I have not been surprised by the gushing and fawning over the entertainer known as “Prince” among worldly people. We expect unbelievers to gush and fawn over the luminaries of pop culture, and to act as if their deaths are momentous historic milestones to be marked with sober reflections and pious praise. For unbelievers, this life and its pleasures are all they have as a claim to significance. What has surprised me is the gushing and fawning from Christians.
For example, I offer Denny Burk, conservative evangelical college professor, who at least has the common sense to feel a little sheepish about his devotion to the man:
I’m a huge fan of the artist formerly known as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” His music was the soundtrack of about a decade of my young life. In some ways, that is a sad commentary because so much of what he sang about was foul and salacious.
Even more surprising is the lengths to which evangelical Christianity’s flagship magazine, Christianity Today, went to genuflect before Mr. Nelson’s entertainment career:
When word of Prince’s death hit yesterday, what followed was a connected string of remembrances. Over and over, certain words and phrases reappeared: magical, immortal, supernatural. Like the death of David Bowie just a few months ago, Prince Roger Nelson’s death was shocking because most assumed he was already immortal. And yet, he is gone, at the age of 57.
These are just the Christian writer’s first sixty words! He goes on like this for almost 1,400 more!
At least Burk and Christianity Today made some use of the man’s full name, which is entirely appropriate when reflecting on a man’s life. Even they, however, quickly reverted to the six-letter mononym, as if to talk about him in any other way would be sacrilegious. I understand why the entertainer used a stage name – it created a sense of mystique and differentiation for him, as it did for Liberace and still does, I suppose, for Cher. But his show is over. We should respect him as a fellow human being, not grovel before an image he had been embellishing and projecting for the purpose of increasing his popularity.
Again, I’m talking about my being perplexed by Christians invoking these “worshipful” tones toward a man who 1) was not known for promoting the Lord Jesus, and 2) was known for promoting sensuality and sexuality. This is what perplexes me.
What I am about to say next, I say to every Christian, and can be applied to any pop star.
If you mourn for Prince Rogers Nelson because he is a fellow human being worthy of our appreciation as a fellow human being, I understand.
If you mourn for him because you were friend or family to him, I understand.
If you mourn for him because you were the beneficiary of some act of kindness he bestowed on you or someone else, I understand.
If you mourn because he was a great entertainer and an extremely talented musician and singer, I only “sort of” understand. But it’s not as though he was Mother Theresa feeding orphans in the slums of Calcutta. Why talk about his work in the same reverential way? Besides, there are other entertainers…and the world will always have its music. Is music more important than righteousness? Do you think Jesus is more impressed by a fancy guitar lick than by turning the other cheek?
If, however, you are a Christian and you mourn Nelson’s loss because of the “greatness” of his life and impact on our generation, then I am really perplexed. I have to question how deeply the knowledge of Jesus Christ – and what He considered to qualify as “greatness” – has seeped into your consciousness. Do you really take Jesus’ teachings to heart?
If you know much about my perspective on His teachings, you know that I believe every human being goes to heaven. Therefore, Prince Rogers Nelson enjoys a place somewhere there. And I am for this reason happy for him. However, he did not achieve residence in heaven because of his career as an entertainer, but rather because of the magnanimous grace of the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. And the same will go for you and me.
If anyone deserves gushing and fawning, it is the One who has made a place for everyone in heaven. In fact, He deserves a glowing eulogy every day that we take a breath.