As I watched American Idol last night (ummm . . . the wife made me), I was encouraged by the example that the organization provided concerning the needs of humanity. This week they raised over�sixty-million dollars for relief for those less fortunate around the world who are in desperate need of food, clothes, and medical attention. The important thing to note is that American Idol is not a Christian organization. Yet the most popular show on TV focused on those in need all week. They evidenced the Christian virtue of love in a way that few Christian organizations ever have or could. Taking advantage of their twenty-million plus�viewer base, the message of the need to help the poor was displayed dramatically as they extended their usual thirty-minute show to two hours.

As Christians, this may confuse us. Why? Because unbelievers are not supposed to�value human dignity and the Christian idea of self-sacrificial love. What are we to make of this? I see four options for the Christian:

1. Christians must have been behind it. This option would suggest that only Christians with a biblical worldview, redeemed by the Spirit of God, can exercise self-sacrificing love. Therefore, the decision makers of American Idol must be Christian.

2. If Christians were not behind it, whomever was ultimately responsible for this week’s charity did this out of selfish ambition and the love they expressed was not really true. This is the typical option that I find in my circles.�There must have been money involved somewhere influencing all the decisions.

3. These people were attempting to work their way to heaven. This option would�see these good deeds as�a hopeless attempt to place their�resume before God. Rather than recognizing their depraved condition and calling on God for mercy, they see these acts as making them righteous in the site of God.

4. This was not really a good thing. The money should be invested in sending missionaries with the Gospel. As important as food, clothing, and medicine is, it only effects the temporal well-being of a person. We must concentrate on feeding them true bread, the Gospel, which brings eternal health. Those who would choose this option would say that the “social gospel” of temporal well-being is not pleasing in the site of God.

5. Unbelievers can actually do good. This is the most radical for the conservative Christian. This option rejects that we necessarily have to choose one of the previous options. This option would recognize that while people are indeed depraved, separated from God, they can still do good because they still have the image of God residing in them. While they cannot let go of the inherent antagonism that they have for God, they can recognize human dignity and display characteristics of their Creator, even if they reject His authority in their lives.

While I recognize the possibility of the first four, I am inclined (hopeful?)�to believe that the last might very well be the case. If it were so, it would seem that the acts of unbelievers can be used to teach the church a lesson. What is this lesson? I guess I would say that giving people a glass of water may sometimes be just as pleasing to God as giving them a tract.

The primary difficulty with option�five is certain biblical passages that suggest that the unredeemed cannot do any good at all. Notice Romans 3:12. Paul is making his case against all of humanity, arguing for the universal need of the Gospel based upon universal depravity:

Romans 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (ESV)

“No one does good, not even one.” The NET Bible translates the word “good” here as “kindness” which seems to be a more accurate nuance of the Greek chrestotes. (crhsto,thj). This�causes more trouble for the current interpretive stance that I would like to take. Applied to the humanitarian efforts of those behind American Idol, this could mean that no matter how things look, they are not really doing good in any sense.

However, I don’t think that we should take Paul’s statements here in first part of Romans as unqualified absolutes concerning the ability of unredeemed humanity to do good in any sense. I believe that Paul is indeed placing a universal indictment upon all mankind, but I believe that this indictment of depravity is, as I said above, with respect to their recognition and relationship with God. In this sense, no one does good in acting in concert with the purest form of motivation, a love for and modeling of God. Those among the unredeemed do good with their fists of antagonism�in the air toward God. Unredeemed mothers love and care for their children with fists in the air toward God. Friends come to the aid of friends with their fists in the air toward God. Fathers go to work to care for their family with their fists in the air toward God. In the case of American Idol’s benevolence, if they are unredeemed, they may do good, but they do this good with their fists in the air toward God. The efforts of all these people can evidence the “good” that God proclaimed upon creation (Gen. 1:31). In�this sense, we would say that God’s common grace allows all people to do good, even if they do so while remaining antagonistic toward God.

Something to think about.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    8 replies to "American Idol and Human Dignity"

    • David Petersen

      I agree with your point number 5. In my own circle of friends, I know those who are loving, caring, willing to give others the shirt off their back – but also refuse to acknowledge that they need God.

      Nice commentary!

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks David. I agree. I know many people who shame me when it comes to acts of benevolence, but they don’t know the Lord.

    • tnahas


      I think the name of the show says it all: American IDOL. Now I do believe that all 5 options do apply in one way or another. Although I must say I have been recently influenced on a three part sermon I did on the topic of love in Scripture influenced by our Humanity & Sin class. First part was our love to God and God’s love to us; part 2 was the love of one another and love of our neighbour and part 3 was whether self love is biblical which concluded that self love in Scripture is revealed in self-sacrificial love. This was done from a biblical perspective with a comparison of the way of the world (non-Christian context) as well.

      The Lord does a great job of revealing the way of the world in Mark 10:35-45 when the John and James ask for thrones. The one difference that readily comes to mind is that before I believed in God I was, in my mind, “doing good” and had no need of God which all around me confirmed that we can do good without the need of God in the middle of it. The Muslim faith, the Hindu faith and many other non-Christian faiths believe that man is essentially good and our prime directive (Star Trek talk) is to do good to those all around us and we will receive favour in the sight of God and even blessings here on earth.

      But really when the tally is run up all we were doing (in my unsaved state) was earning favour among men. Even atheists would follow the same path as non-Christians in that they would do good to receive favour back from men whether consciously or subconsciously.

      That is why we tell others that the Christian life is not to find favour with God in temporal blessings because many Christians do and have suffered greatly for the faith which most of us in the Western world have no clue about.

      I do believe that non-Christians can be sincere in their doing good like American Idol but ultimately the purpose behind it maybe the biblical example of the the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:4 “let us make a name for ourselves”.

      Michael, I do agree though that the Church could learn from these secular examples of charity. One Christian wrote that all the wealth of the Church could sink all the navies of the world combined. Let’s give a cold cup of water and then tell them about Jesus.

    • C Michael Patton

      Amen Taffy. This is something that I have rebelled against for some time. Giving waer to the stranger was the last thing that I wanted to do. I think I used it as an excuse, in a sinful way, to selfishly keep my mammon to myself. But how are we to witness to someone who is starving when we have the means to help their condition? Good word my friend.

    • forhisglory


      Wow. This is something I too have thought a lot about.

      First, a question for you – do you think that the message of Phil. 1:18 is in some way applicable here? I don’t want to try and create a parallel with this passage if it is not there, but it certainly seems to me like Paul is more concerned with God’s purposes being accomplished rather than who God chooses to accomplish it through or what their motivations are. Paul just rejoices that God is glorified, and I think that this is a good example of how we should be.

      On a side note, one of the hardest situations for me is when someone does something great, and then I hear some mention of “good karma”. That seems to be the line I hear more and more. It always tends to make me think that the person is expecting something back in return for their good deeds. This reminds me to pause and question my own motivations when I do good works. Am I expecting a reward for what I am doing here or am I doing it because I love Christ and am eternally indebted to Him? (just as I must eternally forgive others) If I give money to a missionary or organization and then those people wrong me, will I regret having given them money? If my good work did not earn me a single additional blessing on earth or in Heaven, would I still do it out of selfless love for God and others or would I be disappointed?

      Take care,

    • C Michael Patton

      Bill, I think you may be on with the Phil passage. “Whether in pretense or in truth, so long as Christ is proclaimed, we will rejoice.” In this case, the mercy of Christ is seen.

    • Carrie Hunter

      Great post Michael.

      I was recently having a conversation about this. It was to do with the Emerging Church and how we can learn much from them. I couldn’t believe it! I was defending the movement! But my position was that one of the beneficial things of the EC movement is they are at least focusing on “living it out” in helping the poor, the hungry, the diseased etc. While the physical needs are not our primary focus (we must be focused on their spiritual state so amen there Taffy) we do need to be cautious and not forget or better stated neglect our command to help people in need.

      Ever since I went through the Humanity & Sin class there has been a weight on me about what I can do to help. I mean it’s just ironic because back when I wasn’t living my life for the Lord (even though I belonged to Him) I was so much more active with social issues. I wrote letters for Amnesty International, I worked for Greenpeace, I wrote letters to my congressmen to encourage them to vote on certain bills etc. But now? Nothing.

      Your blog has finally lit the fire beneath me.

      I just got off the phone with the wife of one of our pastors and told her of an idea I have about making sack lunches and taking them to Little Five Points (an area in Atlanta where there are many homeless people) and then handing them out to people and telling them about the Lord. It will be a great witnessing opportunity. We can go up to them, give them food, and then tell them why. “Because our Lord commanded us to feed you. Now let me tell you about Him.”

      It may seem kitschy, but it is something and it is high time I do something.

      So, thank you Michael for reminding us of what we are to be doing as believers. 🙂

    • C Michael Patton

      Wow Carrie. That is great. Thanks for sharing.

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