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.