Among the dictionary definitions of a hero are:
- Legendary figure, often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.
- A person admired for achievements and noble qualities.
- One who shows great courage.
- The central figure in an event, period, or movement.
I think it’s completely allowable for Christians to have heroes, though I agree with Iain H. Murray who writes in his book Heroes, “There is a danger of thinking and writing too highly of men I do not deny”. The Apostle Paul himself encouraged us to model him when he wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. (1 Corinthians 11:1). I’ve had many heroes in the areas of theology, sports and music. But we’ve probably all experienced being let down, disappointed, and even embarrassed by our heroes.
Recently, I’ve been shocked and disappointed by two of my musical heroes. First, in May, the band U2, my current favorite band, mostly made up of professing Christians, came out in favor of abortion by encouraging their fans to support a referendum legalizing abortion in Ireland. More recently, Paul McCartney, former Beatle, my all-time favorite band, and the writer of such iconic songs as “Yesterday” and “Let it Be”, released a disappointing single entitled “Fuh You”, which is pretty much explains what he wants to do to the person he is singing to.
Growing up, I enjoyed following baseball, basketball and football. But I could hardly have done a worse job picking my heroes. In baseball, it was Mickey Mantle, a womanizer and alcoholic, who fortunately had a death-bed conversion to Christ. In basketball, it was Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have had had sex with more than 20,000 different women. And if you think that is bad, my football hero was one O.J. Simpson. Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.
Recently we have heard about the moral failings at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Failings not only of their founding and former lead pastor, but of the church leaders who either helped cover-up the situation and/or didn’t listen to the women who brought abuse concerns to the leadership team. Bill Hybels is certainly not the first high profile pastor to have fallen. Sadly, we’ve unfortunately heard of many over the past few years. And scripture tells us of a certain king who was a man after God’s own heart who was both a murderer and adulterer.
Martin Luther and the Puritans are among my theological heroes. Luther, the great Protestant Reformer displayed anti-Semitism in some of his writings. Sadly, some of the Puritans, including Jonathan Edwards, owned slaves. A few of the lyrics from Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans” address this:
Hey Pastor, you know it’s hard for me when you quote Puritans
Oh, the precious Puritans
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment, and heartbreak, like “Not you too, Pastor”
You know they were chaplains on slave ships, right?
How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them
In The Valley of the Vision
Didn’t compel them to knock on their neighbor’s door
And say “You can’t own people!”
What are we to make of the failures of our human heroes? Years ago, I heard Alistair Begg say (and he was quoting someone else), “The best of men are men at best”. That’s good for us to remember. Our human heroes – leaders, pastors, government officials, etc. – will always let us down. But there is one who will never let you down. John Piper writes:
“There is one hero, and only one, who will not let you down – Jesus Christ. All other heroes fail us, and the reason they do is to point us to Christ. There is no one more admirable, and more worthy of our praise.”
So, yes, it is OK to have heroes. But remember, they will ultimately let you down. They are not worthy of your ultimate trust and allegiance. Only Jesus is. He will never let you down.
Have you had any of your heroes let you down?