Some weeks ago, I published a post that was strong and, I believe, rightfully so. It was called "Calling Out Celebrity Christianity [& Counterfeit Justice]." It got some good feedback/pushback here and lots of action over at HuffPost Religion.
I want to offer this post, not as a retraction, but a parallel, and perhaps balancing, affirmation in the midst of my previous denials.
Where I sought to call out Celebrity Christianity before, now I want to lift up Creative Christianity. At first glance, it may seem like these two things are the same or at least interconnected, especially in the places where prosperity theology... prospers. And some of your comments indicated that you think this, too. But I disagree. In fact, Creative Christianity, in my mind, is the antidote to the enticement and lure of celebrity culture in the church. It is affirming of relevance and artfulness while condemning the superficiality of pursuing fame for fame's sake and buying into all of the cultural realities that entails.
So, my goal here is to envision a way beyond that consumeristic beartrap of celebrity culture that so often seems to have the church -- and, most recently, the young, hip church -- all tangled and stuck.
So what, then, is this Creative Christianity category getting at?
Creative Christianity is a new wave of locally rooted Christians and churches exploring and promoting the connections among art, culture, liturgy, and mission in such a way that authentic, slow, and deep innovation is valued while quick success, fame, and excess are avoided.
Whereas Celebrity Christianity is marked by a persistent superficiality that almost militates against deeper thinking and self-reflection, Creative Christianity is marked by a desire for substance. Where commercial goals underlie nearly everything that Celebrity Christianity does (even worship becomes a way to enter God's material/financial "favor" as leaders profit from the worship service financially), Creative Christianity creates despite the cost (before there is any gain, taking much loss), all while exploring new economies for the life of the church that honor underprivileged people in the neighborhood. Whereas Celebrity Christianity assumes a colonial posture that invades a geographical place and justifies itself with connections to famous figures rather than local people, Creative Christianity assumes an incarnational posture that inhabits a place humbly with a desire to earn credibility in the community slowly and respectfully. Where theological and spiritual shallowness seem to plague Celebrity Christianity preaching and teaching, Creative Christianity demonstrates a deep-rooted spirituality and a theology that seems to vigorously answer the most devastating challenges that the cultural narrative can produce.
And whereas Celebrity Christianity finds itself somewhat limited to established models that have proven commercially successful, Creative Christianity is truly creative, seeking to push into new missional spaces to bring authentic healing, hope, and shalom.
Creative Christianity is, in this sense, not just a model or a strategy but a deeper impulse that may take on various forms. But, regardless, it is innovating, it is engaging, and it is creating. In fact, because of the lack of superficial consumer motivations, and a commitment to modest living, I believe this approach to doing church and Christian life will produce a superior aesthetic and artful approach to the faith. And this will bring the vitality and draw the youth that are so often drawn to Celebrity Christianity back to a deeper expression of the gospel, with authentic shalom in the neighborhood, even while retaining a diverse participation in the life of the church.
As mentioned in the previous post, Creative Christianity will see notoriety, influence, book deals, record deals, speaking engagements, etc. happen in its midst, and it will be fully engaged in the cultural discourse. It will even be conversant with celebrity! But it will not be driven by commercial success and prosperity. Instead, this influence will actually be leveraged for the sake of the world, producing authentic shalom while moving away from the hypocrisies that so often plague the church's bad economy and faulty attempts at "justice." And the wealth, excess, ease, and arrogance that seem to so define Celebrity Christianity will be overwhelmed by a creative pursuit of Jesus that is actually humble and loving toward the underprivileged other.
There are beautiful churches and movements that exemplify this Creative Christianity ethos, and I'm excited to be exploring this in my own context through the newly forming Antioch Session, which curates artful, missional, and liturgical experiences at the intersection of faith and culture.
Perhaps you'll join the conversation!