Recently, the Instagram account @PreachersNSneakers has blown up, going from 1,500 followers when I first started following them a week and a half ago to almost 15,000 now.
It’s a funny and sort of blushing-face-emoji look at celebrity preachers wearing shoes that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in the secondary market. The account has elicited mixed reactions in basically two camps: (1) those who think it doesn’t matter and (2) those who think it’s a problem. The first group argues that we aren’t the judge of these guys, they might have received the shoes as gifts, bought them at retail, or maybe they can just afford them. The second group sees the sneakers as another symptom of an on-brand prosperity-lite message.
I tend to resonate with the second group. Whether or not pastor-to-the-stars Chad Veach paid thousands for his total outfit or received it as a gift seems immaterial. The problem is not spending big bucks on clothing. The problem is portraying a public image of wealth and the good life that is not shaped like the cross of Jesus Christ. Scripture says,
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
(2 Corinthians 8:9)
God the Son lived eternally in joyful fellowship with God the Father and the God the Holy Spirit, but,
“existing in the form of God,
he did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.”
Now, I’m as fashion-ignorant as just about anyone, so I would never have known that these shoes cost so much money. But those who do know about these things see in those shoes a projection of wealth and beauty that is not the gospel. Yes, the feet of those who bring the good news of Jesus should be beautiful:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
(Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15)
But that beauty comes from the message of the Messiah. The Messiah, God the Son, Jesus Christ, set aside his riches, first by incarnation (taking on human nature) and then by crucifixion. He did this to bring us into the abundance of a restored relationship with the Triune God. It just seems off somehow that a gospel messenger’s feet would be wrapped in shoes 99.99% of the world could never afford.
But I’m also convicted by all of this as a question presents itself before me.
You see, I’m writing this on a $1400 MacBook computer, with a $450 iPhone in my pocket, $160 AirPods in my ears, and $65 flip flops on my feet. Am I a hypocrite?
That, I think, gets to the heart of the issue. If we have any level of self-awareness whatsoever, a preacher wearing $700 Nikes should make us look at our own lives and ask, “What is the vision of the good life I’m pursuing and presenting?” Is it the wealth and style of the world? Is it the middle-class American dream? Is it something else? We should interrogate our hearts and lives, our decisions and actions, and ask, “Is my lifestyle shaped like the cross?”
We will never hear a true answer just from our own hearts or homogeneous echo chambers. We need the Bible. We need to hold our own lives and Instagram accounts up to the mirror of the perfect Word of God. We also need other Christians. In other words, we need the Church. We need the global Church, and we need socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, and generational diversity within our own local church. We need to recognize that “normal” for us might be ostentatious wealth to another. We need to recognize a no-brainer decision to us (“I got these shoes for free, why shouldn’t I wear them”) might scandalize another brother or sister in Christ or the world we’re trying to tell about a crucified Messiah.
When Jesus received the gift of expensive oil poured over his feet, he received it as a preparation for burial after the cross, and as a signal of his own worthiness as the perfect Lamb of God. He received the gift not to live his best life, but to die his best death. And he never called us to mirror what he receives in his deity and his being God, but he does call us to take up the cross and follow him.
The real question and the real issue is: will we pick up that cross and follow that Messiah? And will we pursue and proclaim that cross and that Messiah in every area of our lives?