A Question from CCI . . .


English: Tim Tebow, a player on the Denver Bro...
English: Tim Tebow, a player on the Denver Broncos American football team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


By Scott Fowler


What is it that so captures the imagination of the believing Church when a genuine Christian gains success and notoriety in the public sphere? What is it that we think is happening when athletes like Tim Tebow, restaurant chains like Chick fil a, or actresses like Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) gain mainstream success?


I think when we see “one of our own” become successful we catch some glimpse of what the culture could be. Yes, we have seen some bad examples of Christians who have risen and then compromised, but when we see a Tebow we are blessed to see a guy who seems to sincerely love Jesus, who does  not compromise his beliefs, and who is able to live out his faith at a high level of success. It seems to vindicate our belief that a person can live faithfully at the highest levels as a genuine Christian. But I think it says more. It says something about our vision for the culture.


Here is another more probing question that is important for us to ask: As genuine, believing Christians, what is our vision for the culture? Do we have one? Is it a Christ against culture approach that simply has us invading the culture on a search and rescue mission? Or do we have a plan for the culture? Are we trying to transform the culture or are we trying to rescue people from the culture?


What would your church do if  suddenly the entire community came to your church this Sunday and gave their hearts to Jesus? What would you tell them to do next? Where should they work? How should they entertain themselves? What should their goals be as they go back out into the world?


I was a young adult during the heydays of Jim Bakker‘s PTL ministry. And for all of his failures and all of the damage done, I can’t help but remember how amazing it was that suddenly we had Christian ministries being televised 24/7! It was an enticing picture of the Church being a culture in itself. Hotels and theme parks and felowship and a place to guy like Disney World but for Christians! I don’t think Bakker’s approach was so much an attempt to transform the culture as it was to create an irresistable Christian counter culture. But I do know that it was an intentional attempt to answer Niebuhr’s question of what to do with human culture.


Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at:  http://scottythinks.wordpress.com/about/


12 thoughts on “A Question from CCI . . .

  1. I think some people see it as a validation of their beliefs, while others are simply excited to support a Christian alternative. I suppose we could ask the opposite question as well – what so captures the imagination of the believing Church when a genuine Christian is persecuted in the public sphere? Your original question probably has more to do with the popularity of prosperity theology, while mine with poverty theology. Is it misguided theology? I dunno… just a thought. I suppose we shouldn’t long for cultural acceptance OR rejection, just Biblical cultural engagement.

    1. Thanks for participating Chris! I’m saving my answer till I can give everyone who wants to a chance to share their thoughts (it may be just me and you!). But I will say enough to reveal that my question isn’t meant to say that it is a bad thing. I am coming more from the angle of what we are envisioning when we see a Christian have success in the marketplace or in the mainstream. In fact what I am trying to do is just what you suggested at the end of your comment: get a hold of our vision for Biblical cultural engagement. Does our excitement over a Tebow or a Chick fil reveal anything about our vision for Christ and the culture at large? (By the way I think both of your initial observances are accurate. We do look for validation and for the Christian alternative.)

  2. That is a complex question… On one hand, it’s not about “mainstream success”, but about seeing a Christian brother “succeed” at what God has called them to do. Good for them! I know a family that always felt called to the mission field, and now they are missionaries. Good for them! They are, by God’s grace, fulfilling the call of God on their lives. We should rejoice with and for them. Now on the other hand, there is something that can be attractive about a Christian “succeeding” in the marketplace, in a sense of rising to the top in their area of endeavor–and this can be tricky. The trickiness has to do with the individual’s definition of the word “Christian”. What I mean by that is that for me, and I think for most people, the claim of being “Christian” carries with it an expectation, not only of believing in Jesus, the historical figure, but also an adherence to His teachings–to be like Him. It is difficult to “succeed” in this world (in the sense of rising to the top in your field) while adhering to Christ’s teachings. So when I see someone who does – like Tim Tebow – I rejoice in that too, because I know it was not easy for Him. And in it, this authentic Christian gives many, many people an opportunity to think differently about Christ and Christianity than perhaps they ever have before.

    1. Hi Rich, thanks for entering the conversation. There are a lot of angles from which to consider this question. You said something that reminded me of an article I looked at today. I Googled “notable Christian celebrities” and found a list of 12 famous Hollywood Christians. It is interesting who gets included under the term Christian. I’m wondering what vision we are reaching for when we catch a glimpse of a Christian successful in the mainstream. I’m not suggesting that it is a bad thing. In fact some reflection may reveal something quite profound!

  3. As I read through the article at beliefnet, I am struck, at first glance, by some of the language the writer uses. To begin with, he does not talk refer to the talent of the individuals. Instead he deals instead with the 12 most “powerful” Christians in Hollywood, an idea that seems counterintuitive to me. Also, in looking through the list, although I am not familiar with everyone, those with which I am familiar raise some questions, like “To what extent should their work reflect their faith?” If a Christian owns a company, like a cable TV company, or a plumbing outfit, or a used-car lot, should it be “Christian”? Should there be a difference between it and it’s competitors? And if an actor is a “Christian” shouldn’t his movies be different?

    1. I think this gets to the heart of the question. Genuine Christians would expect to see a qualitative difference between a Christian and a non-Christian in Hollywood or anywhere else. The question I had when I looked through the article was “What standard are we judging these people by?” I have a hard time accepting an actor depicting on screen what he or she claims not to support in real life.

  4. As we dialogue with this question we can not help but identify that all humans get excited to see someone who holds their “standards” of belief be elevated into a high position of influence and popularity. The issue I struggle with is when did the culture start to get “defined” by simply those who are popular, famous, and more specifically the media. True culture is the everyday people in their community. That is why the local church and Christians must be a part of their communities and in touch with what is happening around them not simply what is happening in our “virtual worlds.” It is because of this distance between most churches and their communities that we have begun to let other points of influence transform our community which is essentially our world. I think just simply realizing the importance of local church and Christians interrelationship with their surrounding community is a first step in bringing transformation to our culture. In essence it demands us to be more practical, authentic, and approachable.

    This is just some of my thoughts as I am continuing to work through this question.

    1. You know I wonder if it isn’t more about excellence than it is fame or even success. I think even in our local communities when we see someone live with a high degree integrity and a genuine commitment to Christian principles and values we are blessed and inspired. I was thinking about this earlier today and I think we enjoy seeing someone reach the pinnacle of success and lay their successes at the feet of Jesus. Similarly, no one would deny that every genuine Bible believing congregation is valuable to God and yet we want to grow our churches and increase our influence all for the joy of surrendering our successes to Jesus. But, to your point Stephen, the genuine transformation of our culture won’t come because we got famous but rather because we lived out genuine Christian faith in every common situation. My question remains: what would that look like?

  5. I was going to say that although fame can be a good thing when a sincere believer is elevated to a position of prominence (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), it seems more often that insincere ones are found there (which makes me feel very squeemish). That is what I was thinking… (I have always seen Boaz as the “model” believer because of his obscurity…under the radar…not a king, not a prophet, not famous…but true to his faith in a faithless generation)…
    Then two things came to mind: Deut. 28:9-10 (…If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in His ways…(t)hen all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by Yahweh’s name, and they will stand in awe of you.) and Matt. 5:14-15 (You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.)

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