I would normally have said “never” to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. It’s certainly not a film I would have gone to the cinema to see, not least because I would have hated being surrounded by screaming teenage girls. But on a long-haul flight last week (the trip is why posting has been slow recently) I had the chance to watch this documentary about the Jesus-tattooed teen idol. And I was pleasantly surprised – not by the music and dance, which is not my style, and not by the shots of and interviews with Justin’s teen fans, but by the positive Christian message I found in the film.
It seems this was not accidental. Huffington Post reported a few months ago on how Bieber was being deliberately marketed as a “Christian icon for the tween set”. The article notes how in the film
several scenes show Bieber praying before concerts, and [his mother] Mallette discusses how God brought stability to her life as a single teenage mother.
Well, if the film gives millions of young people worldwide a positive view of the Christian faith, that is something wonderful. But I see something more in the movie, a spiritual lesson about what we can accomplish by faith if we “Never Say Never”. In the words of the film’s tagline, as Christians we need to
Find Out What’s Possible If You Never Give Up.
The basic story is a simple one (spoiler alert if you really don’t know how it ends, so far). Small town kid shows talent on the drums and singing. His mother films him and puts the results on YouTube. (These 2007 videos are on his old YouTube channel – his recent releases are on a newer channel which has now had a staggering 1.7 BILLION views.) A talent manager stumbles across his videos and is impressed enough to sign him up. He sings his way round lots of small venues to get publicity for his first album. The album goes platinum and suddenly Justin is one of the hottest properties in the world. He has a dream to fill the 20,000 seat Madison Square Garden in New York for a concert. People tell him it is impossible. But his manager goes ahead with the booking – and, as reported by Wikipedia as well as in the film, he becomes
The youngest person to ever sell out the garden. … It took 22 minutes for Justin Bieber to sell out the Garden.
Justin refused to give up and achieved his supposedly impossible dream. The film encourages us all to do the same.
So how is this a Christian message? I understand how some people might say that this is secular motivational teaching with a Christian veneer. But then a lot of secular motivational teaching is Christian preaching purged of its overtly religious material. The Christian message here is a simple one: if God has given you a dream, even one which looks impossible, and has called you to make it a reality, then step out in faith, expect his help and blessing, and don’t give up until the dream comes true.
While I have not seen this made explicit, it seems to me that Justin and his mother see his career as some kind of mission from and for God, which they are pursuing by faith. I don’t know if they know the Seven Mountains Mandate teaching which I discussed in a recent post. But Justin has shown in practice how, with the right dream and a lot of hard work, and with what some might see as luck but others as God’s blessing, it is possible even for a young outsider to get right to the peak of the arts and entertainment mountain, to use the position as a powerful Christian witness, and to bring the kingdom of God to that peak.
In the film Justin says
There’s gonna be times where people tell you that you can’t live your dreams. This is what I tell them: Never say never.
If the dreams are from God, then: Amen!