In a recent issue, Time magazine profiled what it called “the 100 most influential people in the world.” Some of the people profiled, such as President Obama and Vladimir Putin, were obvious choices. Others, such as performance artist Marina Abramovic, were not. Still others, such as Miley Cyrus, seemed a bit, well silly.
But what’s more interesting is the criteria by which Time and nearly all of our culture defines “influential” and how far this is from how Christianity defines it, or at least should.
Time’s categories tell us a lot about the kind of individuals it regards as influential: “titans,” “pioneers,” “artists,” “leaders,” and “icons.” And by “icons” they don’t mean the religious kind.
Some of the 100 are being honored for reasons of the spirit, such as Pope Francis and Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Ugandan nun who works with “women and girls whose lives have been shattered by violence, rape and sexual exploitation.” But the lion’s share of honorees is being recognized for reasons that bring to mind the theme of our recent Wilberforce Weekend: the idols of self, sex, state, and stuff.
For every honoree like the imam, Archbishop, and evangelical pastor who are working together to bring peace and reconciliation to the war-torn Central African Republic, there are many more whose influence is a function of wealth, power, and celebrity.
I’m not denying that these people are influential or denigrating what they do. I am saying that the world is consistently wrong about what truly matters in the long run.
Think about it: If Time magazine had been around in 50 A.D., its list probably would not have included Paul of Tarsus nor made any reference to Jesus of Nazareth. And that would have been just fine by Paul. Because as he wrote to the church in the Roman colony of Philippi, he counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Having “suffered the loss of all things,” he counted them as “rubbish.”
What mattered to Paul was knowing Christ “and the power of his resurrection,” “sharing in his sufferings,” and “becoming like him in his death.”
This would have made no sense to the wealthy, powerful, and celebrated of Paul’s time. And Paul knew it: as he told his readers it was “foolishness to the Greeks.”
Yet three centuries later, this “foolishness” had triumphed over the world’s greatest empire—an empire that persecuted the faith. It turned out that Paul and the rest of the early church knew what really mattered. They knew what influence worth having looked like.
Very little has changed since then. Left to its own devices, the world will never recognize the time of its visitation. It will always allow itself to be distracted by empty spectacle and spend its money on that which is not bread and its labor on that which cannot satisfy.
Our calling as Christians is twofold: to avoid falling into the same traps and to live in ways that proclaim that there is an alternative to worshipping the idols of self, sex, state, and stuff. And that would be to love God with our all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Even if Time magazine or no one else takes note.
Now, speaking of the Wilberforce Weekend, at last week’s conference we commissioned 28 Centurions, who will now take what they’ve learned in the Centurions Program and apply it in their careers, in their communities, and in the culture. Why not apply to the best Christian worldview program around and study under my BreakPoint colleague and friend John Stonestreet? We’re accepting applications now. Please check it out at CenturionsProgram.org.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: May 13, 2014