It's always a dangerous thing to suggest that we hold up any Christian as a role model. None of us is perfect; it's fairly easy to pick apart the flaws in anyone. And if things go slightly more wrong, we can sometimes find that we began to put our faith in the wrong person.
There's a bit of a tradition of this in the UK. In recent years there's always been at least one high-profile celebrity who has carried the expectations of their fellow Christians into the heart of culture, and spoken loudly and openly about their faith. For a while it was singer Cliff Richard - who despite the worst that the press tried to throw at him, continues to do a pretty remarkable job of clean living. For a time after that it was Olympian triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who converted to, and then sadly rejected, the faith. In more recent times survival expert and all-round TV hunk Bear Grylls has picked up the torch, simultaneously providing a face to the Scouting movement and the Alpha course.
Increasingly though, the most high-profile figure in the UK who is becoming known for talking openly about his faith is grime artist Stormzy. His album Gang Signs and Prayer, which this week won the coveted Best Album award at the Brits, is packed full of faith referencing content, name-checks for God, and in particular, a two-part gospel song which talks specifically about his own faith journey. In his acceptance speech for the award, he could seem to do little more than thank God, saying: 'Firstly, thank God. That's the reason why I'm here. That's the reason why I'm able to do what I do.' He briefly broke of to thank his mother before returning to the same theme: 'I don't even know how I've managed to achieve this. I thank God, this is the grace of God.'
All this in front of millions of viewers, and the world's media, who have since widely-reported the content of the speech.
Yet - and this much may be rather obvious – Stormzy is no Cliff Richard. His album is, as the title suggests, not just about faith but also violence and gang culture. There are moments which seem to lack much humility as the rapper gets drawn into disputes; there's an awful lot of swearing. It's naive to suggest that Stormzy - real name Michael Omari – is some sort of evangelical pin-up. He's rough around the edges.
Yet for me, it's precisely this roughness that makes him exciting as a face for modern Christianity. Not because he swears a bit, but because his music is political, and seems to be a natural expression of both his experience as a young black man growing up in London, and as a devout follower of Jesus. While all the name-checking for God got a mention in the media coverage, the real headlines were grabbed by his politically-charged performance, which he used to take aim at the British government over the Grenfell Tower tragedy, where many more than the official death toll are thought to have perished in a poorly-maintained London housing block.
The Brits have long been a place where singers and other celebrities have sought to grab public attention, and Stormzy made a similar move. Asking 'Yo Teresa May, where's the money for Grenfell?' he called the government 'criminals' and claimed they 'just forgot about Grenfell.' He went on to rap: 'You criminals, you got the cheek to call us savages / you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages / we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.'
Having been to Grenfell and talked briefly with some of the people who live there, I'm aware that there's a huge sense among them that the country has forgotten about them, and that the politicians don't really care. There's even a significant sense of conspiracy and cover-up; under an underpass in one nearby area a kind of monument has been set up for residents to post up the real stories of what happened during and in the aftermath of the horrific fire. They desperately need someone to speak for them. They are the widows and orphans of London in 2018.
Stormzy grabbed his opportunity in the spotlight to do two things: to draw vital attention back to the victims of Grenfell and the continuing tragedy there, and to make clear reference to the faith that drives him. For me, that makes him a pretty exciting Christian role model. He talks about his faith, and then he actually puts it into action.
Yes, it's dangerous to have mortal heroes when it comes to religious faith. The important thing is to manage our expectations. If we're looking for someone to live a perfect life, to never make a public or private mistake, or even to struggle with doubts, then we probably shouldn't elevate Stormzy – or anyone else for that matter. Yet as a public manifestation of what it means to be devoted to Christian faith, and to act radically as a result, he might just be the hero we needed to recalibrate our culture's idea of what following Jesus looks like.