One or two commentators have referenced Newspring’s oft-repeated mission of making Jesus famous, a term that is also in widespread use beyond Newspring. It’s a phrase that has long bothered me for its carelessness. I’ve tried to use Google to help me understand what its users think the term means and where it comes from, though I haven’t been able to turn up anything substantive yet.
Perhaps someone can tell me what is meant by it, but I suspect that its overuse is more a product of a fame-fueled media culture than of careful biblical reasoning. Here’s why I think it’s a weak foundation to base a church’s entire mission on:
- Fame is usually incompatible with knowledge. Consider someone like Alex Rodriguez. He’s a famous athlete, though the more we know of him, the smaller he gets. He may still be as famous, especially since the steroid story attracted the attention of people who don’t pay attention to baseball, but his fame has certainly turned into something very different now. Also, is anyone still listening to Milli Vanilli?
- Fame is independent of knowledge. We all know of people who are famous for being famous. Paris Hilton comes to mind. In this sense, we see how the fame-making mission of the church is consistent with the usually hostile responses given to people who ask for more teaching about Jesus. You’re being selfish; go and invite someone else to church, is the customary and curt response. Of course it is. Knowledge of Christ is an optional and self-indulgent accessory.
- Fame is a merely a state of awareness, not an attitude or belief. For someone to be famous, it just requires a relatively large number of people to be aware of a person, regardless of what they think of him or her. For example, Barack Obama is probably the most famous living person in the world, but almost half the people (at least of Americans) who generate his fame disagree with him, and some even want him to fail. Fame and persuasion are very distant relatives.
- Fame is independent of the famous. A person’s fame vacillates depending on how many people are disposed to think of that person. For example, Britney Spears’ fame increases whenever I think about her (not often), and it decreases when I forget her. This is why you find so many Hollywood has-beens in reality shows; they need to remind people to think of them again. Britney Spears has no inherent fame; it’s totally dependent on us.
- It suggests I can do something to change some quality of Christ. To emphasize Jesus’ fame puts his wholeness in my hands. My attention has the power to make Jesus greater or smaller. Heaven forfend. If it were possible for the whole world to forget about Jesus, would he be diminished in any way? If the whole world started talking about him, would he be enhanced in any way? Absolutely not. Jesus did not care about fame when he walked the earth; in fact, he often rejected it when it was his for the taking, telling recipients of miracles not to tell anyone about it.
The KJV uses the word fame to describe several instances of news of Jesus spreading throughout the land. Most are simply descriptive of Jesus’ effect on the people, though the most interesting usage is in Luke 5:15, where the news of Jesus is linked to a public response to him. In contrast to other uses of fame, this one uses the word logos, which denotes knowledge based on teaching and doctrine.
Oh, and what did Jesus do after attracting all that fame? Check out verse 16. He withdrew to a lonely place and prayed.
I understand the well-intentioned impulse behind the drive to make Jesus famous, and I recognize, along with the Gospel writers, that preaching about Jesus will have that effect. My argument is that fame is a low-value product of our following the Great Commission, not the raison d’etre for it.
Jesus didn’t ask us to be his publicists. He simply asked us to make disciples.
Update: If not fame, then what?