roman empire fell. Physicalism began to gain serious traction in Middle Ages when both Muslims and Christians (such as Aquinas) began to use Aristotle’s physicalist philosophy to defend their faith. While increasingly disconnected by the “either-or” dualism of Greek thought, both idealism and physicalism remained key elements of both a God-centered view of the world as well as a number of attempts to support atheism.
Unfortunately, the Enlightenment gave birth to a “pervasive and astringent skepticism” that began to “dissolve” both Physicalism and Idealism (and any hope of reconnecting them.) Physicalists lost confidence first in their sense perceptions, and then in their ability to extrapolate from the physical world into the spiritual. Idealists began to doubt that their own thoughts and intuitions were anything more than their own inventions (or the inventions of their community) so that there was no spiritual world “out there” only my own ideas and perspectives “in here.”
Skepticism quickly demoted Idealism to the ranks of second class truth, enthroning a weakened and highly dualistic form of Physicalism at the center of Western society. When a modern Westerner says that something is objectively true, we mean that it is true from a Physicalist perspective. It is something that can be verified with the physical senses. By contrast, when we say that something is subjectively true we mean that it is “merely” an ideal that an individual subject (person) holds to be true, but which cannot be physically verified, and is therefore a second class citizen in the world of truth. Idealist (subjective) knowledge has been assigned to the back of the bus as “private” knowledge. While physicalist (objective) knowledge is driving the bus of “public” knowledge.
Whether he realizes it or not, this is exactly why Ricky Gervais, like many physicalist moderns, has to so much trouble with Theism–it simply doesn’t make any sense from his starting point of skeptical physicalism. When Gervais exclaims, “People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary,” he is giving voice to an extremely common view of faith. These damnable believers are appealing to knowledge derived from outside the realm of physical verifiability. Gervais continues, “Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer.” And he’s right, of course, at least from a skeptical physicalist perspective. Which is precisely the problem. He’s right back to where he started.
He’s began with the position that you can only trust your physical senses, and ended up right thinking that anyone who believes in something you can’t access with your physical senses is crazy. As Gervais explains, “I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me.” In skeptical physicalist thinking, ideals might be personally helpful to some, but as truth-claims they are “Sentimental Hogwash!”
However, even Gervais has to resort to idealism to defend his philosophy for actually living his life. The same skeptical physicalism that can be so helpful in a laboratory, can be an extremely unsatisfying way of life. As James Davidson Hunter explains, “radical skeptisicm leading to radical nihilism is, of course, rare… for the simple reason that it is unlivable.” Gervais resorts to a very idealist perspective for his life: “My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life.”
Which is, of course, exactly what George Bailey is striving for in It’s a Wonderful Life. Like Gervais, George Bailey only wants to live a good life here and now. However, like most of us in the postmodern world, the crushing realities of skeptical physicalism are squeezing the life out of our weakened idealism.
Like George Bailey and Ricky Gervais, we all eventually find ourselves wondering: Is there a reward for knowing and trying to do the right thing?(Either in heaven or on earth)Or, is it all a waste of time? Like Gervaise, we simply cannot reconcile belief in God with the ideals of truth and honesty we strive for. Like George Bailey, we simply cannot reconcile the ideals for which we live with the harsh realities of our day-to-day existence. Caught in the vice between nihilistic physicalism and sentimental idealism there seems to be nowhere to turn. Which is, of course, exactly where Capra wants us.
 James W. Sire identifies nine macro worldviews currently influencing Western culture: predominantly physicalist worldviews, such as Naturalism, Nihilism, and Post-modernism; Predominantly idealist worldviews such as, Christian Theism, Islamic Theism and Eastern Pantheistic Monism, and hybrids, such as Existentialism, Deism, and the New Age movement. The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
 In worldviews such as Monism, the circle actually subsumes the box.
 See James Davidson Hunter’s masterful take on “dissolution” in To change the world: the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 205-210.
A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when others obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.
-Lao-Tzu, China, c. 550 BC
“Servant.” “Leader.” Few words in the English language seem more mutually exclusive. Leaders give orders. Servants take them. Leaders have followers. Servants have masters. Leaders are powerful. Servants are powerless. Everyone wants to be a leader. Everyone wants to have a servant.
But are they really so opposite?
In his classic novel, Journey to the East, Herman Hesse tells the story of a band of travelers sojourning across the south of Europe. Their journey is sponsored by a religious order that has provided them with not only all of the necessary equipment but also a rather unobtrusive servant by the name of Leo. The trip goes well. They make good progress. They become good friends. On the road and around the fire, there seems to be magic about the group.
Then one day Leo disappears. No one is particularly concerned. After all, he was only a servant. Soon, however, cracks begin to appear in the fragile bond that holds the group together. Tasks go undone. Emotions fray. Soon the music around the campfire is replaced by stony silence. When no one is able to repair the damage, the group simply breaks up. Unable to continue the journey for lack of leadership, the narrator of the story, one of the travelers, decides to join the religious order that sponsored the journey. He returns to the order’s headquarters to begin his initiation.
There he finds Leo and discovers that their servant is actually the leader of the entire order. Upon reflection, the narrator realizes that Leo had really been their leader all along. He was the source of the magic in their group. Yet, if he had asserted his position as leader of the order, the group probably would have rejected him outright. However, by seeking to meet their needs the group had willingly made him their leader without even realizing it. By becoming their servant he had become their leader, not by position, but by influence. Character had triumphed over authority: service over position.
This is the paradox of power that has troubled mankind since the days of Lao-Tzu. There is something in the very nature of leadership that implies service. True leaders, those who people follow because they want to not because they have to, always begin with and return to the needs of their followers. As James MacGregor Burns states in his monumental work, Leadership: “The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.”
Leadership is essentially a transaction. Followers give their leaders power in exchange for service. We simply will not follow someone who does not meet our needs.
The American political system bears testimony to this. We call our elected officials “Public Servants.” If they serve us well, we re-elect them. If they serve us poorly, we elect others in their place.
Business practice bears this out well. Companies who serve their customers well are highly rewarded with return business and referrals. Companies that do not meet the needs of their clients soon find themselves filing for bankruptcy.
Hollywood creatives are painfully aware of this process. The best screenplay ever written won’t last a week in theatres if it fails to touch a chord in the hearts, minds, or funny bones of a significant audience.
Faith communities are subject to this paradox as well. People join churches and follow various teachers and rabbis because they sense their needs are being met. They “vote” for their favorite spiritual leader with their attendance, their giving and (in the burgeoning religious marketplace) their buying. Churches that truly meet the needs of their congregations grow large and prosperous. Their pastors become famous. Their methods and teaching become models for others.
But is this all there is to servant leadership? If so, then anyone can do it. Just give people what they want and you’re a leader. But are you? Really? Is the ability to attract a following by promising and (sometimes) delivering what people want all there is to transformational leadership? If it is, then we are in real trouble.
The paradox of power is the exact process that “pseudo celebrities” currently use to manipulate public opinion for their own purposes. (See, Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God.) “The pseudo celebrity “develops their capacity for fame, not by achieving great things, but by differentiating their own personality from those of their competitors in the public arena.” Rather than serving as heroic celebrities who actually meet the needs of others through self-sacrificing service, pseudo celebrities prey upon the perception that they are meeting the needs of their followers when their real goal is to meet their own needs to sell more product, enhance their fame, etc. As I stated in the Paparazzi post, “In a society hungering for close personal relationships, the pseudo celebrity system delivers pseudo-relationships with people we feel connected to but have never met.” Media outlets create the illusion of accessibility and relationship we crave, without actually delivering the goods. With enough Twitter chatter anyone can be a cultural leader. Why bother to actually accomplish anything for my “followers”?
Best-selling business author Jim Collins warns that this pseudo celebrity approach to leadership is a cancerous growth on the future of transformative leadership in America, from the pulpit to the boardroom. Pseudo celebrities are not only “famous for being famous,” they are paid for being famous, and revered for being famous regardless of their providing any actual value to the lives of others or the organizations they lead. They score “covers of magazines, bestselling autobiographies, massive compensation packages—despite the fact that their long-term results failed to measure up.”
Collins prophecies: “If we allow the celebrity rock-star model of leadership to triumph, we will see the decline of corporations and institutions of all types… These leaders were ambitious for themselves, and they succeeded admirably on this score, but they failed utterly in the task of creating an enduring great company. Smart people instinctively understand the dangers of entrusting our future to self-serving leaders who use our institutions… whether in the corporate or social sectors… to advance their own interests.”
But are we really so smart? The rampant tragic decline of American business, banking, government, education, church and media enterprises stems largely from the ascendancy of self-centered pseudo celebrity leaders. Like Israel during the reign of Saul, self-centered leadership wears the crown, while Davidic servant leadership is banished from the halls of power.
Can we learn to discern the difference between pseudo celebrity leadership and heroic servant leadership? I believe we can. In fact, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth provides both clear teaching regarding servant leadership and a compelling example of living it out.
Sorry it took so long to reply. I was in North Carolina this past week on the set of a movie I wrote for the Hallmark Channel. It’s a very thought-provoking article and it was a pleasure to read. Thanks for asking me to weigh in! My thoughts are below:
To me, one of the most interesting ideas your article raises is the concept of intentionality. Edwards and Whitefield actively promoted their own celebrity. As you note about Edwards, “Without him providing the story, there is no story, and therefore, no celebrity.” These men were intentional about creating and using their celebrity for the glory of God, and their actions mattered.
This seems counterintuitive to a traditional understanding of the Christian call to deny one’s self. But your examination of Edwards and Whitefield’s public relations efforts suggests an intriguing idea: Perhaps a Christian utilizing media to promote his own celebrity is not a contradiction, especially in the media-driven 21st century. It’s arguably an example of Jesus’ command to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” A Christian who acquires celebrity is not necessarily a bad thing.
A rough analogy might be the historical use of icons in prayer. The Christian doesn’t worship the image itself, but rather they prayerfully use the icon as a means to help them focus on God. For instance, a person may have a picture of Mother Theresa hanging on the wall, but they don’t worship Mother Theresa. Rather, her image inspires them to be more Christ-like. When viewed from that perspective, a “Christian celebrity” can be an important means to draw the attention of both others toward God.
That said, of course, a Christian’s foray into celebrity is fraught with certain perils.
One obvious danger (especially in our media age) is the temptation to achieve fame quickly, without sacrifice or virtue. That’s why your distinction between true heroic celebrity and pseudo-celebrity is so important.
Another challenge for the Christian celebrity is that some consumers simply hunger for “junk food” media and don’t want to be challenged by heroic celebrity. It’s easier (and more pleasant) to absorb the latest tabloid headline about Kim Kardashian’s sex life than it is to consider a story about Saddleback pastor Rick Warren’s efforts to fight AIDS in Africa. The Kardashian story doesn’t force a person to examine his fellow human’s suffering and, by inference, his own responsibility to help alleviate that suffering.
A third challenge has to do with a Christian’s true motivation for acquiring celebrity. Your article mentions Christians “who would aspire to public celebrity.” For a Christian, this aspiration cannot be for its own sake. It comes down to the question: Does a Christian truly want to use their celebrity for the glory of God or do they simply crave the affirmation and attention that they imagine celebrity will bring them? To answer this question honestly requires maturity and a well-developed understanding of one’s self and faith, which Edwards and Whitefield seemed to possess. As you point out, both Edwards and Whitefield were more prepared to responsibly handle their celebrity than others may have been, and perhaps that’s why God bestowed it upon them.
But this raises another interesting question: the distinction between intentionally generating celebrity in an effort to glorify God, or simply recognizing and utilizing it if it happens to be bestowed upon you. It’s kind of like the old chicken-egg question. Which came first? The celebrity itself, which gives the Christian a platform to promote his worldview? Or the intentional effort to generate the celebrity in hopes that it will provide that platform?
Your article does a great job of raising these kinds of questions, which is an invaluable step toward creating a dialogue among Christian culture-makers. This dialogue is crucial in helping Christians negotiate the tension between being faithful and being a celebrity.
The goal of Two Handed Warriors is to foster an ongoing conversation seeking to redefine, re-envision, and then reconstruct the relationship between faith and culture.
Toward that end, I am posting a few responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God from leaders in the Hollywood community in hope it might spur others to join the conversation. (Tomorrow, I will post responses from leaders in educational community.)
They begin with the most congratulatory and move on to the most critical, which is of course where all conversations get interesting.
They raise some important questions both those who build faith and those who create culture, and more importantly, for those who do both.
Read Paparazzi and the thoughts below and then jump into the conversation,
I am no historian, theologian, philosopher, or qualified cultural critic, but your article hit a cord with me. The whole idea of celebrity, pseudo or otherwise, is a fundamental dilemma for our culture in general and certainly for Christians in particular. Well done!
Great article. You cannot help but be humbled by the life of Edwards and Whitefield.
We are indeed…”called to be missionaries in a media‐driven culture. Wishing it weren’t so won’t make that fact go away. To impact our image‐driven generation for the kingdom of God will require entering the fray prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with great excellence.”
My great fear is that we may not now have men who have the humility and virtue needed to be used by God in the way He used Edwards and Whitefield.
I hope you consider composing a shorter version of this call for use in more popular Christian publications (for the less scholarly of us readers).
I very much enjoyed your paper about Edwards and Whitefield and the notoriety they experienced.
I was just looking for a bit more differentiation between God-given celebrity and human-driven celebrity. I just know of too many young Christian actors and writers out here who dream of being famous so they can be used of God, when it’s actually the opposite – letting themselves be used of God might lead to recognition.
I think the threads are all there, but I was looking for a paragraph or so on the last page that made those clear. Your example of C.S. Lewis was well-chosen. This was a man who would have very much preferred his solitude and small circle of friends, but responded humbly when the attention came. Edwards and Whitefield had to have been similar in their approach to obeying God, wherever He led.
The goal of Two Handed Warriors is to foster an ongoing conversation seeking to redefine, re-envision, and then reconstruct the relationship between faith and culture. Toward that end, I am posting a few responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God from leaders in the educational community in hopes that it might spur others to join the conversation. (Tomorrow, I will post responses from leaders in the Hollywood community.)
They raise some important questions both those who build faith and those who create culture, and more importantly, for those who do both.
Please read Paparazzi and jump into the conversation,
This is an interesting and colorful piece that nicely fits the Mars Hill venue. Scholars such as Frank Lambert and Susan O’Brien have pointed to 18th-century evangelicals’ ability to use media and communications productively, though their opponents became pretty expert as well–and there’s the rub.
Your overarching moral–that Christian leaders today should not be quick to dismiss the media, provided a proper perspective is maintained–is well taken. But of course the ability to maintain a balance between being as wise as the serpent and innocent as the dove is, I fear, a razor’s edge that few can walk on without being seriously cut eventually.
Great article! I’ve struggled with this in my own career, and sometimes wonder if being overly concerned about self-promotion has limited my influence for the sake of the gospel. (Have you seen the latest Leadership Journal? It’s theme is ambition in pastoral ministry.) Thanks for fueling that inner conversation.
David A. Ridder
Dean and University Vice-President
Wow! I thought your article was excellent (no, I’m not just saying that to be polite.) Rarely do I read articles that have such an immediate and significant shift in my thinking. I am the kind of person who would not even do very much to promote my own book because I have been uncomfortable with the idea of Christian self-promotion. Nor have I advertized the church I pastor very aggressively for the same reason.
In “one fell swoop” so to speak, your article made me see that as long as I am honestly seeking the glory of God and not just prideful self-promotion, I really should be more engaged in promoting and marketing.
Department of Biblical and Theological Studies
Director of Library Services Crown College
An excellent intersection of Truth with popular culture, without being minimalist: although the Message hasn’t changed, delivery and methodology must change in light of evolving cultural activity.
.WOW. Once again on this journey of faith I find myself confronting my own presuppositions. “Celebrity”, to me, conjures up images of red carpets, impeccable looks, and throngs of fans. Words like power, fame, and influence follow such people. “Celebrity” is therefore something to be avoided among those who follow Jesus as it is indicative of hubris and conceit.
However, you have redefined the word for me and I find my presuppositions changing. Understood differently, Jesus is the ultimate celebrity as he has been “exalted to the highest place.” His influence, fame and power are far beyond that of the most gregarious Hollywood figures. However, his fame and power came from the virtues of surrender and humility as well as the great paradox that ‘death begets life.’ We need not be ashamed, therefore, should “our name be known” for the right reasons.
Given this, I find myself captivated by your brief reference to the celebrities of Hebrews 11 as well. My wife and I recently discussed how we should initiate our children. We’ve decided we are not initiating them as Kapsners, Minnesotans, Bethelites, or Americans – as important as those stories might be. Instead, we want them initiated into the “great stream of eternity” that includes the stories of those who have gone before. Without the celebrities of Hebrews 11, we would know far less of the Eternal Narrative to which we belong. But they are there. They stand. They ask us to enter the story with them. And they beckon us to follow.
Thank you for pointing out the importance of the celebrities of our faith.
I think you’ve done a great job of balancing scholarly and popular appeal. Your research on Whitefield and Edwards appears thorough and reliable, and your writing style is totally engaging and accessible. I think your article was quite refreshing as you asked us to reconceptualize these historic figures as fitting the four-step framework for celebrity. You certainly had me reassessing my perceptions of these characters:)
I’m laughing as I write this, but my self-deprecating, anti-celebrity-seeking Norwegian heritage just won’t let me buy the 2nd half of the article. From the limited perspective I have on Edwards, I thought he delivered the “Sinners/Angry God” sermon in a feeble voice, hunched over the podium, reading the text with little eye contact or enthusiasm. And yet his pathetic performance led to an unprecedented (at least in that place) outpouring of the Spirit with people wailing in the aisles. If celebrity resulted, it was not because of Edwards’ performance, although his written text was certainly persuasive. I guess I’ve read history the same way as those who believe that celebrity is not to be sought. I’ve also watched and written about televangelism enough to think that the godly pursuit of celebrity or, frankly, even the pursuit of leadership, is so often thwarted by Satan preying on our sinful natures that I question whether readers will be able to pursue the preparation for celebrity in noble ways. Could your thesis unwittingly give some readers a license for self-centeredness?
In my Media, Faith & Culture class, I have students read Malcolm Muggeridge’s classic radio address about whether Jesus would have used the mass media. My classes typically conclude that Jesus, who became a celebrity, did not seek celebrity. Rather he often sought time alone with the Father to refocus on his Father’s will, not retool his public relations strategy. They often point out how celebrity earned him many enemies and ultimately death. Will those readers preparing for their time in the spotlight be willing to suffer or die if necessary? Your apparent optimism about celebrity-as-good-thing may be too Hollywood or maybe just too American for readers from the third world church.
Interestingly, when you ask me to reconceptualize modern celebrity and even call ordinary people like me to it, my conscience says no. It could be my own sin nature saying, see…there’s your justification for greatness. I can’t figure out how to embrace the idea with humility because I know myself too well. Thanks for this very revealing reading!
If you want to spark some lively debate, I think this is just the ticket. Curmudgeons (like me?!) could have a field day. I hope all of them think as highly of you as I do.
Assistant professor of Media Communication
Media Communication program Co-chair Taylor University
Striving to attain mastery as a Two Handed Warrior occasionally results in some very enjoyable if unintended consequences. Learning to “reverse engineer” Academy Award-winning films in order to teach worldview (see Teaching Worldview Through Film) somehow led to my inadvertently developing a unique skill-set for analyzing how filmmakers create Academy Award-winning films.
A true script consultant, such as Linda Seger or Key F. Payton, has read thousands of screenplays and can instantly recognize a myriad of factors that might improve an unfinished script. I, on the other hand, hate reading screenplays, and often can’t tell the difference between snappy dialogue and good scenery.
However, in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king. Since few (if any) script consultants are trained in worldview thinking, I can sometimes help screenwriters and creative executives in story development in a way that others can’t. The highly intuitive use of worldview often employed by Academy Award-winning filmmakers in their character-transformation arcs is often clearer to me (the amateur) than it is to more broadly trained experts.
Guiding my students’ understanding of worldview in the classroom and serving as story consultant in Hollywood have become some of the most enjoyable aspects of my journey toward becoming a two handed warrior. Helping screenwriters, producers, directors, and creative executives “see” and clarify the worldview journey in their film is a very gratifying experience.
So while I would never claim to be an expert, I hope that this ongoing discussion of the relationship between worldview and story will be as helpful to filmmakers as it is to educators.
Who knows, it might even help a two-handed filmmaker win an Academy Award someday.