This post is featured in the CAPC Magazine, January 2018: Change Agents issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine. Subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and receive a host of other benefits, too.

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf is a Christian now — and not in a “f***ing bull**** way.” Or so you may have heard.

“I found God doing Fury. I became a Christian, man, and not in a f***ing bull**** way — in a very real way. I could have just said the prayers that were on the page. But it was a real thing that really saved me. And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it. It’s a full-blown exchange of heart, a surrender of control.” In a quote given to Interview Magazine, Shia LaBeouf describes the encounter he had with God while filming his recent Hollywood blockbuster Fury.

I knew what would happen before I even finished reading the interview, which also details LaBeouf’s relationship with his father, his personal struggles, his recent controversies, and the emotional minefield he finds he must access to act genuinely and well. And less than twenty-four hours after the interview started making its rounds, the heavy-handed headlines and ecstatic social media refrains started: Shia LaBeouf had become a Christian. And apparently in doing so, he’d also become a Christian mascot.

“Shia LaBeouf is a Christian!” “This is so great to hear!” “A good one for the kingdom of God!”

These were some of the taglines that filled my newsfeed over the next several days after LaBeouf’s interview went viral. The more LaBeouf’s apparent conversion was touted, the more obvious the undertone became he’s one of us now.

It was the trendiest of all trendy testimonies, a name that would be incredibly valuable to the Christian community — only his quote could have just as easily, and perhaps even more likely, been the account of a method actor detailing the experience he collected while portraying a Christian man at war.

But this does not tie in neatly with a Christian culture that too frequently assumes that an encounter with God equates to conversion to His ways, that acknowledgment of truth means acceptance of the same, and that to get to know God is to know God.

Over the next several weeks, Gwen Stefani, Chris Pratt, and Matthew McConaughey would join the cast of apparently recently converted Christian celebrities. They were considered “converted” on the basis of things like Chris Pratt praying for the well-being of his child and Gwen Stefani recounting an endearing story of her son praying for a sibling. None of these things disqualify one from being a Christian, but neither do they prove a Biblical commitment to Christ.

The hollow back-patting and pride with which we rejoice in celebrity conversion neglects a Biblical manifestation of Christianity — the true nature of which revolves around transformation. When we become more concerned with who is one of us and who is not than with giving glory to God and seeking genuine transformation, we tend to gloss over the inherently gritty nature of Biblical transformation, which is seldom instant, easy, or black and white. By and large, the Bible addresses the idea of transformation within a context of gradual change — a process that is learned at the hands of more mature disciples who are ready and willing to bear with new Christians as they work to first digest spiritual milk and then eventually solid food.

Romans 7:14-20 aptly describes the baffling intensity with which a Christian grapples with his own sinful nature — a battle of wills made infinitely more confusing by the fact that the dual desires at war belong to the heart of one man. That one person might simultaneously desire to good and desire to betray his better intentions in order to sow the seed of evil in his heart is perhaps the singularly most difficult thing about being a Christian, and while time and maturity might never make this easy, it makes one practiced. While a trusted support system might not be a foolproof safeguard against sin, the support of genuine Christian fellowship and accountability is at the heart of discipleship. A new Christian has access to neither experience nor fellowship, because both of these things take time, effort, and often failure.

The evangelical Christian community has a history of glamorizing conversion stories not only when that conversion falls from the lips of a celebrity, but perhaps particularly so in those instances, because many evangelical Christians have adopted a team mentality within the Church. Those outside said team are not necessarily regarded as enemies, but they are certainly regarded as “other.”  When someone lifts a toe over the finger-drawn line in the sand dividing “Christian” and “Not Christian,” it’s easy to exalt the act as a testimony of faith. It works well for the Christian agenda (which exists), and, when the person in question has a checkered past, lends itself well to the point many Christians are trying desperately to prove: Christians need not be of a cookie-cutter design.

While this notion is certainly not born of ill-intent, it often informs the misguided championing of stories like “Shia LaBeouf has become a Christian — and not in a f***ing bull**** way,” and the carefully padded profanity proves the point further. This is not your grandma’s Christian. There is room for people like Shia LaBeouf in the church — room for someone who can drop f-bombs in their descriptions of prayer.

And there is room for someone like Shia LaBeouf in the Church — or, at least, there should be — but the eagerness with which the Christian community touted LaBeouf’s encounter with God as genuine conversion demonstrates a continued tendency to glamorize an atypical coming to faith and to prioritize conversion stories over transformation.

I don’t know if Shia LaBeouf has become a Christian or not, but I do know that if he has, he is just starting to understand Biblical transformation. I know that if he pursues God, he cannot be the glamorized hero of his own conversion story — he cannot and should not be made a mascot. I know that if he has become a Christian, there will be a gradualism to some aspects of his transformation, and that there will be many who insist on seeing him as the Insta-Christian created by headlines. But I also know it’s possible to encounter God without knowing God, and that it’s possible to relate to God in very real ways without embarking upon a relationship with God.

Regardless of which category LaBeouf fits into, Lost or Found, Christian or Not Christian — categories, by the way, that are not as easily defined as we would like them to be — we must allow him to be a flesh and blood human, a man with shortcomings neither condemned nor glamorized by the Church because that is the only way one might truly experience a relationship with God: as a human able to simultaneously recognize himself as fallible and God as infallible.

Photo via Georges Biard (License).


Did you enjoy this piece of content from Christ and Pop Culture Magazine? The continuation of this site and the insightful cultural analysis our writers produce is only possible through your generous support. Consider becoming a member for as little as $5 per month. You’ll get free stuff each month, full access to CAPC Magazine (including all back issues), entrance to our exclusive members group on Facebook — and you’ll help us keep the lights on. Join now.


10 Comments

  1. Val, I’m glad you conclude with a tempered patience regarding Shia.

    The whole situation reminds me of something NT Wright says about Christian virtue: when we first put on Christianity for ourselves, it will seem too big and too ill-fitting to function. It’s like a young child being handed down an older sibling’s clothes, putting them on, and realizing that they, too, are too big and too ill-fitting to function.

    As the transformation continues, though, the new Christian will realize what habits fit whenever they are encouraged by other Christians and what habits don’t fit whenever they are deemed and exposed as hypocritical and need to be changed.

    I’ll end by adding Shia to my prayer list.

  2. “Shia LaBeouf is a Christian!” “This is so great to hear!” “A good one for the kingdom of God!”

    These recurring hero-worship scenarios always make me think of this Scripture text:

    “You have a cloak;
    you shall be our leader,
    and this heap of ruins
    shall be under your rule”

    (Isaiah 3:6)

  3. Eh. Your evangelical is really showing. While at the same time you condemn the kind of dualistic thinking that leads to, “When we become more concerned with who is one of us and who is not,” you’re basically doing the same thing here as at least a minor thesis. Your major may be, “Focus on transformation, not conversion,” but underneath that is clearly, “because a whole bunch of people who think they’re one of us really aren’t.”

    Also, to the extent that there really is an emphasis on conversion rather than transformation anyhow (Where is the research that confirms this trend beyond anecdote?), it highlights one of the modern protestant church’s (and certainly evangelical ones) — you seem so darn scared that God is not going to get credit that you’ve got no heroes of the faith at all. Why should it be any surprise you’re looking for some?

  4. I remember in the 80’s, B J Thomas (of “Raindrops” fame) became a Christian, and he was immediately “promoted” to Christian celebrity status, making Christian albums and doing concerts. In my opinion he soon got lost trying to figure out how to have a career at all, because he wasn’t especially popular as a Christian musician, and he may not have fit into the secular music industry anymore either. People actually booed when he sang Raindrops at a concert I went to that was billed as a Christian concert. It was sad, and I don’t know if he ever continued in the faith.

    I think the scriptural advice for pastors not being recent converts applies here – don’t give any new convert a platform until they understand what has happened to them and start to live it out. Disciple them and help them figure out what it means to live out their faith. That’s our calling.

  5. Shia: I’ll give this a no. Pretty sure he was talking about method acting.

    Stefani: Too little evidence.

    McConaughey: Well, apparently he was able to attend his “non-denominational church” for several years while living unmarried with his now-wife, and having children out of wedlock with her. So I’m suspicious about said “church.” Also, GQ magazine of all publications asked him outright if he believed in the resurrection, and he wouldn’t give a straight answer. Said it was “a heaven of a story.” Finally, if anyone can make ANY sense of his Oscar speech, you get a cookie. “You’ve got a friend, and that friend is YOU!”

    Chris Pratt: More hopeful, would like to know more. I was especially encouraged by his line “not that [my faith] needed restoring,” which implies that he’s had faith for a while. Rooting it in a concrete experience of personal grief actually gives his testimony some weight. I think he’s our best candidate for a legit believer among these celebs.

  6. Debating whether celebrity conversions are authentic aside, it saddens me that Shia LaBouef becomes the latest fodder for the Christian Celebrity machine. Whether it’s people already in the entertainment industry or Christian singers, speakers, writers or athletes, too many of us seem to think that dropping the names celebrities is an evangelism strategy superior to our won authentic witness in everyday life. The celebrity gawking culture of the world is deeply embedded in American Christianity.

    There are a number of Bible studies among the Hollywood set but they’re well hidden from gawkers. These new Christians and seekers can come and examine Jesus Christ and begin to grow away from the eyes of Christian gawking and fawning. They’re also mentored by more experienced Christians in the industry as to how to handle bringing their new faith into the spotlight that is their lives. Some, like B.J. Thomas whom Kathy mentioned above, but also Eldridge Cleaver and Bob Dylan were derailed by the shabby fawning from inside the Christian community. It didn’t cause all their spiritual difficulties but it sure didn’t help keep them tied in.

    Nice piece, Valerie, keep writing.

  7. Very good English in this article that highlights many of my problems with mainline Christianity–namely, defaulting to the masculine, being highly judgmental of people struggling in ways different than us, and conveniently applying scripture to back what we’ve already decided we believe.
    Cumon, Miss Dunham, we’re better than this.

Comments are now closed for this article.