Also by this author: Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church
Published by Brazos Press on August 16, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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Many Christian leaders use their fame and influence to great effect. Whether that popularity resides at the local church level or represents national or international influence, many leaders have effectively said to their followers, "Follow me as I follow Christ." But fame that is cultivated for its own sake, without attendant spiritual maturity and accountability, has a shadow side that runs counter to the heart of the gospel. Celebrity--defined as social power without proximity--has led to abuses of power, the cultivation of persona, and a fixation on profits.
In light of the fall of famous Christian leaders in recent years, the time has come for the church to reexamine its relationship to celebrity. Award-winning journalist Katelyn Beaty explores the ways fame has reshaped the American church, explains how and why celebrity is woven into the fabric of the evangelical movement, and identifies many ways fame has gone awry in recent years. She shows us how evangelical culture is uniquely attracted to celebrity gurus over and against institutions, and she offers a renewed vision of ordinary faithfulness, helping us all keep fame in its proper place.
At the beginning of Celebrities for Jesus, Katelyn Beaty differentiates fame from celebrity, showing that even though fame can be a worthwhile byproduct of a virtuous life, celebrity is a different beast. At this point, as she perfectly defined both fame and celebrity, I knew the book was going to be amazing. I was somewhat nervous to read this originally, since I have found the author’s Twitter discourse combative and frustrating in the past, but book is so good that it revised my opinion of the author. Beaty is thoroughly nuanced, compassionate, and Christ-centered, caring about disgraced celebrity Christians as well as the people they have harmed or led astray. Instead of just critiquing individual leaders, she calls out celebrity-producing systems in the church, showing how Christians often platform and promote attractive, charismatic people without appropriate concern for their emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being.
Powerful and Gracious
Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church is a careful study of how our current Christian celebrity culture developed, why it is harmful, and how abuses of power naturally arise when people who start out as sincere leaders become isolated from others, lack adequate accountability, and become used to getting things done through the success of their ministry and the force of their personality. Beaty isn’t afraid to call out specific names, sharing stories from leadership crises most of her readers will be aware of, but she does this with a spirit of grace.
In one chapter, Beaty focuses on the role of the Christian publishing industry. She honors her own and others’ work to serve the church through publishing, but she grapples with harsh realities of how secular buy-outs of major Christian publishers and the siren song of profit have caused the Christian book industry to create a gatekeeping, celebrity-driven machine that prioritizes someone’s popularity over their spiritual maturity or hard-earned wisdom. Beaty also addresses issues related to plagiarism, unacknowledged ghostwriters, and attaining bestseller ratings through unethical means. Her insider knowledge makes this chapter especially hard-hitting.
At the end, Beaty offers a call for “ordinary faithfulness.” She deliberately avoids offering a tidy, multi-step solution to fixing this endemic problem, but encourages her readers to consider and follow Jesus’s example of faithful, ordinary service in obscurity. Some readers may wish that she had provided more insight about how to effect change, but she decided against this to avoid the celebrity trap itself, in which someone claims to have all the answers and urges people to follow their program. I think this is wise, and not a cop-out in the slightest.
I have just two critiques worth noting. One is that even though Beaty correctly labels many issues as the outworking of white evangelicalism, she frequently overuses the term when she is really talking about evangelicalism at large. As I repeatedly noticed this, I thought about how alienating it could be for some readers, whether they wish she’d acknowledge celebrity culture in the Black church or feel like she’s scapegoating white people as the only contributors to a broad-ranging problem. I wish that she hadn’t used the term “white evangelicalism” when talking about general issues that appear in many contexts, and I hope that future works on this subject will address specific Christian celebrity culture issues in other racial and cultural groups.
I also wish that Beaty had acknowledged concern for people’s souls as a major reason why Christians rejoice over mainstream celebrity conversions. She clearly, thoughtfully addresses the poor motivations at play within some Christian responses to celebrity conversions, such as looking for cultural currency by association, but I wish she had acknowledged genuine concern for the celebrities themselves as a factor. She probably assumed that this was implied, but since she doesn’t say it outright, she makes it seem like Christians only approach these conversions in shallow, selfish ways.
Celebrities for Jesus is a powerful, hard-hitting book that exposes major issues facing the American church today. Katelyn Beaty writes with grace and insight throughout, getting to the root of major issues while still expressing compassion for everyone involved, from the people enamored with celebrities to disgraced celebrities themselves. Overall, I found this book extremely thoughtful, well-written, and carefully thought out, and I highly recommend it to people who are concerned about the many issues that it covers. There is nothing sensationalized or one-sided about this book, and Beaty’s careful examination of the celebrity problem is a must-read.