Sharpening the Focus on Bono as Believer
- Thursday, June 27, 2013
The name alone sets American Evangelical hearts atwitter. To many, he’s more than just a rock star who professes Christ; he’s a pied piper, and we are the children who sing "I Will Follow." So when he’s interviewed by outlets within our own media subculture, it's more than just news; it's an event.
Such was the case regarding his recent conversation with Focus On The Family, a ministry of record for conservative Christians and punching bag for secular progressives. For Bono – a man so at ease with the latter – to have a sit-down with the former is a Big Deal. Indeed, it wasn't enough to just publish the interview by Focus President Jim Daly; the interview itself had its own pre-release publicity. Select quotes were being leaked, discussed, and analyzed days before having the benefit of full context, so thirsty were the faithful to be justified by the world's coolest Christian.
Now if you're sensing a bit of cynicism from me at this point then, well, you may be right – but not because I have something against Bono. If anything, I'm a Gen-X cliché in believing that U2 is the greatest rock band of all time. I’ve seen them in concert multiple times, over decades, always anticipating most above all the spiritual highs of "Where The Streets Have No Name" (and being doubly-exultant when it's paired with the likes of "40" or "Amazing Grace"). The chills they create are not just palpable but communal, and truly spiritual. It’s not even fair to all full-time worship bands, but there it is.
Nor do I have any qualms with Focus (or Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or _______ ministry/Christian publication) conducting an interview with Bono – or even with publicizing said interview heavily. More power to them. They always get my attention.
And honestly, it’s not even that my fascination with this whole phenomenon between Bono and Evangelicalism is cynical; rather, it's anthropological. The excitement it creates is amazing. Just as Dug the dog from Pixar’s UP is so easily distracted by "SQUIRREL!", so too are many Evangelicals by the mention of "BONO!" The buzz among Evangelicals surrounding a Christian-based Bono interview is, in some respects, even more revealing than the interviews themselves (and that’s saying something). So what follows isn’t so much an analytic of the Jim Daly/Bono conversation (of which there are many to be found elsewhere) but rather the clamor that comes with it.
Evangelicals are obsessed with being relevant. In some respects that obsession is well-intended, even altruistic, and finds its full expression in the icon of Bono. In other respects, it reflects an insecurity of our place in culture. It starts with a desire to reach the masses but can then distort into a desire to be admired by them, or worse yet a need to be better than them. Being relevant for Evangelicals can easily devolve into something dysfunctional, to be in the world and of it while asking Jesus to bless it. And when it stands as the virtue to which all others must bow – and even be sacrificed – Relevancy becomes a Faustian bargain.
Some Evangelicals have become so fixated on being relevant that they've lost sight of being subservient. The cart is always before the horse. An argument could be made that Relevancy has become non-denominational orthodoxy. As in, the Gospel’s great but it needs a better marketing plan to attract the lost with a cleaned-up version of what they already have. We call it being concerned for the world, but how much of it is being concerned with what the world thinks of us? The reality is that the more secular our culture becomes, the more square we get – but then Bono hangs out with us and speaks our language and suddenly we’re hip by association.
Look, I'm not equating a Bono interview with a deal with the devil (okay, maybe with MacPhisto), but I do wonder how much we’d be salivating for or dissecting his words if they were coming from someone else. Inspiring and convicting as his reflections may be, is the only reason we’re taking them to heart because they come with his cache? I get the cult of personality and even sympathize with its reality; on some level, it’s a natural human instinct. But sometimes it can get a little embarrassing, especially if we find ourselves feeling more validated by Bono than Scripture.
It’s also an unfair burden to put on a man, especially one that Evangelicals are just as quick to to question and judge as they are to embrace. Despite falling all over themselves to kiss the ring of Christianity’s punk ambassador, Evangelicals often don’t know what to make of Bono. Is he brother or prodigal? Just when we’re ready to embrace Bono fully as our own, he’ll drop an f-bomb while praying to Jesus (as he does in the song "Wake Up Dead Man"), or flash a Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Eastern/Hippie/Etc. mashup Coexist logo and, suddenly, his entire salvation is in question. Many still don’t even know what to make of "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For."
Being unable to reconcile these sides of Bono is what many Evangelicals find problematic, but they so want to because oh what a witness he would be! The fact is, though, the need to reconcile these things in the first place may very well be the real problem. When that kind of clarity becomes a necessity, a man's worth is reduced to an easily-packaged testimony, and the complexities of obedience are tragically forsaken.
As for Jim Daly and his interview, he was refreshingly non-starstruck. He wasn't offering up softball questions, nor was he dogmatic so as to preserve any precious conservative reputation. When Bono has been interviewed by Christians in the past, I'd often get a sense that he was patient and gracious with overly-earnest interviewers looking either to score points with both him and the audience or trying to keep him inside an Evangelical-Orthodox box. Daly never succumbed to those extremes; their half-hour conversation is well worth the listen, and at times provocative.
Bono is as culturally relevant as they come, but I suspect relevancy isn't Bono’s mission. Bono, it seems, is driven by how he's submitting to God, rather than how he's presenting him. As he says in the interview, "when you align yourself with God's purposes, as described in the Scriptures, something special happens to your life. You're in alignment." This is a man with a strong sense of who He is and who we aren't.
Humility is what empowers us to proclaim the Gospel rightly, and Bono offers some insight into what that looks like. After declaring point-blank to Daly that Jesus is the Son of God (and not merely a prophet or teacher as many try to reduce Him to), Bono goes on to say, "we need to… if I could be so bold, need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous." That’s a man who understands: Truth must be revealed by the Spirit and accepted by faith, not through clever argument or debate, and that the proclamation of the Gospel begins best not as a sermon but rather a confessional – even when you're the most popular Christian on earth.
Publication date: June 27, 2013
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