I usually try not to express my opinion on things I know nothing about. Today I’m breaking that rule. I’m only vaguely aware of the pop music scene, and I have no idea what’s in and what’s out with Gen Z-ers. To me, TikTok is what a clock does (or used to do). I’m, at best, only semi-woke.

With this background, I watched last Sunday night’s “People’s Choice Awards” on TV. It was very well-produced, given the reality of COVID limitations, and the audience was involved through thousands of Zoom connections all over the U.S. One of the highlights was a performance by Justin Bieber, which combined two of his most recent compositions. You can watch it here. The first was a very sad and moody performance of “I’m So Lonely,” done in a darkly lit studio. As that ended, a larger stage appeared, with brighter lights and more upbeat accompanying music. The light was provided by 20-plus Christian crosses, which definitely caught my attention. And Justin bursts out joyously with these lyrics from his song “Holy”:

I hear a lot about sinners;
Don’t think that I’ll be a saint.
But I might go down to the river,
‘Cause the way that the sky opens up when we touch.
Yeah, it’s makin’ me say…
That the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me
Feels so holy, holy, holy, holy, holy.* Oh God!
Runnin’ to the altar like a track star.
Can’t wait another second,
‘Cause the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me
Feels so holy.

I had been vaguely aware of Justin Bieber’s roller-coaster career, including the fact that he’s professed to be a Christian … but, you know, a Hollywood Christian. I’ve known about that special brand for fifty years and have even had a couple of close encounters. I’ve become jaded about the genuineness of such confessions of faith and tend to view them as publicity stunts. But there was something about Bieber’s performance — a jarring dissonance — that made me look at this again. It was the fact that he put his intimacy with his lover — “Hold me, hold me, hold me” — parallel to an awe-filled encounter with God — “Holy, holy, holy!” Frankly, my first response was that it was blasphemous. But I looked again.

Of course, I went straight to the Internet to learn all I could about Justin Bieber’s faith journey. Not surprisingly, I discovered that it was full of inconsistency, false starts, moral compromises, etc. But I also learned of his 2018 marriage to Hailey Baldwin, who is a model/actress and is also a believer, and I read about the seriousness with which they took this step. According to Justin, it was in his whole-person commitment to this Christian marriage with Hailey that he has learned how a human Hold me! can reveal new dimensions of the divine Holy!

Okay. Maybe it’s imperfect. Maybe their relationship will cool off in a couple of years. Maybe Justin just liked the way the words Hold me! and Holy! bounced off each other and put them into a clever song lyric. But this rare encounter between me and the world of popular entertainers made me open my mind a little about Hollywood Christians. In the eyes of us more traditional committed Christians, they may be too tinged by “worldliness” in their lifestyle, compromising in language, behavior and the acting roles they play. But the public exposure they’ve experienced usually makes them pretty realistic about the difficulty they have in living up to traditional Christian standards of behavior. This seems to keep them from falling into the kind of hypocrisy and judgmentalism so common among mainstream Christians. When they fail, it pretty quickly shows up in a gossip column, and there’s no place to hide. Justin Bieber acknowledges this reality in his lyric, “Don’t think that I’ll be a saint.”

So I’m beginning to realize that Hollywood Christians have some things to teach us about how to live for Jesus, knowing that daily obstacles are sure to trip us up. Our go-to reaction to the moral lapses we fall into is, “I hope nobody saw that!” Hollywood Christians like Justin Bieber, by contrast, know that paparazzi and entertainment reporters are likely to inform the public of their missteps within minutes. There’s no place to hide.

Of course, we can’t really hide either. Justin’s story reminded me of that.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

*When I heard this, I thought I was listening to the ending of one of our praise songs,   “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” I’m sure Justin has heard that. Maybe he used the refrain with the permission of the composer, Michael W. Smith. If not, it’s time to do copyright penance.