Good thoughts from bad role models?

A member sent me a message in response to last night’s blog post with some concerns. She feels strongly that Ashton Kutcher is a very bad role model for teens and that, as such, being chosen for the Teen Choice Award and having his speech circulating on the internet is not a positive thing. She was likewise concerned about our church leadership appearing to promote him. I want to state without reservation that I agree with her entirely, and her concern is well founded. I don’t know much about Ashton Kutcher’s personal life, and I don’t really watch his shows. I’ve seen a few movies with him. I’ve caught a couple episodes of Punk’d and laughed. But I learned just today that he apparently recently had a fairly messy divorce with Demi Moore, and his track record before that is maybe not so hot either. So, I appreciate that my member chose to bring this up to me, and gave me a chance to address it.

To be clear, I did not intend to put Ashton Kutcher on a pedestal. If what I learned today about him is true, he is exactly the opposite of the kind of person I would point a young person to as an example to follow. His personal life aside, what he had to say was pretty good. However, good words from a bad role model need to be taken with some amount of caution.By the same token, a good role model does not always mean wise words.

Let’s take a couple examples from Scripture.

Peter the Apostle: chief among the Apostles, de facto leader of the Early Christian Church, author of two epistles in Scripture. If ever we have a good role model, he is it, right? Yet, Scripture shows us that he didn’t always dispense the wisest of wisdom. Of course, many of these “foot-in-mouth” experiences came prior to Pentecost, but even afterward there was that uncomfortable incident where Peter was falling back on Jewish ways and was apparently urging Gentiles to be circumcised and follow Jewish customs, forcing Paul to call him out on it (Paul relates this in Galatians 2). Good role model, bad wisdom.

On the other hand, we have Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. He led the people in calling for Jesus’ execution, and he denounced the very Son of God as a blasphemer, despite the enormous evidence – both in Scripture and in Jesus’ ministry – that he was indeed divine. Yet, when urging the Sanhedrin to go after Jesus, he stated, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” John, who recorded these words, remarks, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” (John 11:50-52). In other words, he was speaking the truth! But we would hardly look up to Caiaphas as a role model. Good wisdom, bad role model.

The point is that we have to be cautious on both fronts. Sometimes we may see or hear things that sound pretty good, but we must consider the source. We can still take the good from what they say, but we must also consider what they say in the context of the example they set. Healthy skepticism is prudent. On the other hand, we must also be cautious not to take everything a good role model says for granted. Sometimes even a good person will have some bad things to say.

We have this problem – good wisdom from bad sources and bad wisdom from good sources – all because of sin. Sin in our world, sin in our lives. Even the best of us aren’t all that good. Even the worst of us can put on a good face. And knowing the difference can be so incredibly hard. How do I know what to reject and when to reject it and from whom?

That’s why God, in his grace, has given us Scripture. It first of all reassures us that we have forgiveness for the times we have followed a bad example, or taken bad wisdom when we should have known better. It also directs us to test all things against his Word. See for ourselves what is true and right. He gives us that guide for a reason, so we can discern between the good and the bad and know how to look for good role models and bad.

Alright, so in wrap up, here’s what I should say first: If you read my last post and thought, “How can he endorse the words of Ashton Kutcher? Does he know what he’s done?!” let me say, “I’m sorry for confusing you.” I did not intend that.

Secondly, we need to examine any and all wisdom, from good or bad sources, in light of Scripture. That is our true, solid source of guidance.

Thirdly, role models do matter. A lot. And we need to help our young people choose good role models. It is too easy to say, “Hey, this guy said something good, so go find out what else he has to say.” But then they might end up getting things we don’t want them to get. We need to help them see the kind of character a good role model possesses. There are a lot of pieces to that – and would probably be a good topic for a future post – but let’s sum it up with two simple words: Christian Character. Believe it or not, there are celebrities out there who have recently made news for the fact that they are becoming more and more outspoken about their Christian lives. Bono of U2 and Sean Astin come to mind. But we don’t have to look to Hollywood or the Billboard charts. You can probably think of plenty of solid role models close to home. Point your children toward them. Don’t give them an illusions that those people will be perfect. No one is. But help them see the difference between a good speech and a good life, and urge them to emulate the latter.

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