At that time in fundamentalism, at least at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, full time service was normal talk. I don't remember any celebrity syndrome, at least in the circles I was in. At Maranatha, we did have a gold medal wrestling coach, Ben Peterson, who was also a Maranatha seminary graduate, married to a Maranatha graduate. While I was there, Mike Houk, one of our wrestlers, became the first world champion in United States history for Greco-Roman wrestling. Even though we had celebrities in that sense, these men were not lauded much for those accomplishments. You might say they were just regular dudes on campus, no different than anyone else for those accomplishments.
At Maranatha at the time, there was no push at all for people to go out into the world and work a "secular job." That's not what Maranatha was for. It was to produce full time Christian workers, church workers, and Dr. Cedarholm emphasized that in no uncertain terms. It was pushed and pushed and pushed. It wasn't whether you would go into full time service, but where and how you were going to serve. I don't think that whole idea was proven scripturally ever to me, but it had an influence on all of us who there in that era. I don't remember, let's call it, "celebrity-ism" being a problem in fundamentalism at that time, unless I was missing something.
Yes, there were celebrity Christians, in the sense of big-named preachers. You could become a big fish in a small pond, but there were no "worldly" celebrities that anyone pointed up. In my consideration, as I remember it, I would have been ashamed of myself if I didn't go into full time service.
The reasoning for going Christian and not secular, which is how it hashed itself out, was in no given order: time is short, the laborers are few, eternity is long, God is worth it, people are going to hell, nothing is more important, you only have one life, nothing is better, everything else is temporal, the church is the most important and greatest institution, Christians are different, believers judge importance differently, among many other related reasons. All of these still apply when you start to decide what you will do with your life.
With everything I just said, in my entire Christian school class of around 40 more or less, only two of us are pastors. I know of at least one other pastor's wife, I think, and I'm not trying to miss anybody. I attended Maranatha Baptist Academy in Watertown, WI.
Maranatha had a sports program: football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, softball, a little bit of track and field and cross country. I lettered four years in football and basketball and track and field, the latter at the college wasn't taken seriously. We didn't have a track or field. We just ran. I didn't practice the high jump or long jump. I just jumped at meets to get more points. But I remember looking over and seeing Dr. Cedarholm standing on the side of the track alone, watching us run. No one else was there. It did make an impression at the time. Dr. Cedarholm was a bit of a celebrity himself. He was a giant in the history of fundamentalism, had himself participated in the starting of hundreds of churches, but also graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1940, having lettered in football, track, baseball, tennis, and water polo. We all knew this about him, but he never ever brought it up. He would mention sports, but I don't remember him talking about his personal accolades.
Things have changed today, and mostly not for the better, especially related to celebrity. I think there is evidence for this all over. I see it with Bob Jones University invitation to Tim Tebow to come to campus there. In a bigger picture, cultural way, I'm a Tim Tebow fan. He gets attacked for his faith by the public. We should defend that aspect of and for him. However, I think it's a blatant, serious error that BJU is inviting him to campus, promoting him in a fundraiser, because of his celebrity. Sure, they can raise more money, but there are other ways this will cause serious damage, because it sends the wrong message about what is important. Tebow himself is a compromiser and contrary to the historic values of fundamentalism and by having him, it really doesn't matter if someone compromises like him.
Maranatha now has its celebrities with Nate Oats coaching Buffalo men's basketball and Tom Allen coaching Indiana football. In and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with having a job in the secular world, and these are high paying jobs, which determines a certain amount of success on their part. When I was in college, what they've done would have been discouraged for all the reasons I gave above. Dr. Cedarholm would not have emphasized these accomplishments, because it's not what he wanted. He wanted full time Christian servants. You will get more of what you emphasize. If I was good enough to have "gone on to succeed in the world," Maranatha would have seen that as a sort of failure and would have mourned the loss. Instead of preaching, he went for the worldly success is how it would have looked and been framed at the time. I would have agreed. I still do.
I don't think we should promote worldly success. I think we should be lifting up mainly those who give up their lives to preach and evangelize. I don't think we should be pushing our Christian kids in a different direction. I believe that Jesus had this in mind when He said on various occasions something like, "let the dead bury the dead." Unbelievers can bury the dead. Only believers can do the work of the Lord. We need more Christian workers. There is more to what I'm saying than just going on to worldly success. It includes the temptations for these celebrities that are emulated. How many of them stay pure in their secular roles?
I would assume that Nate Oats or Tom Allen would have benefited from their time at Maranatha. I'm sure that the biblical teaching still helps them and comes out in what they do. However, can they really live all of the Bible and remain in those positions? Should this not be taken into consideration in what they do?
The #BuffaloBulls head coach Nate Oats has expressed his commitment to LGBTQ inclusion #MarchMadnesshttps://t.co/h9xKvHDeWq pic.twitter.com/Cwk3iL1xiW— Outsports (@outsports) March 16, 2018
I'm talking about this kind of thing, now probably required to be in this position, but is it true? As a Christian can you represent the truth as a celebrity?
Scripture doesn't exalt the tentmaking of the Apostle Paul. When the disciples came back from evangelism in Luke 10 and they talked about the devils being subject to them in Jesus' name, the Lord said, "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Even certain good things He did not want them to promote. Paul's celebrity he called, "dung." Whatever he could glorify in a secular sense, he counted as loss. None of it was important.
If someone is a hardworking breadwinner, of good character, and a faithful husband and father, celebrity will not come come from that. As churches, we don't want to emphasize what the world sees as popular or important. In certain instances, we want to rebuke it or repudiate it. Celebrity should not stop us from doing that, just because we feel the glow from the celebrity or the knowledge of the celebrity. It adds nothing to the value of Christ, His life and truth, and His institution.
I include in this essay my own son. He graduated first in his class from a charter school and was accepted at West Point. He served in the United States embassy in Poland. He's a Captain in the U. S. Army, who has qualified for special forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. What difference does any of that make if he's not faithful to God? Is any of that any better than if I reported that he was a local manager at a 7-11 and in his church, evangelizing weekly and living for Jesus Christ? I don't believe so. All of his accomplishments should be nothing but a means to an end. If it gets in the way of his faithfulness to God, it should not be celebrated. Like I said above, it should be mourned. If he can't and is not going to use it for God, then it is worthless. It means nothing. I see the Army as a potential threat of what is eternal and of true importance. I tell him that all the time. He assures me he wants to be used of God. I will be happy if that is the case. If I say anything on this blog about what he's doing, it's because I have people read here who know the family and would want to know what's happening.
The instinct in evangelicalism and now fundamentalism toward celebrity is a destructive one. It won't help. It could only hurt. If believers reach celebrity, we should not celebrate the celebrity. We should rejoice only that their names are written down in heaven.