By: Stephen McAlpine
If you haven’t seen the Youtube video of enfant terrible/comedian/possible sexual predator (choose your poison) Russell Brand declaring that he’s getting seriously interested in Christianity – nay, seriously interested in Christ himself – then stop everything and watch it now.
Well that’s kinda putting it out there, particularly given the blowback he’s going to get. He’s the pop culture version of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that veritable public intellect who has also declared that she is now a Christian (to considerable suspicion from some evangelical Christians, and considerable horror from the likes of Richard Dawkins).
Brand is either a likeable larrikin or a loathsome Lothario. He’s going to be met with scorn or cynicism. He’s just trying to get off the hook for all the yucky sex stuff he’s accused of, isn’t he? Surely he’s the modern day version of Chuck Colson who declared he was a Christian to try and diffuse the effects of Watergate and lighten his sentence, isn’t he? I mean it didn’t last with Chuck did it? I mean, what did he ever do after Watergate that has stood the test of Christian time?
What Brand is, he’s interesting, even if I find some of his conspiracy theory stuff way overblown. And in a world in which the biggest crime is being “uninteresting”, he’s not guilty your honour! Even if he is in fact guilty for a lot of other stuff.
But in the videos I’ve watched of him – and I’ve watched a lot of them because he piqued my curiosity a few years back – he’s always been searching. He’s always, and this is almost unique among his celebrity type, just that little bit humble. In other words, he gives people the respect they deserve in order to speak what they believe without interrupting them. And he has exhibited a curiosity towards opinions or issues he disagrees with. In other words, the exact opposite of just about everyone else who is completely secure in their righteousness.
I dare say, now that Russell Brand has “come out” so to speak, there’ll be pushback from more progressive types of Christians who believe that God would be better off saving Greta Thunberg for example, or at least someone else that the modern world views a secular saint. Or at least someone too worthy not to be hanging on a cross on either side of Jesus.
Yet even I am more intrigued by Brand than Ali. There’s a sense in which she sees the huge cultural need for an anchor such as the Christian faith that grounded the West, and gave it the virtues that the post-Christian secular world just assumes are part of the air we breathe (big shout out to Glen Scrivener).
While Ali is no doubt on a journey to Jesus via the cultural path, there’s no doubt that Brand sees the need of a personal relationship. Hey he even quoted the Bible, and not one of those passages that tells you how to live, but one of those passages (he says from Galatians), that tell you you have to die!
I’ll be honest with you, no one truly gets the gospel if they think it’s about a lifestyle change first and foremost. A person only gets the gospel when they realise that the first thing they need to do is die – die to the self and the old life, and be born again. For Brand this is not social, it’s personal.
Here’s another fact: Because it’s Brand, you’re sceptical. And I get it. He’s a major celeb, with a pretty chequered past in which things that he did that were celebrated by the media, are now hugely frowned upon by the media. Having indulged the man at his worst, the same organisations now excoriate him. They are self-righteous to the back teeth. Something he no longer seems to be.
But let your scepticism lie. If you had a friend that was as dodgy and crazy and confused as Brand, and they suddenly said “Hey, I’m thinking about Christianity and I’ve started reading the Bible”, you’d be over there like a shot, ready to do Two Ways To Live or The Roman Road, with him.
After all, we’ve all got “that friend”. You know, the one who constantly makes bad decisions, does things you would never dream of doing, disgraces themselves at the work function, or can’t sort out their relational life without train-wrecking someone else’s. And if you don’t know who that person is in your life, chances are it’s you! 😉
But in this most zealous of secular ages, since Brand’s not the “right type” to become a Christian (more Zacchaeus than woman at the well, you see), you’re going to give him a wide berth, and assume it’s just Russell being Russell. After all God doesn’t save our enemies does he? He only saves the people we approve of and who kinda merit his salvation according to the secular totem pole of intersectionality.
Though he saved you. And he saved me. So there’s that.
What does it all mean? Well, if we can say it means anything in this celebrity-soaked age, it means that someone is publicly declaring he identifies with Jesus. And in an age when that can mean social suicide. And social media suicide for someone whose career depends on it.
But then again, I guess when everything you say is written down and used against you on social media, with cancellation hovering over your head from the righteous of this age, you might as well go for broke. Jesus is far more forgiving of sin than the secular purists are. Which is to say that he is a pardoning God, and there are none like him, and they are unforgiving demons, and they are a dime a dozen.
As an aside, I think this recent spate of well-known people deciding that, against the odds and against the cultural celebrity and media norm, that they are going to identify with Jesus, is a signal that something has shifted in the West. It certainly feels that Aslan may be on the move again and that a secular hoary winter is about to be thawed. Too early to tell just yet, but there’s something in the air for sure. I do mention this trend in my latest book, Futureproof: How To Live For Jesus In A Culture That’s Always Changing, which comes out on Feb 1st.
So leave him alone I say. Give him some air – even if the only thing he knows how to do is to make statements about everything in his life on social media to millions of people. If you don’t get that, then you need to clue yourself up on how the modern world works.
If Russell does indeed decide to follow Jesus, then along with every other Christian, that decision will be verified by the fruit of a transformed life. There will be change. He will leave sin behind. He will gladly suffer for the gospel. He will not be ashamed of Jesus. He will have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness. You know, like all the stuff you do, right?
So leave him alone, unless you’re that Christian friend (or Alistair McGrath who he interviewed a while back), and then it’s your job to show him from the Scriptures how these things are true. But if you don’t belong to either of those two categories (check quickly to ensure that you’re NOT Alistair McGrath in case it was something you’d forgotten), then let Russell Brand be. Cos here’s a Scripture worth considering:
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. (1 Tim 1:15-17)
Hear that? The primary reason Jesus Christ came into the world was not to sort out climate change. The primary reason Jesus Christ came into the world was not to ensure national borders were secure and migration limited. The primary reason – indeed the only reason cited by Paul here – is to save sinners. Of whom, says Paul – “I” am chief.
Does anyone reading this think that Paul’s standing with the earliest believers when he first announced he was a follower of Jesus, was any different to the standing of Russell Brand among the righteous of our day? Incredulity, scepticism and, in the case of Paul in particular, more than a little fear.
For many Russell Brand is the worst of sinners. Which is why he doesn’t deserve Jesus. And when you’re not only thinking that, but coming out and saying it, then you’ve got a problem.
When it comes to Russell and his branding of himself as Christian, then I urge you to take these words to heart, after Jesus heals the Roman centurion’s servant:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)
East and West. Left and Right. Conservative and Progressive. Climate Changers and Climate Change Deniers. Biden voter or Trump voter. Name your inside running-status in whatever you have envisaged the kingdom to be. Then put it aside for a moment.
Because whoever your enemy may be, don’t gnash your teeth at their fumbling attempts to find Jesus in this age, or you might find, to your surprise, that just like those in Jesus’ day who considered themselves to be on the inside running, that you are left – to your horror and eternal anger – gnashing your own teeth in the age-to-come.
Article supplied with thanks to Stephen McAlpine
About the Author: Stephen has been reading, writing and reflecting ever since he can remember. He is the lead pastor of Providence Church Midland, and in his writing dabbles in a number of fields, notably theology and culture. Stephen and his family live in Perth’s eastern suburbs, where his wife Jill runs a clinical psychology practice.
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