Book Review

Is yours a self-centered or Christ-centered Christianity?

A look at Dean Inserra’s book, "Getting Over Yourself"

September 14, 2021

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. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24