Cover Image: Celebrities for Jesus

Celebrities for Jesus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I was excited to receive a copy of this new book from @brazospress ! It’s a timely, prophetic call to the white evangelical church to examine the ways we have participated in celebrity culture, to the detriment of all involved.
 
Beaty examines the idea of power without proximity & the beginnings of Evangelical celebrity, as well as the temptations that come with it (abuse of power, chasing platforms, & creating personas). Her experience as a journalist lends credibility to the reporting of concrete examples of this phenomenon (stories about fallen Christian celebrities such as Ravi Zacharias, John Crist, Bill Hyels, and Mark Driscoll). I appreciate her challenge to evangelical Christians to consider how we have been complicit in the same system that has abused us. Challenges to the church that come from insiders demonstrate a love for the church that calls us to be better as opposed to a self-righteous critique. 
 
Beaty closes the book with a consideration for a way forward in her final chapter titled, “The Obscure Messiah and Ordinary Faithfulness.” She rightly points out that her insights are not original; the church has always had prophets point to the value in leading a humble, ordinary life of love. However, it’s helpful to see this woven into our current cultural context so that we can repent and move forward into a better way.
Was this review helpful?
As a content creator, I am, naturally, aware of the people who read my work. Celebrity status is so remote as to be laughable, but even in my little corner of the internet, Facebook nags me to “promote” my posts, and WordPress is compelled to notify me every time a new subscriber shows up. Honestly, I love knowing that my words make a difference, so I can see how the lure of celebrity could become an end in itself.

We’ve all been blessed and encouraged by believers who put their gifts on display to serve kingdom purposes. And we’ve witnessed the crash and burn of Christians who “have reached for the tool of celebrity and found that it isn’t really a tool at all. It has more power over the user than the user has over it.”

In Celebrities for Jesus, Katelyn Beaty asserts that like all of God’s good gifts, the secret to keeping the desire for influence in its rightful place is to hold it loosely. She makes the helpful observation that we are healthier when we look to the virtuous and the exceptional as icons rather than as idols. Idols replace God where icons represent him well.

Our failure to honor this boundary has contributed to the tragedies inherent to the Christian celebrity mindset: “the power without proximity” that attracts a following, deceives the leader (and her followers!), often shields the guilty, and even isolates the celebrity within a lonely spotlight.

Obviously, the book does not extend a solution to the global problem, but does emphasize the importance of accountability, community, simplicity, integrity, and humility as crucial safeguards. Ordinary faithfulness is a healthy posture, and it is, after all, the pattern set by our Savior.

Beaty’s observations are enriched by her roots in evangelical youth culture of the late 90’s and also by the historical details she gleaned through her editorial post with Christianity Today. Whether you regard the concept of “famous Christians” as good, evil, or neutral, their existence reveals something important about the heart of the church that bears examination–and perhaps even repentance.
Was this review helpful?
This is such an insightful book. I appreciated Katelyn’s openness in examining how the publishing industry contributes to celebrity culture in the church. She gives a lot to think about and challenges how we view celebrity pastors. Definitely recommend
Was this review helpful?
I finished this book just as news was breaking about another evangelical pastor engaging in inappropriate and immoral behavior. As someone who has grown up in mega churches and evangelical culture, this story is so familiar to me now that it barely registers or surprises me anymore. 

Katelyn Beaty’s book explores the historical and current phenomenon of the “Christian celebrity” and the impacts of this celebrity on the church, their witness, and the people who sit under their teaching. She combined academic study, observation, and primary source interviews to weave together a thesis that is well supported in an accessible and easy to follow book. There’s little waste or material unconnected to her central ideas here, which I really appreciated (I supposed that’s a benefit of reading a book written by an editor!) 

Thanks so much to Brazos and NetGalley for the gifted copy. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Was Jesus trying to be a celebrity?  Katelyn Beaty would not think so.  She expresses her concern for the authentic life of the church.  In this concern, she traces the growth of celebrity culture in the church.  Following, with respect, the career of Billy Graham, we learn of the impact of media and how connection is lost that way. Pastors and authors can fall prey to celebrity culture, and with unwitting encouragement from ordinary folks. Her extensive footnotes at the end show her thorough research.  Beaty reviews some sad collapses in Christian leadership.  And importantly, she asks where everyday believers fit in.  How can we keep this from happening?
Was this review helpful?
Ì loved Katelyn Beaty's first book, "A Woman's Place", so I was eager to read this one. While it isn't like her last work, it has the same approachable, well-researched and amazingly written discourse. This book is about an important topic - the phenomena of celebrity in Christian culture - and she tackles it with much wisdom and grace. I appreciated this book so much, and would recommend it to anyone disillusioned by the celebrity culture and failings of many of these celebrities in Evangelicalism.
Was this review helpful?
How can a book be both gentle and uncompromising?

"An award-winning writer shows how and why celebrity is woven into the fabric of the evangelical movement, identifies many ways fame goes awry, shows us how we all unwittingly foster a celebrity culture, and offers a vision of faithfulness to the Messiah who was despised and rejected."

It's easy to find criticism against the American Church. It's difficult to find an opinion balanced with both a deep love for The Body of Christ and deep concern for its future.

In this insightful and necessary look at how our desire to get close to fame can hinder our search for Christ, turn icons into idols, and trade intimacy for illusion.

9.5/10

I'll be searching out more Katelyn Beaty, for certain.

I was delighted to receive this ARC from NetGalley and Brazos Press.
Was this review helpful?
It would be perfectly reasonable if you were to expect to open up the pages of Katelyn Beaty's "Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church" and experience a brutal takedown of the high power, power-seeking, and celebrity-driven culture that seems to have crept its way into evangelical churches nationwide.

After all, one need only visit social media for a few minutes to experience the wide chasm that can exist between Christians and it seems like we're inundated with a mass marketing and commercialization of faith, church, and Christianity as a whole.

However, Katelyn Beaty is a journalist and "Celebrities for Jesus" reads like exactly what it is - an incredibly well-researched and remarkably insightful and compassionate exploration of the ways that fame has reshaped the American church, how and why celebrity is woven into the tapestry of the evangelical movement, and a precise, no-holds-barred examination of how all of this has gone awry in a myriad of ways including the allowance of spiritual "gurus" of sorts to hold sway over the actual faith community.

Remarkably, while Beaty isn't hesitant at all to name names, she names names in a way that offers grace and instead of condemnation simply guides us, her readers, toward a return to a more ordinary faithfulness acknowledging gifts without allowing them to build someone into celebrity status and without turning our faith away from Christ and toward the personas, platforms, and profit-seekers who are ultimately hurting the church.

Beaty structures "Celebrities for Jesus" into three sections.

"Big Ideas" for God provides us the framework for Beaty's literary discussion including a working definition for celebrity as "social power without proximity." She then provides a historical perspective of the first evangelical celebrities and moves into a discussion of megachurches and mega-pastors. She provides a working definition of megachurch as a church with at least 2,000 members and notes that there are approximately 1,750 nationwide.

For the record, while mine is rather non-traditional I will note that only in the past year have I joined what could be considered a megachurch. It's a rarity for me having primarily attended smaller churches, church plants, and or served as an interim pastor myself in smaller churches.

The second section of "Celebrities for Jesus" is entitled "Three Temptations" and explores the abuse of power and the chasing of personas and platforms. For me, this was like a segue from an extensive and thorough history lesson into remarkably passionate and precise discourse. While I struggled in a few pages as Beaty widened the lens to explore celebrity culture in society and at large, I still found this section riveting primarily because Beaty writes it with such clarity but also with such remarkable compassion.

Finally, section three finds Beaty moving into hope by examining the basic idea that "The Way Up is Down," a theologically-based call to return to a simpler faith, an ordinary faith, and a Christianity where pastors are content to be, well, pastors.

With "Celebrities for Jesus," Beaty takes the argument that many of us have had online, myself included, and puts the research behind it. However, I must also confess that she does an extraordinary job of reminding us, also myself included, of the ways that we have contributed to the problem.

Oh, and yes I have.

Beaty examines both familiar and unfamiliar names. Beaty looks at celebrity culture in the church through a critical lens including multiple current and familiar cases. Yet, again, what's refreshing is just how remarkably gracious she is throughout the entire experience without compromising her journalistic integrity.

Speaking of which, perhaps the most powerful part of "Celebrities for Jesus" is her own examination of the faith-based publishing world of which, by the way, she is actually part of not just as a writer but having worked within the industry for years and as an employee of the publisher of this very book. In other words, she doesn't let herself off the hook.

Bravo.

This refreshing humility provides a model for self-examination and it was a self-examination that I began not long after having read the final pages of "Celebrities for Jesus." As I reflected, I began to realize the areas why I'd bought into a toxic faith culture and I began to realize the ways I'd contributed to a toxic faith culture. I also began to have a deeper appreciation for those Christian writers, singers, and actors I've encountered who at least seemed to be trying to work against it in a myriad of ways. I reflected, for example, on those writers who reached out to me genuinely (and not to sell books) after an amputation in late 2019 and how their encouragement helped me maintain faith during a particularly challenging time in my life.

Christ taught us that our lives are to be lived for others and that we are to surrender ourselves toward loving one another, a basic tenet of faith that often gets flipped when the idea of celebrity enters our churches and our faith. While she doesn't necessarily speak out truly "against" megachurches, she presents valid concerns that far too often this culture lends itself toward creating a central figurehead that becomes the public face or "celebrity" of that church. I thought to myself, for example, of the churches I know here in Indianapolis where there are multiple campuses yet they all gather on Sundays to watch a single pastor on video.

That's just weird to me.

I wish I had read a book like "Celebrities for Jesus" in seminary. It seems like the overwhelming emphasis these days is on planting and growing and marketing and building and "How can we get more people?" Far too often, that growth and outreach creates toxicity (though, as well, a non-hospitable, closed church or cliquish church can do the same).

Unsurprisingly, "Celebrities for Jesus" often reminded me of the works and writings of Kate Bowler, another writer I deeply respect and also a research-based writer.

I'm not sure what I expected from "Celebrities for Jesus," but I'm absolutely sure I got so much more and I'll be chewing on this book for quite some time. Beaty is also author of " A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World" and co-host of the "Saved by the City" podcast - both of which I'll be checking out in the near future!
Was this review helpful?
This ended up being a surprisingly quick read--both, I think, due to its length (short) as well as Beaty's compelling writing style. I found the topic surprisingly interesting and relevant.

The first section of the book was, to me, more interesting and, frankly, more documented/balanced/"equal opportunity issues" noted on both sides of the political aisle. The second section fell into more op-ed piece and felt much more biased against conservatives, in both politics and religion. Yes, the examples/issues are there--but they're on the left, too, and I didn't feel that both sides of the aisle were equally represented, nor was it entirely unbiased. Beaty and I both grew up in the 80s and 90s, with all that entailed across entertainment/mainstream culture and the American Christian church--and grew into who we are today a tad bit differently. Which is fine; it certainly prompted me to think quite a bit, and I am just as susceptible as the next person to follow a celebrity more than I should. I'll entirely own that, lol. I would have simply liked to see more room for dialogue across the aisle and across the board in the second section, along with more fleshing out of "okay--we shouldn't idolize peeps--so what _should_ we do instead?" The book ended a bit abruptly on that front, and I feel it would have benefited from more.

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGallehy. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
As soon as I saw the announcement for this book I knew I was going to want to read it.

I’ve seen firsthand the way that big personalities can creat toxic environments in the church, and Katelyn Beaty’s work was so affirming to read. Celebrity is a disease in the modern American church and she lays it all out in one digestible piece.

Beaty walks through some painful examples of what unchecked power can do to the people around celebrity personalities in the church (and man, some of these still hit pretty close to home after all the years since they happened).

This is a really great resources for others in the church looking to put words to what they might be seeing happen in their own lives. Beaty’s solution is one we might not want, but one that is so practical: our leaders need to take a step back and stop putting their following or prestige above God.
Was this review helpful?
NOTE: I am on this book's launch team and was given an ARC

I grew up in the Los Angeles area. I am accustomed to the ways that "secular" celebrities are treated and revered. It is well past time that "Christian" celebrities be evaluated by Christ's standards rather than clinging to the ways of the world. This book is SO needed at this time. As we see White Christian Evangelical leaders fall like flies, Beaty speaks incisively and unflinchingly about the ways WCE leaders have traded Christ-likeness for Christ-promotion. She writes candidly about several facets of the WCE machine, but her notes on publishing are especially difficult. Will folks say that this book is "deconstructionist"? Of course, but only because they are the beneficiaries of a system that pretends to emulate Jesus but really emulates celebrity culture.
Was this review helpful?
Beaty covers a lot of territory in answering the question that plagues me in ministry--why does evangelical Christianity continue to platform charismatic (usually) white men who let us down? What are we looking for when we do this, and what are our better alternatives? I wish I could say the answers are easy, but they're not. They will take soul searching and coordination across churches, publishing, individuals, and more.  The author recognizes this and offers no simple fixes but challenges readers to talk about it and work through a healthy way of putting people in leadership. Worth reading to understand the psychology, and profit, behind our obsession with celebrity.
Was this review helpful?
This book is so timely and important. The tendancy in evangelical culture to hold some up higher than others and to glorify fame is damaging to the church and faith as a whole. Damaging to those within, and a bad example to non-believers looking on.. Recommended.
Was this review helpful?
Eye-opening accounts of what happens when wealth, fame, and power collide with spreading the words of Jesus. All of the case studies are non-Catholic personalities but there are plenty of tidbits to be chewed on here on personal conduct vis-a-vis religious activities.  Accessible and incisive, this is a great addition to any public library collection for religious topics.
Was this review helpful?
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for a review.

In this book Beaty does an excellent job at examining the rise of "celebrity" and the role that it has taken up within the Christian church (in the United States). Many Christians are well-aware of public failings of celebrity pastors or ministry leaders, leaving them to wonder "how does this keep happening and what can we do about it?". 

Beaty traces the history of Christian celebrity culture and examines the structures that enable and support it, such as Christian book publishing (especially interesting as Beaty both writes Christian books and works for a Christian publisher). I think it would have been easy to fall into making this a book that points fingers yelling "gotcha!" at specific individuals, but while Beaty is unafraid to mention individuals by name it never feels unfair or pointed, rather they serve as supporting examples of her overall argument calling for a willingness of ministry leaders to be smaller or more obscure, resistant to the temptation of celebrity and power. 

As someone who has read the author's previous book and listened to her podcast it does strike me that she in fact has a certain level of "celebrity" herself, which she does recognize towards the end of the book..
Was this review helpful?
I've followed Katelyn Beaty on Twitter for several years, so I've been eagerly anticipating this book. I was not disappointed! "Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church"  was an incredibly insightful and eye-opening book. I appreciated how Beaty researched and detailed all the ways Christian celebrity has brought poison into the church. She did a particularly good job defining the differences between an icon and in idol. 

Beaty finished her book with some incredibly profound thoughts on the importance of faithfulness, rather than celebrity. She asserts that the right form of leadership "means casting off the big ideals of living big lives for God and accepting that our greatest moments of faithfulness may be achieved in complete obscurity. Maybe it means getting back down to the roots -- to something as small as a mustard seed. To a faith that is hidden and unnoticed, barely visible to the human eye. The kingdom of God is not coming through bright lights and loudspeakers and impressive buildings and multimedia teaching series and PR specialists and strategic partnerships and viral content. It is not coming through entertaining anecdotes and polished talks and best selling books. IT is not coming through any strategy. It's not even coming through you and me. We don't build or usher in the kingdom of God. We merely attest to its reality in our lives. If only we would get out of the way."

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
How do celebrities for Jesus hurt the Church? Is it not a good thing to use celebrity pastors, preachers, and professors to draw in the crowds in order to listen to the gospel preached to the masses? Didn't Paul say in 1 Corinthians 9:22 that he would "become all things to all people" that people might be saved through the gospel? Well, the arguments are compelling that God could use anyone, especially flawed individuals to draw people to Him. That said, would God approve of the Church copying the ways of the world in the name of ministry? Does the ends justify the means? It all depends on motives. It also depends on which is the greater influence: Culture or Christlikeness? In this book that reflects on the virtues and vices of fame and celebrity-style ministries, we reflect on the root values that are driving people to do what they do. Three dangerous temptations lie at the root of the worldly celebrity mindset. The first temptation is the unholy use of Power. Beaty names how the famous (or infamous) Ravi Zacharias was able to captivate large audiences with his persona and persuasive words in public. Yet, his private life is filled with shameful abuse of power. Before his death, he was accused of sexual impropriety. After his death, his organization broke down after in-depth investigations exposed a history of cover-ups and multiple abuses of positions and power. Other celebrities include Mark Driscoll, whose charismatic preaching drowns out other accusations of abuse. Another charming celebrity involved in sexual scandals is the lead pastor of the famous Hillsong Church, Carl Lentz, who deceived not only his congregation but also his own family. Prosperity gospel preachers often gravitate toward the rich and the influential at the expense of the poor and needy. Their motive is the very thing they often preach about: Health and Wealth. Beaty reminds us that celebrity not only deceives people, it shields one from being investigated, and eventually isolates themselves from people. 

The second temptation is about chasing platforms for fame and recognition. Some do it through publishing while others look at profits as their driving factor. If one can get famous, it will draw more people to pay attention to them. Unfortunately, when fame takes priority over the promotion of Christ, the ministry suffers eventually. Associated with fame is also the power factor. Once authors become famous, they use their name to negotiate better deals with publishing houses, especially the bigger ones. From the desire for fame lies other associated temptations like plagiarism, deception, and using dubious sources like ResultSource to gain the upper hand in the ranking of bestseller lists. The point is: Be aware of anyone using publishing to look impressive on the outside. 

The third temptation is about creating persona for recognition and personal gain. The aim is to look good and project an image that people like. Such people typically try to hide their inner insecurity with impressive outer shells. While people admire such people from the outside, deep inside, one pays a high personal cost, the chief of all is loneliness. 

When one yields to one or more of these temptations, eventually the ministry and the Church suffers. 

My Thoughts
==============
Katelyn Beaty has given us an important reminder that the higher one climbs, the harder one falls. Ministry leaders are often faced with a stark choice: Are they serving God or are they self-serving? Let me offer three thoughts. First, ministry leaders must ask themselves: Do they want ministry success via celebrity-style or integrity-style? Before one can choose integrity, one needs to resist the temptation to chase after celebrity status. One could argue that they could do both, justifying a win-win scenario for Christ and for themselves. This is the way of the business world. Whatever the means, if one gets the result, why not? Celebrity-style ministries tend to minimize the virtuous means as long as they get the result they wanted. Captured by the temptation for success, they substitute personal integrity for public fame. Beaty warns us that while celebrity conversions can make Christianity cool, they unwittingly lead people to bark up the wrong tree. Worse, they entice others to copy what they do, repeat what they say, and imitate how they look. Integrity-style however stays true to the ways of Christ. Resisting the temptations of the world, integrity keeps one grounded in the Truth of the Gospel.

Secondly, ministry leaders must ask: Is their ministry platform built upon their identity in Christ or the worldly persona they crave after? Beware that their icons of fame do not become idols of the world that distract people from the Christ they preach or claim to preach for. With identity, one grows out of a truthful self. Otherwise, the danger is to let persona eat us up from the outside in. There will come a time in which worldly success if it comes will have no inner foundation to stand upon. Like the famous phrase, "Empty vessels make the loudest noise," if our inside is empty, what we say may become hollow words that not only lead people astray, it destroys us further.

Thirdly, we are to ask ourselves if our motivations for ministry is humility-led or pride-driven. This calls for us to consider our motives right from the start. Even then, we need to regularly do self-examinations to clear the weeds of pride. As Beaty points out to us at the end of the book, we need to take heed of what Henri Nouwen calls, the temptations of relevance, being spectacular and powerful. All of these feed off the root of pride. Instead, the way to humble ministry lies in resisting all of these. 

There are lots of good stuff in this book. If you are a ministry leader, you need to read this book. If you are aiming for greater recognition in your ministry, let Beaty's book bring you back down to earth, to walk in the ways of Christ.

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 The Atlantic and has commented on faith and culture for CNN, ABC, NPR, the Associated Press, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She also cohosts the Saved by the City podcast (Religion News Service). Beaty previously served as print managing editor at Christianity Today and is the author of A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade
This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Was this review helpful?
A needed book for this time, Beaty wrote with both honesty and compassion, holding a mirror up and inviting the reader to do the same. It's truthful but not unkind, a must-read for anyone in church leadership (or, I suggest, Christians in leadership or who attend a church).
Was this review helpful?
Celebrities for Jesus is an incisive look at “how personas, platforms, and profits are hurting the church". I greatly admire Katelyn's voice and seem to align with her theology. I am a fan of her first book, A Woman's Place, and appreciate her style of both objective journalism and humor about Christian culture.

The first section of the book dives into a history of evangelicalism, megachurches, and evangelical celebrities--Billy Graham being the first. Beaty defines celebrity as "social power without proximity." The second section describes three temptations of celebrity: abusing power, chasing platforms, and creating personas. Beaty defines power as "the innate human ability to steward the world to glorify God and bless creation and fellow image bearers." 

It was interesting to read Beaty's perspective on ”Christian celebrities" as she is an insider in the Christian publishing world and has a public platform as well. Pop culture fans will enjoy the stories about Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and John Mulroney that parallel the stories of Bill Hybels, Carl Lentz, Ravi Zacharias, and Mark Driscoll. I admired how Beaty manages to make a book critiquing Christian celebrity culture surprisingly hopeful and positive. She always draws readers back to the example of Jesus Christ, the ultimate leader with power who rejected celebrity. Beaty challenges us to "recapture a vision of ordinary faithfulness, a vision of the Christian life that begins and ends with producing 'little Christs'".
Was this review helpful?
In this timely, gracious-yet-truthful critique of the American church’s relationship with celebrity, journalist and editor Katelyn Beaty pulls back the curtain on the human heart and its love of fame—for those at the top, and those in the pews. Thank you to NetGalley and Baker Academic and Brazos Press for the advance e-copy.

Let me just start by saying, this book is crucial for the Church. Who of us have not been touched by celebrity in some way? Whether our own platform and influence are growing, or we’re fueling this dangerous position of “social power without proximity”—a false sense of intimacy—we aren’t immune to the power of fame. Beaty describes how we can adore leaders to the point we’re following them instead of Christ, where our Christian identity is wrapped up with fallen people. It’s dangerous for everyone involved: leaders are not held accountable, and our faith is so tied to them that if they crumble, our faith does, too.

Beaty delves into the first Christian celebrities, showing how mega-evangelists built up their “brand” even before the age of internet and social media, and how their celebrity power and traveling crusades eclipsed “God’s Plan A” for the world: the local church. She talks about temptations Christian leaders face: to chase platforms in the name of “doing big things for God” and “reaching more for the kingdom,” and how people’s personas (the image they project to the world) can leave those behind the personas feeling more unknown and isolated than ever—a recipe for disaster.

I love that Beaty finishes this book by highlighting the lowly obscurity of Jesus’s entrance into the world and the humility of his ministry. He didn’t seek fame; he came to serve us all. And in that, he became the most famous person who ever lived.

This is a must-read for church leaders and laypeople alike. 

(note: I'll post this on social media closer to the publication date.)
Was this review helpful?