A number of years ago, while I was still a Christian, there was a large amount of buzz re: a pop band called Sixpence None The Richer. You see, Sixpence None the Richer, or simply "Sixpence", is a Christian group. You'd never know it, from their best known song "Kiss Me", but it's true. They had a quasi-successful run, in the Christian music world, before exploding on to the larger scene around the late 90's. As a result of their new prominence, lead singer Leigh Nash was invited to chat a little with David Letterman. Here's what happened...
Now, as you can see, Letterman threw the door wide open for Nash to talk about her faith, if only but for a brief moment. I've actually got to hand it to her for staying on message, amidst all of the interruptions and distractions. Come to think of it I always liked Sixpence actually and, in certain ways, I still do. Anyway Nash said her piece, Letterman agreed that it was a "beautiful" sentiment, and that was it. No big deal, right? Well, if that's what you think, than oh how wrong you are :). Had you been a Christian, at the time, you would have realized that this was in fact a HUGE deal. A cool Christian artist, now respected by the mainstream music world, mentioned C.S. Lewis on national TV; not only that, but she gave a "clear presentation of the gospel message"! You would have thought, from the reaction of Sixpence's Christian fans, that secular viewers the world over were falling on their faces that night, in front of the TV, giving their lives to Christ right then and there. Had they stopped to really think about it, of course, these same Christians would have freely admitted how ridiculous this sounds. It's just that strong emotion has a way of preventing rational analysis. As a Christian, all you feel certain of is that it's an awesome witnessing opportunity that God can (somehow?) use for his glory and benefit; and that's about as much thought as you put into it (then it's forgotten until the next witnessing opportunity comes along).
Looking back, I realize how completely silly it was for us to get even slightly excited about what Leigh Nash said on Letterman that night. It was barely noteworthy, but you never would have known that *from within the Christian bubble*.
Of course, this same sort of thing still goes on today. The recent Tim Tebow phenomenon is the most obvious example. There are plenty of others. Christians also get pretty pumped when Christians songs are performed on American Idol. I've additionally noticed that my believing friends are more inclined to follow (and root for) the Christian performers who happen to make it into the top 12. And if a "Christian artist" is invited to perform on the Grammy's, that's an even bigger deal. Such a thing, on the rare occasions it happens, becomes a major topic of conversation & post-analysis for several days afterward.
But there is a question that rarely occurs to Christians in these sorts of scenarios; what do public professions of faith accomplish?
My belief now is that they accomplish nothing at all, except they excite and energize the "in-group" members (fellow Christians). This, and this alone, is the true result. At the end of the day, it's just sort of neat to think that some really famous person holds to your worldview.
It's also worth pointing out that in-group/out-group dynamics are a clear development of evolution, yet many of the Christians who are most prone to this sort of in-group favoritism don't themselves even believe in evolution (oh, the irony)!
All of this would be well and good, I suppose, were Christians to realize that it was just about in-group dynamics, and probably nothing more. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. You witness the same sort of dynamics at play, among atheists, when Ricky Gervais plugs his atheism at the end of the Golden Globe's. We're just happy to have atheism mentioned, because it shows that he's "one of us". But I don't think that most Christians would be willing to fully concede that this is what it's truly about. I suspect the majority of them sincerely believe, as I once did, that ground is somehow being mysteriously taken for Christ in the public sphere. Is there any hard evidence to suggest that proclamations of faith lead anyone closer to accepting that Jesus was God and he died for your sins? No, there certainly isn't to my knowledge. And why should there be?
Now, I suppose it could be argued that celebrity witnessing opportunities provide a sort of reverse peer pressure, especially for impressionable young people who are already being pulled away by "the world". After all, teens often idolize rock stars and athletes, and it can't hurt for them to know that there are some cool Christians out there. But if this is actually true it would only further illustrate a dangerous phenomenon that I've discussed on this blog before; namely that, in my observation, Christians tend to convert for an assortment of emotional (rather than intellectual) reasons. Do we really want to be teaching our kids to make massive life decisions, about their worldview, based on what others happen to think? I certainly would never want my children to embrace atheism, simply because it was the "in" thing to do or because some celebrity they liked was an atheist.
What Christians also fail to remember, in the heat of the moment, is that most non-Christians (at least here in the Western world) are already familiar with the Christian message. They've very likely considered Christianity previously, and have their own (often very private) reasons for not embracing it. So the mere mention of C.S. Lewis, or John 3:16, or how God helped you win your award, will probably have absolutely zero effect on the general public. Zero. If you want to promote your faith anyway, go nuts, but please don't fool yourself into thinking that it equates to an influential witnessing opportunity the Holy Spirit is using in people's lives. It may get your fellow Christians talking, but that's about it.