April 27, 2024

Russell Brand is Getting Baptised This Sunday.Yes, Really!

Russell is branding himself as a Christian by taking the plunge.

A short list of things that this time in 2023 I did not think I would be saying in 2024:

  1. Arsenal are self-destructing right at the end of the Premiership season again.
  2. I am living in New Zealand for an extended period of time.
  3. Russell Brand is getting baptised.

No, it’s absolutely true. Arsenal lost at home to Aston Villa and even though they won the next…

Wait? What? Russell? Russell Brand? Baptised? You’re kidding me, surely! No, really.

You mean that ne’er-do-well lothario who made the filthiest jokes, lived the most decadent life possible for decades, and made a point of taking the mickey out of everything and everyone serious? That Russell Brand?

Yep that one. Watch this:

So there you have it. Russelll Brand is getting baptised. This Sunday. Tomorrow. In the River Thames. Taking on “Brand Christian” if you like, in the most public of ways that lots of otherwise godly Christians put off for years. Crazy times we are living in, right? And a good couple of million people have watched that video.

Actually as you listen to Brand talk about it, one of the reasons that has pushed him in this direction are the crazy times. The meaninglessness and purposelessness of a society in which we can have every experience we could ever want (all within the bounds of consent of course), but have absolutely no reason as to why that experience or the lack of it is any better, or indeed any worse, than any other experience they have had or are about to have. Launder, rinse, repeat.

Now of course, there’s the usual Buddha reference, and a Marcus Aurelius one too, that gives the usual suspects the usual heart palpitations.

Hey Russell, get back up your tree and watch Jesus walk by. Give him a wide berth and a bit of respect until you’re truly kosher about this.

Yeah Russell!

Or perhaps not. A friend send me the video and wondered how ready Russell Brand is to be baptised. My friend noted that he’d been identifying as a Christian for some months now.

Well I guess he’s as ready as a young baby who has been identifying as a Christian for exactly zero months this Sunday when they get baptised. Ouch!

See what I mean? I’m credo-baptistic by conviction. I ended up refusing the first great ministry role I was offered out of college, with a fantastic church and a great leader, because, well because even though I wouldn’t have to do any actual baptising of the babies of believers in my role, the trajectory would be set. And then I would be faced with a choice. Would I change my convictions? Worse – would I become pragmatic about it?

And pragmatic we have become. Especially as church planting types who adopt a “come one come all” approach to their leadership teams because this is about “the gospel priorities” (hint: that term is often the tip of some big icebergs that sink a lot of ships).

And everything goes swimmingly (or sprinkly) for the first few years until we have to bash together some sort of coherent church polity and a thicker ecclesiology than “Come along to my house church – we have great coffee.”

Whaddya mean you’re not going to baptise my young son? I thought we were friends and gospel partners?

Stuff like that.

Okay. So I jest. But lest you think that the magisterial Reformers and the AnaBaptists would not be turning in their graves at how cosy we all were with one another, perhaps it’s not Russell Brand that is taking baptism too lightly. Perhaps it’s us.

Of course if you’ve been listening to Brand over the past few years you will realise he’s been on a search for meaning. He’s always been clever. Too clever by half. But one thing he has become in the past few years is a good listener. He has listened and listened and listened.

And then he’s asked some serious questions. Serious questions about addiction and sin and rebirth. And all too often he’s sounded way too mystic for me. And slightly universalist. All the ducks are not lined up in a row.

Like my ducks. Also not l lined up in a row when I got baptised at 21 years of age. Still going out with an unbeliever. Unsure of what I was doing in some sense, and highly conflicted about it. Figured it was a step of obedience. Or a mister of disobedience. Yet here I am some 36 years later. Jesus still got me.

Am I being flippant? Perhaps.

But then again, I’ve heard teaching from churches that declare we should get back to the New Testament form of baptism and just do it on the day that someone professes faith. Being a Christian is being baptised and then discipled.

And from the same types of churches I’ve heard genuine calls for baptism to go back to the early years, but not too early. Back to the early Fathers where it took months to catechise you and special days were put aside for catechists to be baptised.

All I’m saying is “Hold your fire”. And your ire.

So enough about what you think of Russell’s baptism. Did you hear his view?:

What’s been explained to me is that it’s an opportunity to die and be reborn. An opportunity to leave the past behind and be reborn in Christ’s name like it says in Galatians.

And then he kinda blows it for those of us running the gloryometer over him by using the “enlightened” terminology etc, etc, and then bringing up that Buddha and Marcus Aurelius reference.

Yeah, he kinda blows it, like one-in-two well-meaning, weepy teenagers who gets baptised as a step of obedience to show that they really mean it about God, finally in their lives. Chapter and verse please!

And I’m not dissing those teenagers for the same reason I’m not dissing Russell Brand either. To actually decide in this day and age that you want to identify with Jesus Christ? Well there are no cultural kudos for that. Especially for the showbiz types like Brand. Yet he, like an increasing number of public figures in the West, is starting to ask the hard questions of our culture, and giving other lesser luminaries (as well as the average Joe) permission to do so as well.

And here’s Russell on that very topic:

I know a lot of people are cynical about the increasing interest in Christianity and the return to God. But for me it’s obvious. As meaning deteriorates in the modern world. As our value systems and institutions crumble, all of us becoming increasingly aware that there is this eerily familiar awakening and beckoning figure that we’ve all known all our lives…

Or as Paul put it in Athens:

 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’.

Did the same Paul who declared in Romans that the wrath of God is being revealed against all of the wickedness of humans also state that God is not far from anyone of us, and then quote the Taylor Swift of the day to prove his point? Apparently so.

So, what now? Well let’s do a Gamaliel (check out Acts 5:34-39) and stand up in front of ourselves – wise teachers of the law that we be – and be very careful how we proceed with the likes of Russell Brand.

After all it’s not as if our erstwhile orthodox denominations are knocking it out of the park when it comes to revival, conversion, or even maintaining the percentage of adherents we already have. Face it Western church – we’re pretty much tanking (Yes, you too small “r” reformed evangelicals with a bit of cultural savvy and good coffee).

We’re planting churches – and that’s something to celebrate, but unless we start to see cold to hot conversions on a regular basis (whether nominal cultural Christians or the Tara Isabella Burton/Ayaan Hirsi Ali/Russell Brand types), then we should just chill out a little bit about Russell Brand.

Before he died Tim Keller wrote in The Atlantic that he believed the US was due for a revival (mirroring pretty much all of the concerns about where we are headed that Brand has been saying these past few years). Revival might not always look the same everywhere (though there are some clear common features including a desire for a holy life and a refocussing on eternal matters).

But what if revival doesn’t come to the people we think it should? What if it doesn’t come to the low hanging fruit on the tree that our current church structures are perfectly designed to accommodate? What if God tells us get a bigger ladder and get further up the tree?

What if the Christian Union stops reaching the shy, nerdy no-friends IT student who has a moral framework that, if you squint a little, roughly fits? What if instead, the LGBTQI club secretary comes to you by night (John 3) or more likely sidles up to you while having a drink (John 4), and goes “Pssst, tell me about why the people in your club are so generous to people who don”t like you?”

And if we can’t arrest the decline in church regularity among our own people, or the shockingly common scourge of the narcissistic, insecure leader who wrecks his staff and puts many out unceremoniously on their ear, all the while preaching grace renewal and teaching everyone to have hard conversations, then we should just chill out a little bit about Russell. His baptism won’t wreck Christendom. We’re doing a good enough job of that ourselves.

And if you still can’t stand it, then there’s plenty of time to pray that come Sunday morning the cold, bacterial-infested, murky Thames will sweep him away to the grave and the godless eternity that you no doubt think Russell Brand deserves.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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