Celebrities for Jesus

How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church

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Publishers Weekly starred review

"A must-read for anyone invested in the fate of evangelicalism."--Publishers Weekly

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.

Contents

Part 1: Big Things for God
1. Social Power without Proximity
2. The First Evangelical Celebrities
3. Megachurch, Megapastors
Part 2: Three Temptations
4. Abusing Power
5. Chasing Platforms
6. Creating Persona
Part 3: The Way Up Is Down
7. Seeking Brand Ambassadors
8. The Obscure Messiah and Ordinary Faithfulness


Endorsements

"The ancient temptations Jesus experienced in the wilderness have morphed into toxic cultures of celebrity--and this is cause for great concern. Katelyn Beaty prophetically helps us to see the dangers compromising the church's witness in the world and ways we can live with greater integrity. This book is a great gift and should be required reading for all who love the church."

Rich Villodas, pastor of New Life Fellowship; author of The Deeply Formed Life

"The way of Jesus isn't usually found in brands, name recognition, or programs. It's found in relationships, humility, and servant leadership. In Celebrities for Jesus, Katelyn Beaty beautifully reminds us that pastors and churches shouldn't try to compete with the world by looking like the world through programs, platforms, and numbers but instead should work toward resembling the life of Jesus by making 'little Christs.' Celebrities for Jesus is a much-needed book at this very moment in the church."

Chris Hennessey, stay-at-home dad

"In this stupendously convicting and well-researched book, Katelyn Beaty probes the soul of the celebrity pastor and, more hauntingly, examines how we the people help create such larger-than-life figures. With the inexorable transition to more online forms of discipleship in the digital age, Celebrities for Jesus provides a timely, sober reflection on the toxic culture that often arises when piety and popularity mix."

Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism

"The word 'celebrity' comes from Latin and its root means 'often repeated.' In this book, Katelyn Beaty reveals how the stories of celebrities too often end the same way, even for those claiming to follow Jesus. With the tone of a trusted confidant, she shines a light on what happens behind the scenes of Christian celebrity culture. She illuminates the problem this presents to the church, while offering hints of ways we might change our current trajectory to prevent repeating history. It's a timely read."

D'Shan Berry, follower of Jesus and lover of words

"We are in the midst of a reckoning on the role of celebrity within American evangelicalism. From her position of being inside the machine, Katelyn Beaty brings two key elements to this compelling book. First, she brings knowledge and insights that will help anyone wanting to disentangle their faith from celebrity culture. But, even more than this, she offers an honest, humble self-examination that is a model many of us in the church need to follow."

Karen Swallow Prior, research professor of English and Christianity & Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

"This timely book offers the reader a close, revealing, and challenging look at celebrity Christianity. It doesn't point fingers but rather holds up an overdue mirror to American Christian pop culture. Beaty's journalism bona fides are on full display as she highlights familiar and maybe unfamiliar stories about large segments of American Christianity filled with unchecked power, manipulative charisma, and cultures of enablement. Her vulnerable self-reflection and theological survey are an added bonus that strengthens her credibility. This work contributes to a growing body of thoughtful commentary on church dysfunction with the hope of transformation."

Christina Edmondson, leadership development consultant, Certified Cultural Intelligence facilitator, and cohost of the Truth's Table podcast

"We are living in an age where celebrities are not just the people we see on TV or the movies, but people who have grown a following on social media--and in Christian culture, the pulpit. Katelyn's book Celebrities for Jesus perfectly captures how and why we continuously see popular Christian celebrity leaders fall from the high pedestals we put them on. Amid the scandals and heartbreak caused by trusted leaders, her book is a reminder of the power of proximity and true friendship that we Christians need the most."

Kellie Koch, strategic communications professional

"With insight and empathy, Katelyn Beaty diagnoses the broken patterns of leadership we see in the church. This book shows us the isolation and loneliness and abuse that can come from, and contribute to, these expectations of celebrity. But this book is no mere jeremiad. It points the way forward to renewed visions of power, accountability, and humility."

Russell Moore, chair of public theology, Christianity Today

"Media stardom is a relatively new phenomenon, but the corrosiveness of power and authority is not. Celebrities for Jesus chronicles the abuses and scandals invited by the rise of eminent Christian personalities. It persuasively demonstrates that the embrace of celebrity culture is folly: whatever growth or outreach it achieves for the church comes at great personal and institutional costs."

James Havey, attorney

"A wit once said a celebrity is a person famous for being famous, but the quip needs to be modified for American evangelical celebrities. For evangelicalism, a celebrity is someone who has formed, cultivated, and platformed a persona of themselves that attracts a following. In some cases, there is substance behind the persona; in many cases, there is not. In all cases, we need a demotion of the celebrity culture and an expansion of leaders who are followers of Jesus, the Jesus whose greatness came from the surrender of himself for the sake of others. I am so glad to see Katelyn Beaty expose this serious problem in our churches. It will be a must-read for all those who want to lead."

Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary


The Author

  1. Katelyn Beaty
    Julia Hembree Smith

    Katelyn Beaty

    Katelyn Beaty is a writer, journalist, editor, and keen observer of trends in the American church. She has written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Religion News Service, Religion & Politics, and...

    Continue reading about Katelyn Beaty

Reviews

"[Beaty's] trenchant analysis expertly lays out how greed has plagued the evangelical church and offers hope and guidance on how it might mend. This is a must-read for anyone invested in the fate of evangelicalism."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Beaty] examines the persistent and growing culture of celebrity within the evangelical church, and articulates how this culture deforms Christians and hurts our witness to Christ. . . . Though Beaty focuses on the evangelical world, the dynamics she relates are familiar in any religious circle. . . . Beaty writes as an insider with knowledge, sympathy, and a prophetic cry for change. . . . Since we are all complicit [in the sins of Christian celebrity culture], we all have the responsibility to work toward repair. And thankfully, Beaty doesn't leave us in despair but instead commends the way of Jesus to us."

Greg Williams,

Sojourners

"Timely and urgent. . . . I couldn't stop reading Celebrities for Jesus and not because it gave the gist of the downfalls and poked at the religious rock stars. Rather, this urgent volume is a deeper study on the ways in which celebrity plays a role in who we will hear, who we trust, why we admire and even care about 'stars' and the religiosity of all that. . . . Celebrities for Jesus strikes me as a book that is laden with riches and importance for almost all of us. . . . Personas and platforms and profits combine in various configurations, so, please, don't think this is just for evangelicals or just about snark. It is so much more than that. It is, finally, about the nature of power and the lure of idolatry."

Byron Borger,

Hearts and Minds Books


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