We love Christian celebrities. And by that I don’t only mean speakers and pastors who gain celebrity status in the Christian world. I mean famous celebrities in secular spaces—think Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Daddy Yankee, Hulk Hogan, or the latest, Nala Ray—who publicly convert or make a profession of faith.

In one sense, this rejoicing is good and right, an extension of the “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). But applauding celebrity professions of faith from afar is not quite the same as rejoicing when witnessing true repentance. And if we’re not careful, we can end up grasping at straws, looking for the subtlest of signs that our favorite famous figures are believers—even if they’re bearing little to no fruit (Matt. 7:15–20).

This habit of looking for Christians in high places is popular across cultural and political lines. Our family watched football games together when I was a kid, and whenever a player pointed to the sky after a touchdown, my mom would say (sometimes joking, sometimes not), “I bet he’s a Christian!” She and my sisters do the same thing now with K-pop band members, and I once had a roommate who was lowkey obsessed with Justin Bieber and regularly prayed for his salvation.

Believers on both sides of the political aisle are eager to prove that their favorite politicians are really and truly saved—like those who claim former president Donald Trump was (repeatedly) led in the sinner’s prayer, or those who point to President Joe Biden’s Mass attendance as a sign of genuine faith.

This past fall, as soon as news spread of actor Matthew Perry’s passing, Christians started circulating quotes from his autobiography detailing a powerful encounter he had with God. Just a few weeks prior, Christians were scouring the pages of Britney Spears’s new memoir for kernels of faith—which are there, alongside her account of learning Kabbalah from Madonna and the revelation that she doesn’t have “strict ideas about religion.”

Spears’s religious syncretism is one reason this eagerness to find breadcrumbs of faith is not simple Christian hope: It encourages us to overlook serious departures from basic orthodoxy in our enthusiasm for claiming a famous soul.

More recently, there’s been debate in evangelical circles about the Muslim-turned-New Atheist intellectual figure Ayaan Hirsi Ali—whose public conversion outlines her reasons for subscribing to Christianity but doesn’t mention Jesus at all. While some say she’s just a new believer who doesn’t have the right words yet, others speculate that she’s not so much gained a Christian faith as accepted the Judeo-Christian worldview as a sociopolitical tool.

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Moreover, our obsession with celebrity conversions evinces a kind of favoritism Scripture explicitly prohibits (Gal. 2:6; 1 Tim. 5:21). James 2 warns us about this: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism,” for “if you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (vv. 1, 8, 9).

Heaven’s rejoicing seems to be impartial, but the greatest rejoicing here on earth is too often reserved for celebrity sinners. After all, do we rejoice with equal gusto when people in other industries become believers? Do we jump for joy when we discover our plumber is a Christian? Are we just as eager for signs that our ordinary neighbor or coworker is coming to faith in Jesus?

Of course, our neighbor converting probably won’t make Christianity seem cooler, while celebrity conversions can. It’s hard to imagine that’s not a factor in this phenomenon. Maybe, we think, the public conversion of a famous person will help the cause of Christianity.

Granted, the Bible makes it clear that we are all called to use our talents to glorify God (Matt. 25)—and that could include worldwide fame, popularity among our peers, or a general regard for our good deeds (1 Pet. 2:12). But Jesus’s earthly ministry didn’t rely on converts’ high social status. He didn’t pursue the well-to-do or highly regarded but rather those on the margins who held little to no power and influence.

The Old and New Testaments are congruent from start to finish in demonstrating that God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise, exalts the insignificant to shame the self-important, and bestows greatest value on the people the world finds most worthless (1 Cor. 1:28).

Indeed, in the body of Christ, Paul says, “the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor,” because “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” Why? “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:23–27).

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When we unduly exalt the already-exalted, we may fail to care for this part of the body of Christ in a different way. We risk doing a grave disservice to the very people we admire, particularly when they are new believers and therefore vulnerable in their faith. The Bible repeatedly warns against pride (Prov. 8:13; 1 Pet. 5:5; James 4:6), but lauding celebrity Christians encourages it.

Inappropriate honor may also compel new celebrity Christians to lead in a season of faith when they would do better to follow. Last fall, the television personality and entrepreneur—and former occultist—Kat Von D posted a video of her public baptism on Instagram. Her post was reshared by countless giddy believers, and yet she made it clear in a follow-up video that she likely won’t talk much about her faith online: “If you started following me because you think this will become some kind of Christian meme page, it’s not going to happen.”

“It’s not for any other reason than I just don’t really feel equipped to be the poster child for Christianity,” Von D continued. “I think that I’m still learning and as I do, I will become more equipped.” That’s wise, for as James advised, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Especially for those with large audiences, sound discipleship should come first.

Jesus Christ himself became famous, but he is not a Superstar—and his followers aren’t called to fame either. The conversion stories we amplify shouldn’t be tributes to secular stardom but testimonies of God’s grace. Let’s not orient our evangelism strategy to reach the famous at the expense of the forsaken, and let’s stop looking for celebrities to validate our faith.

Stefani McDade is theology editor at Christianity Today.

Update (April 17, 2024): This story has been updated to note new celebrity conversions.

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