The Rise of the New 'Middlemen'


I've noticed an interesting, if not disconcerting, trend within the Christian subculture. It may be nothing new, just something I was overlooking. If so, you can write me off as an imperceptive alarmist. But as I've been listening to people, particularly Christians, talk about Christianity, it surfaces over and over again.

Whatever "it" is, it has a trans-generational quality. Initially, I thought it was a characteristic of the modern era and had very little hold on emerging generations. I thought that this was one of the great "sins" of my parent's generation. Well, I think I was wrong, because it seems to be more of a human trait, not necessarily connected to a particular time, place, or culture. It's also very hard to pin down, because it has a certain amoral peculiarity. And, personally, I don't even know if it's worth acknowledging, though it is something of an open secret, because it's practice is so prevalent that it has become normalized within the Christian community. In other words, Christians, me included, cannot imagine life without it.

So by now you're probably wondering what "it" is. Well, I was hoping that the intentional ambiguity of the previous paragraphs would bring you one step closer to defining it with me. I haven't fully come to terms with it yet. And I'm certainly not in a position to judge whether or not it's avoidable, or whether or not it should be avoided.

I guess what I would call it is mediated discipleship.

For me, the basic idea behind mediated discipleship is that millions of Christians relate to Jesus through the writings, teachings, and experiences of someone else, usually someone with whom they have no direct relationship. Quite often, these middlemen and women, these mediators we employ, enjoy a certain amount of celebrity within the Christian subculture. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Because, like I said, mediated discipleship has a certain amoral pecularity. It's hard to pin down, difficult to talk about without sounding judgmental or paranoid, or both. And, frankly, because I'm so embedded in the system, it's hard for me to know whether or not I can even relate to Jesus apart from the writings, teachings, and experiences of another.

I'm just wondering if it's gone too far. As Christianity becomes increasingly commercialized, is it even possible for us to know Jesus apart from the Christianized media we consume? Some of you will argue that we've always had Jesus interpreted for us through Scripture and the church, through what we consume. In other words, discipleship has always been mediated. And you may very well be right. I may be chasing a rabbit here. But I still wonder what I might be missing. When discipleship to Jesus becomes dependent, as it so often does, on the writings, teachings, and experiences of someone else, I've got to stop and ask myself a question: "Is this what Jesus had in mind when he invited us to follow him?"