Thinking Out Loud

September 19, 2022

When Celebrity Comes to Church

Review: Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press, 2022)

Katelyn Beaty is one of a number of writers who has been part of the Christianity Today (CT) orbit, as I was briefly, and generally speaking, I find that people who come out of that environment have a healthy and balanced perspective on issues facing the church, and are often granted access to information which provides for additional insights.

Celebrities for Jesus is very much (almost) equal parts

  • history lesson
  • analysis
  • memoir

As a (recent) history lesson, because of my involvement over the years with this blog and its attendant attention to Christian news stories, there was a sense in which Katelyn and I had much of the same information. As soon as she stated something, my brain would signal ‘Yes, but you really need to mention ___________,’ only to find her doing so in the very next sentence.

My wife reminded me that not everyone has the same knowledge. While it’s true that some of the stories she covers in this book were part of Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez and A Church Called TOV by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (which we reviewed here and here respectively) there was coverage of situations and people that were beyond the scope of both books, and at least one name that caught me off guard given the context.

Generally speaking, the context was American, which left me wondering as to the preponderance of superstar pastors in other places. (We do hear occasional stories from South America and Africa; but these were not mentioned.) Is the case of Christian celebrity somewhat unique to the United States?

This brings us to the next part, analysis. This is where I felt the book shines the brightest, especially when the author compared the present state of Christianity to its Biblical ideals.

We do fall short in various ways. Our willingness to confer celebrity shows a flaw in our character, long before the man or woman in question has a misstep. Our stories are looking for heroes.

In each chapter, I never questioned Beaty’s qualifications to offer us some of her perspective. My only wish is that she had explored some of these things further and deeper, which would have resulted in a welcomed longer book.

Finally, there was memoir. On page 158, speaking about the high rates of deconstruction and “faith detox” among her peers, “I sometimes wonder why I am still a Christian.”

That could be said about so many that work or have worked at CT or similar environments such as Religion News Service or Relevant, and get to see the spectacular crashes of individuals and ministry organizations close-up.

And yet, she celebrates that something “about that early faith… that could blossom into an orientation that could withstand doubt, the loss of dreams and cultural pressures.” Absent the more progressive identification of an author such as the late Rachel Held Evans, she still shares that honest vulnerability as she’s wrestled with all she has seen and heard.

Celebrities for Jesus covers its topic well. I even wonder if this needs to be required reading for those younger leaders whose desire to do something great might materialize more about building their kingdom instead of God’s kingdom?

It might have helped a few people not trip up.


Celebrities for Jesus is published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for which its author is also employed. A review copy was made available through publisher representative Graf-Martin Communications who provide publicity, marketing and brand development for clients from their base in Elmira, Ontario, Canada.

October 14, 2020

The Most Uncomfortable Seat I Ever Had at Church

Arriving at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California for the first time in late 1979, I decided I wanted to have the whole Jesus People experience.

Calvary is known as the birthplace of Maranatha! Music and the Pacific Ocean baptisms in Pirate’s Cove. It’s the place where rather than hear the old guard complain about the rivets in the hippies’ blue jeans scratching the pews, they simply removed the pews.

But by the time I got there, the Sunday morning service was fairly traditional. They sang from Inspiring Hymns, the same hymnal my parent’s church used back home. Despite what the band Love Song sang about the “Little Country Church” with “Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties;” there were actually a lot of men in sport coats and ties. It took some adjusting.

One remnant still remained from the earlier days in their older building — which by that time was the Maranatha! Village bookstore — and that was the remnant of people who sat on the floor at the front.

I had to discretely shift my position a few times during the sermon. The floor was plush carpeting but I wasn’t a little kid who could sit cross-legged for an hour school assembly. I think I was somewhat sprawled out by the final one-third of the message. Probably a bit undignified, but I wasn’t alone.

Despite a sore back for the rest of the day, I’m glad I did it. I got to share a piece of history. I feel connected to those just a bit a older than me who sensed a call to the “church on the edge of town” to worship with others of their generation.

photo: Calvary Chapel via this story at Premiere Christianity (UK)

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