Christian television: Is it really that bad?

(Peter is a regular contributing writer for the St. Catharines Standard newspaper. Enclosed is his latest editorial piece for your comment.)

In his book, Whistling In The Dark, Frederick Buechner writes, “There is perhaps no better proof of the existence of God, than the fact that year after year He survives the way his professional friends promote Him. If there are people who remain unconvinced let them tune into their TV for almost any of the big time pulpit pounders any Sunday morning of the year.”

Ouch!

Evidently Mr. Buechner has a problem with television preachers, and since I am one of them, I better pay attention. Is Christian television really that bad? I believe in listening to critics, including those who never attend church. You don’t have to agree with your critics, but you can learn something of value from almost anyone. When it comes to the quote from Buechner, I tend to agree—at least in part. Many Christian programs portray God as narrow minded, petulant, condemning and angry. A few weeks ago the organization I founded, World Impact Ministries, purchased The Christian Channel [Cogeco 186], so now I have the opportunity to do something about Christian television. Well, don’t expect wonders overnight, but I am keeping several common criticisms in mind, among them that Christian television is judgmental, boring and phony.

Christians in general and Christian television in particular are often accused of being “judgmental.” It baffles the imagination how Christians could become such champions of condemnation when their Savior is a non-condemner. It seems many lack understanding that God’s justified wrath over human sin fell on Jesus. Therein lies the “Good News”: God is not angry with people, but His love is available to all. Why then do preachers attribute misfortunes—whether strokes, heart attacks, tsunamis, cyclones or hurricanes— to God’s supposed anger with the particular sins of an individual or a whole nation? We live under a covenant of the grace of Jesus Christ who said, “For the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”

What about “boring”? Conflict and competition make television and movies exciting. There is a hero and a villain. If the outcome of the story is uncertain, so much more reason for the audience to stay riveted. Even political talkshows have representatives of different sides of the issues duking it out. Meanwhile, Christian television usually consists of a few people sitting around a table agreeing with one another—not much conflict there. On Encounter, our nightly show, you often hear opinions from Atheists, Wiccans, Hindus, Moslems, or just plain non-religious Canadians, especially on the Street Talk and Viewer Comments segments. I like to mix it up, because it keeps us from merely “preaching to the choir.”

The “phony” accusation usually has to do with money. The appeal goes something like this: “God showed me that if you will give a certain amount of money, God will do “X” for you.” The “X”, of course, stands for any divine blessing that is promised on a particular program.  Make no mistake about it, most Christian television is viewer supported. I boldly ask for people’s support because without that we can’t operate. I think it’s the “put your coins in the divine slot-machine and you will win” approach that draws criticism. It certainly turns me off.  The Jesus approach is a little different. We love and give because we have received God’s love as a gift. Our giving is not to manipulate the Almighty, but to express our love for His kindness to us.

Do I think that Buechner’s sentiments have some validity? Certainly! Do I believe in Christian television? I sure do! We have the greatest message of hope and love in the world. There is nothing judgmental, boring or phony about that.

-Peter

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