When media culture and celebrity culture collide

And what worship looks like when they do

It’s difficult to tell from Pete Ward’s richly ambiguous title whether his new book is an examination of celebrities at worship (like Kanye West), the worship of celebrities (like Beyoncé), or worship leaders as celebrities (like Joel Osteen). Spoiler alert: it’s all three, and then some.

Celebrity Worship is more a study of religion than a theological work—although for Ward the two have long been intertwined. In his earlier book Participation and Medi­ation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church, he claimed: “A central missiological issue for the Western Church relates to how it chooses to react to the mediation of the spiritual in popular culture.” If the church is called to pay attention to popular culture, so too is theology: “The convergence on culture marks a significant move in practical theology. Turning to culture means that doctrine is increasingly read in and through the social and the embodied and so ‘theology’ itself is seen in a new light.”

Theology as ethnography. Theology as religious studies. This way of thinking was uncommon when Ward began using the term liquid church nearly 20 years ago. It remains his guiding principle in Celebrity Worship as he aims to understand today’s popular mediated culture.