There is an ongoing clash occurring in much of American Christianity to see who will occupy the seat of supremacy in the church. While that seat rightly belongs to Christ, who Scripture says is “head of the church” (Col. 1:18), we’re witnessing a growing number of Christian focus more on self that on the Savior. To that issue, Dean Inserra has written a new book entitled Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity.
Inserra, a graduate of Liberty University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, and a consistent voice for the Christ-centered Christianity he advocates for in this book. For a Christian culture that has prioritized the self nearly above all else, Getting Over Yourself is a challenging but needed rebuke from a pastor whose intent is not to shame the reader, but to set his or her feet on the only path that leads to life—which is Christ himself.
The “Instagramification” of Christianity
Inserra opens the book by recounting an experience he had one weekend while he and his wife were out of town. After hearing of a new church plant in the town they were visiting and its pastor, and visiting this purportedly gospel-centered church, he started to notice a troubling trajectory in the weeks and months that followed. “The message started resembling that of a motivational speaker who happened to also believe in God . . . When I first visited the church, I had seen a gospel-preaching pastor, and now he seemed more like a hype man, like a keynote speaker brought in to motivate the sales reps at a company conference” (11-12). Over time, Inserra awakened to the fact that this was no isolated incident, but a growing reality within American Christianity.
While the prosperity theology of yesteryear no longer has the same influence it once did, our religion is no less influenced by the pursuit of prosperity. It just looks different now. “Instead of the health-and-wealth message of late-night Christian television, the new prosperity gospel centers on self-actualization and self-worth, wrapped in a Sunday morning pep rally where the gospel of self-fulfillment is preached with passion” (29). In other words, this form of American Christianity preaches and practices self-centered religion and uses God as a means of procuring its blessings.
In this way, contemporary American Christianity has conformed to the culture we often encounter on social media. The pursuit of trendiness, personal success and betterment, and victory are all placed at the center of what it means to be Christian, making a mockery of the actual way of Christ. In this farcical “Christian” iteration, one of the central tenets of following Jesus—taking up one’s cross daily—has been lost.
Retrieving Christianity’s cruciformity
From start to finish, this new prosperity gospel fails to deliver on its promise. Though the self is integral to the Christian life—it is our selves that are brought into life with God—the self is not centermost in the Christian story, either now or in the eternal life to come. Everything revolves around Christ, the one through whom and for whom all things were created. Therefore, the Christian life is to be lived through Christ and for Christ, not through the self and for the self.
The Christian life is nothing less than cross-shaped living. This means that we are to crucify the pretty veneer that the prosperity gospel advertises, the “trendy and successful life” (17), the “socially approved life” (43), “selective bible reading” (89), the pursuit of “greater things” (99), and “pop-Christian discipleship” (121). All of these lead to the vain pursuit of a life that God never promises in the Scriptures. They all promise a cross-less, Christless Christianity. As Inserra asserts, “the unspoken implication” in all of this “is that Jesus isn’t enough – He’s a means to an end” (47).
But, of course, Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the means, and he is the end (telos) of life itself. He’s the whole point, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The one by whom and through whom we are being saved, and the one to whom we are being conformed. The way of the Christian life is not to prioritize or idolize the self, but to deny the self and take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, and Inserra is pleading with his reader to follow the Savior’s cruciform life. Indeed, as Jesus says, this is the only way to become his disciple.
Whose name will be made great?
Whose name will be great? This may be the central question driving Inserra’s book. Does the Christianity you ascribe to valorize the self, or does it valorize the Christ? Does it acknowledge Jesus as the point, or does it place the self in the center? At your most honest, which of you is glorified in your Christian imagination? These are questions that we all must answer, not just those in the cushy, comfortable chairs of today’s pop-Christian congregations.
Though Inserra takes aim at the trendiness and success and social approval that marks the “Instagramification” of Christianity, as he calls it (12), it is not ultimately these things that are the problem. As Christians, we may experience success and social approval at times. These are not necessarily realities to be avoided. The real problem is the heart that is set on these things, even to the extent that it uses Christianity and Christ himself as a means of obtaining these markers of “the blessed life.” Jesus will not be used in this way.
Instead, as Inserra preaches throughout this book, the blessed life, with its innumerable and unimaginable benefits, which far outshine any that pop-Christianity promises, are obtained in one way: union with Christ. While the prosperity gospel preaches “your best life now,” which usually translates to “favor” in the form of health and wealth, the actual gospel preaches abundant, eternal life, even when the “favor” and influence of pop-Christianity is missing. After all, “It is from the cross where an abundant life is understood” (151).
So, the question bears repeating: in your practice of Christianity, whose name will be made great? If we want to follow Jesus—truly follow him—the answer is clear. We must join with John the Baptist in saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is the starting point and ongoing ethic of “getting over yourself.” So, follow Inserra’s lead, and trade in the “believe-in-yourself religion” that so plagues American Christianity for the Christ-centered Christianity of the Bible.