Look out Lifeway.
Justin Bieber has got his powerful sights set towards you and your corner on the Bible study market. Actually, Justin is not going to bring you down. In reality it’s the only person with more clout than the dreamy eye wonder boy, the one who holds the purse strings to his allowance and the sole curfew enforcer: his mom.
In addition to the mega movie release of “Never Say Never” on February 11, Justin’s mom, Patti Mallette, has co-wrote and released a movie discussion guide that is focused around Justin’s Christian faith. The guide, “Never Say Never: Nothing is Impossible with God,” is meant to complement the movie and introduce the reader to the Christian disciplines behind Justin’s success: Prayer, Godly friends, Hard Work, etc. You may be surprised to hear this from me, but a lot of the material is not bad really; I regret to admit there is more Scripture in this study than many a Sunday School study series I have partaken in during my adult life (yes, I have actually viewed the study, and no, you cannot have my man card). The depth is on par with any study you may observe in the education halls of your typical Southern Baptist or United Methodist Church. Other than a few prominent photos, Bieber is not really made much of or overly exploited (where have you gone Joe Simpson, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you?).
So it should come as no wild revelation that this is not an expository study exploring the propitiatory substitutionary atonement in the prophetic depiction of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 53. The audience is hyper-hormonal school girls with probably a third grade reading level and the theological background of Spongebob Squarepants.
I’ve taken into account that the intended audience is pre-teeny boppers and not a fat balding twenty-seven year old white guy with a blog, and yet, there is still one justified gripe: There is no clear biblical gospel presentation anywhere in the literature, an unfortunate fact considering the idol Bieber is in the hearts of adulating middle school chicas everywhere. It would have made this Baptist dance a gig (in a very awkward white sort of way) if the guide had proposed the work and person of Jesus Christ as the only eternal cure for the worldwide outbreak of Bieber fever. But, then again, I would challenge you to find a clear gospel presentation in the Bible studies your church uses on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. Justin Bieber can’t be blamed for the shocking gospel ignorance of the American church. Like the old adage goes: If the tide gets low enough every shrimp has it’s own island.
And, yes, the tactics used do reek of seeker sensitive bait and switch models. Draw the masses in with their flesh (super hott teen idol) and then subversively slip a little Jesus in their juice. I don’t like it, but part of me has come to expect it by now. If the people are drawn in with carnal means, they will have to be kept in with carnal means. When the winds of adversity blow as they surely will, a revelation of the cross of Jesus is gonna keep them in the faith and in church, not a cultural icon.
I’m neither completely encouraged nor discouraged by this recent development. Just because greedy marketers have found a profitable niche in the family values populace, doesn’t mean a third (or second, depending on your view of history) Great Awakening is on the cusp of happening in American Christianity. And yet, through the Holy Spirit you never know what seemingly insignificant bible study points may bring an unsuspecting tweeny bopper to her knees in tearful repentant biblical worship.
For what it’s worth, Patti Mallette, seems to be genuine in her public projection: a young Christian single mom trying to rear her son as best she knows how. She has also constructed some much-needed security walls around her son, and keeps IRS like tabs on his time and relationships. I applaud her for this.
I know. The past is replete with the bones of teen idols who have crashed and burned long before this bright star rose out obscurity. No one can stand for long under the weight of their own worship. Yet because of his mom (read: the grace of God), I think better things of young Justin. Here’s to hoping Jesus gets His glory from this teen idol, and all the false worship will give way to the One with the only lasting fame: Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).