What do we do when a celebrity professes faith? Should we dismiss the story out of hand because so many of our hopes have been dashed before? Should we go all-in with celebrity Christians, realizing their fame is a currency that can be stewarded for evangelistic influence?
In the last couple of weeks, I noticed on social media a few evangelicals excitedly sharing a media clip of philosoper-psychologist Jordan Peterson talking about Jesus. The testimony wasn’t clear, but, these Christians seemed to say, Peterson is awfully close to becoming a Christian. The excitement reminded me again of evangelicals’ weird relationship with celebrities—and celebrity conversions.
In case you haven’t heard, hip-hop artist and entrepreneurial mogul Kanye West got saved. That was the word on the social media streets a year or two ago, anyway. Yes, the entertaining provocateur known as much for being Kim Kardashian’s husband as he is for his explicit rap lyrics had publicly professed faith in Jesus Christ. He was being discipled by a Master’s Seminary grad. It was a huge win. There were even some solid pastors and evangelists vouching for the veracity of his conversion. And then West continued saying some very bizarre things in the media and partnering with prosperity non-gospelist Joel Osteen, and now the state of his spiritual journey is a little…well, murky.
This story is new, but the phenomenon isn’t. While social media gives us a fresh news cycle every day and the rate at which data points become “old” seems to shrink by the minute, I am “old” enough to remember when evangelicals were celebrating the Christian faith of Chris Pratt, Matthew McConaughey, and Justin Bieber. I don’t mean to say that any of those fellows aren’t really a Christian—only that evangelicals are keen to take any evidence (Pratt goes to church, McConaughey was photographed reading a Lee Strobel book, etc.) as another win for the team, only to lose some interest as the news cycles.
So what do we do when a celebrity professes faith? Should we dismiss the story out of hand because so many of our hopes have been dashed before? Should we go all-in with celebrity Christians, realizing their fame is a currency that can be stewarded for evangelistic influence? I think there is a range of dispositions available to—and perhaps even incumbent upon—evangelicals whenever a celebrity in the secular world professes faith in Christ, but below I’ve summed them up primarily in three important responses.
Jesus tells us in Luke 15:7 that heaven rejoices when even one sinner repents. And in keeping with our true citizenship, Christians should rejoice as well. What we saw in some responses to the Kanye West story is a kind of begrudging attitude, the kind that almost sounds like Jonah’s feelings about the Ninevites, an irritation that God might save somebody like that.
Is the real test of repentance in the fruit of a life committed to Christ? Of course. But since we cannot see into the hearts of new converts as the Lord can, we ought to believe the best about them (which is one way of loving our neighbor, if 1 Corinthians 13:7 is to be taken seriously). Let’s be glad when anyone newly professes Christ because it is a reminder that God is still in the business of saving sinners and that the gospel is just that powerful a message.