Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Destructive Instinct of Evangelicalism and Now Fundamentalism for and with Celebrity

This is an unrelated post related to the one below, but I wanted to draw attention to it here by Victor David Hansen, titled, Camouflaged Elites.  I wish evangelicals would take into consideration, and now fiundamentalists, as they mime the culture.  They should be leading, but they conform.  Sad.


When I attended a Bible college and seminary in the 1980s, the founder and president incessantly talked about its grads going into "full time service" and touted full time service, full time service, and more full time service.  He may have been wrong on his statistics, but I heard him all the time talking about 90 plus percent going into full time service.  The words "full time service" are not in the Bible.  I would contend that every Christian is in full time service for and to the Lord, but I also get what Dr. Cedarholm, as we called him, B. Myron Cedarholm, was talking about.  He wanted the students in full time Christian service, meaning pastors, missionaries, "evangelists," Christian school teachers, and any other positions like that.

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?

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 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.


Farmer Brown said...

I attended MBBC with Nate Oats. He is the son of Larry Oats, the head of the Bible department when I was at MBBC.

I went off to MBBC believing in preservation. Larry Oats helped to disabuse me of that notion. While Arno Winegar was assuring my pastor MBBC was a KJV school, Oats was saying “God could have preserved His Word but history proves He did not.”

Not only saying it but using peer pressure and brow beating to compel change. You were a slow-witted Neanderthal if you still held to that old KJV. My parents sent me off to college where I learned to deny my faith.

Nate Oats was not inclusive when he was in his own church with his parents and pastor. I wonder if Larry considers that, like my parents, he sent his son off to college (Buffalo), where he no doubt faced peer pressure and mockery for his belief, and where he learned to deny his faith.

Bill Hardecker said...

1 Samuel 16:7 "But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." Externalism rejected. There's a lot to consider in this article, Pastor Brandenburg. Thank you.

Tyler Robbins said...

The audiences are different now. Both MBU and BJU have left the "bible college" model far behind, are they're now universities which offer a whole range of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Thus, their advertising and basic purpose is completely different. They don't primarily exist to train Christian workers in camps, local churches and for the mission field. Now, they exist to provide a Christian education for a variety of contexts.

That is why the messaging is different; the context has changed.

Interestingly, the MBU mission statement still reads, "develop leaders for ministry in the local church and the world 'To the Praise of His Glory.'” I'm not sure that's really the case, any longer. MBU offers an associates in criminal justice, for example. That really doesn't go towards leadership in local church ministry!

Kent Brandenburg said...


I remember Nate as a little boy, still have that image of him in my mind. I'm sorry about the bad influence.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think that's one good application of that verse. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...


BJU has always been a liberal arts university. My wife went there and majored in Biology. I've kept up with Maranatha, and see the trajectory. I think I have a pretty good handle on it, but I appreciate a pretty good defense coming from you from your perspective. MBU is more of a BJU now. I get it. I knew that.

I'm looking at this a trend of compromise. I think they've already been doing that, but this is a dangerous iteration of the slide. I'm warning about it, but also informing about it. I think it's a bad emphasis that I see throughout. If they want to do that, and they believe it, that's who they are, then more power to them. People should beware though. They shouldn't think well of it. Young people should consider their choices, what's important, what's eternal, all that I wrote.

Let's say an MBU was an inventor, a George Washington Carver, saved Southern farming type of person, I would applaud it. If believer led troops and did a Sergeant York, yes! I don't think believers should be sponging off society. We should contribute too. We don't have to have all the dummies, so to speak, but we've got watch what we 'emphasize,' Tyler. They don't have to promote it. They could leave it alone. Honor the godly ones, the ones who take a stand.

I'm dealing with this in principle. It's not even personal with me. I was happy to see Buffalo beat Arizona and I liked the way Buffalo played basketball. They deserved to win. I watched much of it online at home here. What kind of excitement do they have for a biblical strong stand? In certain cases today, they try to marginalize people who do that. Sometimes now, it's whoever makes them look good or what they like. So that's what they will get too. Why not have everyone do that then? They know they'll get promoted if they do. It should be assumed. Behavior that is rewarded will recur.

What if, instead, you had someone who really loved basketball and was very good and athletic and disciplined (or football or soccer or whatever), and he decided he would give that up to preach somewhere and served in obscurity and never succeeded in either the world's or fundamentalism's? From the perspective of fundamentalism, why do that? Why give up what they will reward for what they do not reward? Top mention to secular basketball coaches who capitulate and low mention to separated preachers in anonymity.

This, my friend, is my point. I hope people would have gotten that.

Baptist Believer said...

Why is Maranatha supporting someone who is publicly supporting the LGBTQABCDEF community? I didn't think that they have gone that liberal yet.

Tyler Robbins said...

Baptist Believer and all:

Those who castigate Nate Oats for some alleged "capitulation" fail to realize two things; (1) the embedded tweet misrepresents the context (I suggest you watch the video from Buffalo linked in this tweet), and (2) you're extraordinarily naive about how to be a leader in a secular workforce.

First, the context. The video says, "if you can play, you can play." Oats isn't supporting LGBTQ inclusion, as though he's some crusader who seeks to overturn morality. The video makes the statement that anyone who has athletic ability, no matter who he is, can have a fair shot at playing sports at the university. The video was spun to promote a pro-LGBTQ agenda by those who tweeted it. That's to be expected.

Second, let's discuss real life. I manage a state-wide investigations unit. Suppose the HR manager walks up to me tomorrow, and asks, "Tyler, do you think anyone who has the education and skills deserves a fair shot at being a new Senior Investigator in your unit?"

I'll then say, "Absolutely!"

HR lady: "Even if he's an atheist, or gay, or both?

Me: "No matter who someone is, if he can do the hob, I'll interview him!"

Agency blog post = "Investigations Manager supports LGBTQ inclusion!"

Am I really supporting LBGTQ inclusion? Or, am I simply being fair with the way I do my job in the secular world? You can extend this example anywhere; even to the military today. I served on active-duty for 10 years. I guarantee you Kent's son, as a shiny O-3, would NEVER tell his superior officer that a gay servce-member should be marked down on an annual performance review for being gay. Is Kent's son now "supporting LGBTQ inclusion?" I could go on, but the examples and applications are endless.

Let's examine context, and consider the challenges and practical realities of leading in the real world - the real SECULAR world.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Tyler,

IMO, you've still not spoken to the actual point of my post. I'm open to how you have. Do you think this support of celebrity is not a problem?

My senior year, I was all-conference, 1st team, Upper Midwest Conference basketball. I remember at the mid point of the season averaging 26.5 points a game, shooting 57% from the field, playing the best team of the conference, scoring a particular basket and their coach, which was a legend, saying to me as I ran by him, that was NBA. I got a letter from the Milwaukee Bucks at the end of the season offering me a tryout. I didn't talk about this in the post, because it would be considered sort of self-serving. Let's say I said, yes. I didn't. I turned it down. But let's say I made it. Personally, I think my best sport was football, as a wide receiver, because I was big enough and fast enough, but let's say I went that direction, became a professional. Would MBU be more impressed with that in their reaction or with what I'm doing?

My point really wasn't even about MBU, but about the culture of celebrity celebration in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, which is destructive. Kids see what is rewarded and celebrated. We know what the world likes, but we've got to be different on that. You've said nothing about that point, which was the entire point, unless I really wasn't clear. I don't want my son thinking that way. He tells me he doesn't. I'm saying that publically. I'm repudiating that. Are evangelicals and fundamentalists repudiating that?

By the way, I don't feel an iota of jealousy or desire to have done something different. I really believe what I believe. I don't think I would be better off, having gone that direction. It was a major reason for my choice, not being better off, which I actually made in 10th grade. Even if I had succeeded in the world, what difference would it make in 100 years?

A certain picture is portrayed of what Nate is doing. Very positive. There is something positive about it. He's a good coach, a success, a hard working man. There are many negatives too, even in what I hear Nate say in interviews and articles. I'm sure he's way better than most, and that's how people want him to be judged. I think we've got to balance that off, hence the tweet. I think there is a problem appearing in an ad like that. You might be inclusive in that sense, but will you use your voice to promote it. Does that clash with God, the Bible? That's different than your scenario that you are presenting.

I don't think we want to try to give balance on this type of inclusion. At the worst, silence, but not attempting to defend it. It doesn't need defense, especially from Christians.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent

Appreciate your article. Exactly right. One wonders about the "If you can play" video/ad. What would happen to a coach who refused to participate in the video? End of career, I bet.

Reminded me of an article from a Canadian paper, the National Post.

The writer is some sort of Christian, I gather. Or professing Christian anyway. He alludes to the story of Daniel's cohorts who refused to bow to the statue. The author of the article quotes the line, "But if not..." from that story and notes how it was used by an officer serving in WWII. The point of the phrase is that the young men were ready to die, trusting God, but would not bow.

Unfortunately, a lot of people today will bow for a pay check, for prestige, for whatever. There is no "but if not" with them.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Don.

I agree. Thanks for the heads up on the article.

Tyler Robbins said...

Kent, I agree with your article. My two comments are just minor points. I think MBU would trumpet your basketball success now, rather than your faithful ministry - because basketball is sexier and sells.

I remain very skeptical that Nate Oats is capitulating to anything. He isn't bowing to a paycheck. No Christian could hold a leadership position in secular America and openly castigate the LGBTQ lobby. Those who criticize Oats on this one fail to appreciate the context of public leadership in a secular world. Anyone who holds a leadership position outside a local church understands this. Those church leaders who cannot appreciate the tightrope these leaders have to walk are isolating themselves from practical reality.

Good article. My main point about MBU morphing into a liberal arts University is that the emphasis on "full-time service" will naturally fall away, to be replaced by advertisements for alumni success in the secular world. There are less and less Bible colleges, now. The mania for celebrity doesn't help. Sad.

Jerry Wilhite said...

In watching the Buffalo promo video about diversity and inclusivity, I noted at the 1:04 mark a wrestling coach (I presume) stating that they were unopposed to any regardless of "race, gender...religion." One wonders how true that really is. "If you can play, you can play" is repeated again and again. One wonders if you can teach, you can teach; and if you can coach, you can coach. Am I wrong to assume that with a winning record, five year contract, and nation-wide respect a coach could say almost anything and have a listening audience without fear of reprisal? I mean, couldn't a Christian coach "come out of the closet" about his Christianity or at least that of his upbringing and make statements about God, Christ, eternal life, holiness, Biblical standards on cultural issues? I understand Tim Tebow has done some of that, but that still is no excuse for BJU to promote him there on their campus. I can't see Christ, the apostles, Paul OR any of the foregoing BJU presidents doing that.

I realize that this was not the intent of your blog. In 1986 when I finished at Maranatha I was working at UPS to put food on the table. A full time position opened and I was in line for it and actually offered it, but I didn't believe God called me to Watertown, WI to work at UPS the rest of my life. Dr. Cedarholm's emphasis on eternity and working for Christ in a full time way rang in my ears, so my wife and I sold nearly everything in a garage sale, packed up the remaining items and headed to the Poconos to re-start a church with eight souls. We saw God work in lives, meet special needs, give us more children, and direct us in marvelous and providential ways. I wouldn't trade that for anything--fame, fortune, or fraternization with the world.

To use a phrase an former BJU president said, "Keep on keeping on" Brother B. It is apparent that some aren't.

Jerry Wilhite

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thanks for the post and your comments. Do you think rejecting the Bucks and fame in this world made it easier to follow Scripture on the matter of promotion and marketing, to just obey Scripture and please Christ, even if it meant losing IFB "bigshot" status?

Baptist Believer said...


Just so you know the concerns I share on here are with all sincerity. I am a person that hates conflict if it can be avoided. That said. After watching the schools video it is pretty clear what the message is. If he was misrepresented he should publicly say so. I am only left to believe that either Nate does support the LGBT community or that his fear of man is greater than his dedication to the Bible. If you believe it is OK for a Christian to allow themselves to be used to promote sin so that they can keep their job then you better show me solid biblical evidences for such. I know it isn't an easy position for Nate to be in but even people like Tebow have stood up for his beliefs even though he did and does get attacked for it.

That being said why would Maranatha spotlight him around the same time that this comes out? I have children that will be college age in no time. Maranatha is one of the top schools I was wanting them to attend. After seeing this I am having second thoughts. Now maybe Maranatha is in the dark about this. That is hard to believe though considering his dad is a professor there. I know Christian schools can go downhill fast. It happened to my wife's University and it has happened to places such as Northland. Society will continue to increase the pressure on Christians. One just needs to look at lawsuits against bakers and photographers. Are we going to teach the next generation of Christians to buckle under pressure or stand firm?

Kent Brandenburg said...


You make a good point about the video. "If you can play, you can play." It's a lie, because the diversity only goes one way. If you, homosexuals can play, you can play. If you Bible-preaching, conservative Christian, who hates homosexuality can play, you can play. Nope, you can't play. I just read the following -- -- commentary by Supreme Court justices on this very point, fearing that their decisions would result in loss of freedom for Christians who reject homosexuality.

I think your decision not to stay at UPS is a similar decision. It's not a fame position, but it is a money position.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for the question. There is a parallel. I'm not going to do that, because I'm here for God. Whatever your purpose is, whatever motivates you, should continue to be your purpose and what motivates you. Jesus will judge us by His Words (Jn 12:48).

Kent Brandenburg said...

Baptist Believer,

What I see often in fundamentalism today ranks doctrines in a way that allows for violating scripture. As long as you believe the gospel, the other stuff is non-essential. It gives a lot of leeway in a lot of other areas.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I understand. Thanks.

EarthIsNotMyMother said...

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)