Every now and again TIME Magazine features “The People Who Shape Our World.” A couple of years ago, they created a list of 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example, they feel, is transforming our world. It is important to note, before we take a peek at this list, that it is not really the world which these people shape. Rather, it is people within the world that are shaped and transformed by these people. A person can only shape the world by shaping the people in the world. So bear that in mind as we move along here.
Having reviewed this list, the cynic in me does not hold out much hope for the world. Here are some of the men and women who are apparently shaping the world we live in. The first category is of artists and entertainers—“influential stars [who have] won fans and spawned imitators around the globe.”: J.J. Abrams, George Clooney, Dixie Chicks, Ellen DeGeneres, Wayne Gould, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Arianna Huffington, Ang Lee, Rachael Ray, Will Smith, Howard Stern, Reese Witherspoon, Tyra Banks, Matt Drudge and Stephen Colbert.
I only rarely watch movies, have gotten rid of our cable television, and almost never listen to the radio so am not entirely up-to-date on Hollywood’s latest shining stars, but I had a great deal of trouble thinking that most of these people could possibly shape our world, at least in a way that was at all positive. And even more so, I had trouble understanding why anyone would want to emulate and idolize many of these people and allow themselves to be shaped by them. Again, a person can only shape the world by shaping the people in the world. To be influential a person must have influence over others.
On this list we have such notables as the Dixie Chicks. Their influence is felt in disrespecting and scorning their President, setting a terrible example to their fans of people who loudly and proudly disregard authority. We have Ellen DeGeneres and Ang Lee who are notable primarily for being advocates and champions of the homosexual agenda. There is Reese Witherspoon who, well, stars in movies. Howard Sterm has popularized all manner of perversity and profanity while Tyra Banks has a talk show and lots of surgery, I guess. Rachael Ray teaches people to cook (I know this because I saw an episode of her show once while flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta).
The article goes on to list Scientists & Thinkers, Leaders & Revolutionaries, Heroes & Pioneers and Builders & Titans. Some of the names are familiar to just about anyone. Others are not. Noticeably absent from this list was a firm Christian presence (which I say despite Bono and Pope Benedict both being represented).
As I thought about this list I was reminded of something Os Guinness wrote in The Call. He discusses fame and heroism and the call of Christ. He provides three reasons that heroism has fallen on hard times. The first of these is the modern habit of debunking. Modern people are (often necessarily) cynical and “look straightaway not for the golden aura but for the feet of clay, not for the stirring example but for the cynical motive, not for the ideal embodied but for the energetic press agent.” The third reason is the death of God in Western society, or as Guinness terms it, “the drowning out of the call of God in modern life.” Having lost a perspective of the transcendence of human life, we can no longer properly talk about an ideal human character. In previous generations, to be a great human being was to be a “knight of the faith.” This is, of course, no longer the case. Because there is no Caller and no higher calling, there are no knights of faith and no one who can dub them.
It is the second reason, though, that most gripped me. Guinness points to the press and media and their role in creating the modern celebrity. He did this long before “American Idol” and the rise of the “reality” show. These forces widen the gap between “fame and greatness, heroism and accomplishment.” It used to be that heroism was linked to the honor of accomplishment so that only those were regarded as heroes who had actually made some grand accomplishment, whether in “character, virtue, wisdom, the arts, sports or warfare.” Sadly, this is no longer the case. Today we find that the media offers a shortcut to fame—“instantly fabricated famousness with no need for the sweat, cost and dedication of true greatness. The result is not the hero but the celebrity, the person famously described as ‘well-known for being well-known.’ A big name rather than a big person, the celebrity is someone for whom character is nothing, coverage is all.”
Guinness often points to Winston Churchill as a true hero. Churchill was a flawed man, but one who rose to true fame, greatness and heroism through character, virtue, wisdom and warfare. Churchill was able to say once that “I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.” Yet through the trials he developed great character and has rightly been memorialized as a true hero. Guinness points to Moses who was a man ablaze with a passion for God. Moses was transformed from being a man of action to a man of words and he slowly became a leader, a prophet, and a hero who was given the tribute “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” This is so vastly different from the Paris Hilton brand of celebrities in our culture who are known for being well known.
The heroes and influencers of our culture are rarely heroic. We prefer fleeting fame to grand accomplishment, coverage to character. Sadly, it seems that this lack of discernment is seen within the church as much as without. Many of the men and women who have risen to the ranks of influencers and leaders within the church lack the godliness and character that ought to set apart those to whom we give special honor. How else to we explain so many of the Christian “heroes” who are watched by millions and who sell millions of copies of their books?
Great men and women will have great heroes. This was brought home to me some time ago when I had the privilege of touring through the offices and library of Dr. Albert Mohler. On the walls of the library and his offices were portraits of truly great men—Charles Spurgeon, John Knox, William Tyndale and other heroes of church history. There was even a portrait of Winston Churchill and several biographies of the man. Clearly Dr. Mohler is deliberately surrounding himself with the examples of men who are truly great—men whose example he can learn from and emulate. I’ve since toured other similar libraries and time and again I see portraits and biographies of great men and women—people who are heroes in the truest, purest sense of the word.
I aspire to be a great man. I don’t much care if you or anyone else remembers my name months or years from now, as long as God knows me as a man who knew and loved and honored Him. I wish to be great in His eyes. If I am to strive after godliness and to become a man who is great in God’s eyes, I must pay close attention to who influences me, to who shapes my world. I must know for certain that I will imitate those I allow to influence me. And thus I must be sure that those who influence me are not merely those who are well-known for being well-known, but those who are men and women of character, virtue and wisdom. I will not find too many of those in the lists of “People Who Shape Our World.”