christian tv

I have just come from my TV.

A few weeks ago I discovered Christian programmes running on four different channels all at the same time. I lingered with each one for awhile. I moved on to the next one. But each time my response was the same - sad, to the point of grief.
My own growing conviction (happy to be proven wrong by any who can convince me!) is that while testimonies can be uncovered of the good that is being done through this approach, I bet no one is collecting anecdotes of the harm being done. On balance I ask aloud if more harm than good is being done to the cause of Christ through this medium at this time?

My grief had one of three causes (not always at one time, thankfully):

One is the enormous financial costs being expended on this programming. Is this the best use of God's resources - particularly when it is possible to choose from one among four? So much is so slick and so glitzy.

Two is the lack of faithfulness to the biblical gospel in all its fullness and balance and challenge. So much is so shoddy theologically. Sometimes I shudder to think that a random channel-surfer might pause to watch just what it is that I am watching.

Three is the cultural irrelevance of so much of what is viewed. Like the guy whose pulpit looked like a castle the other day. What?! He certainly isn't guilty of #2 - but gee, is he relevant to NZ society?! The Pacific Ocean is far wider than people realise.

[I am writing all this because there is a very big BUT coming ... here it comes]

BUT I have just watched the end of Shore Community Church's production at 8:30am on PRIME on Sundays. [the new site for]
It is not the first time I have watched. And yet again I was impressed by the simplicity of the production, the biblical faithfulness of the message from Reuben Munn (I caught the last few minutes of a series on Hebrews), and the sheer cultural relevance of watching something that is authentically Kiwi. I was stirred deeply in my following of Jesus.

I hope that all those for whom Christian TV is a lifeline to God's Word each week will be tuning-in next week. The rest of you should be connecting with a local community of God's people :) - which is what I am rushing out the door to do right now.

nice chatting



Mark Maffey said…
Christian TV does have the good and the Bad. I recently watched 60 Minutes interviewing Joel Olsteen and having seen some of his shows wonder whether he isn't Anthony Robbins in disguise. A motivational speaker, but certainly not a biblical preacher. We run the risk of people being sucked into the prosperity doctrine vortex that is so much of American Christian programming.

Having some indgienous TV programming may not necessarily be a bad thing, and the time poor society in which we live may be reached if the standard and quality of the programme is able to attract viewers. But is it the best use of the Christian dollar, and does such programming come at the expense of not nurturing and growing people into faith within our congregations so that they are enabled to work in our communities?

Can we be biblically relevant in our communities, to do this we need churches in our communities which are resourced, committed to reaching out to their Jerusalem's, as we end 2007, individually and corporately the question needs to be asked, What are we doing here?
(In our community)
Heather said…
Hi Paul,

Thanks for the tip-off about the Shore church. As someone who is rarely well enough to attend church, I really appreciate solid sermons over the internet, and have yet to find a good Kiwi source. I look foward to trying them out!

paroikos said…
i wonder how we could go about telling, the Americans we dont want their stuff?! The same is true for much of the preaching that is on Rhema, but then the american tele-evangelists are the ones who have the money to keep things like rhema going. Although Rhema has a lot of rubbish they do let Carey lecturers have a slot from time to time as well so that should balance things out :) perhaps we could persuade the TV networks to do the same?
Christina said…
I would dearly like to tell the US that we don’t want their stuff, but I’m not sure that is the answer. I have been thinking a lot about authenticity lately and I am concluding that part of authenticity is cultural and contextual relevance. I think some of our dependence on Christian programmes (of all types) from the US comes from insecurity in our own cultural identity. There is also an assumption that because we are white and western then none of the principles of cross-cultural mission apply- why is this so common in the church when culturally we like to say that we are resistant to colonialism?

I don’t think that we are doing enough to be creative and thoughtful as the church in NZ. I long to see in the New Zealand church a move away from blindly following the US and taking on their programs without thought. I want to see us nurturing Christian Kiwis to learn about and read their context and the patterns of people’s lives around them. I want to see us developing theology with a kiwi flavour, a way of teaching biblical interpretation that enables New Zealand Christians to be strongly rooted in the biblical story and be developing a uniquely kiwi feel to our reading that story that excites and engages those around us. It is so essential in our multi-cultural society (especially in Auckland) that we are informed by more than just white western theology and biblical interpretation. I want us to be critically examining the differences between our culture and the US and the UK so that we can stand tall and say in terms of secularisation of society we are years ahead of these countries. I want to see us forging a new future in evangelism and mission. I want to see us at the forefront of these fields so that the US and the UK will be looking to us because we have already dealt with issues that they are coming across in their society.

There are small pale glimmers of this happening, but while we are continually demonstrating an over-dependence on US programming, we are limiting the scope of the gospel for kiwis, we are limiting the creativity and innovation that are part of our cultural identity. We need to set people free to be confident in the Gospel itself.

(Sorry if this sounds like a rant, this issue really pushes my buttons).
Tash said…
Interestingly enough, one of the reasons why Shore broadcasts comes from American roots of the church plant and the former lead pastor, Jeff Vines.
Mark Maffey said…
There is a place for Christian TV especially for shut-ins and people who are unable to physically get to church.

The reality is that isn't the medium that is used, whether, it radio, print, tv, church services etc, rather it is the MESSAGE. We do need to be culturally relevant, without becoming Syncretistic and absorbing to much of our society mores and unbelief.

It is easy for churches to hitch themselves to the latest "program" whereever it arrives from, the question of being Authentic comes back to us listening for and responding to God's voice in our context rather than someone else's.

It is easy to bemoan our fate and have a woe's me state about our nation. 1 Kings is a worthy book to explore in this context, especially Elijah's journeying in:

1 Kings 19 vs. 9-13 - Elijah In the Cave
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him,
And He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD,
Elijah had destroyed the prophets of Baal and then fleeing Jezebel’s wrath, Elijah was all in
Tired, dejected after 40 days he came to the cave, ready to cave in, then a question the LORD had a word
Elijah had done what the LORD had told him to do, he had been zealous, over Baal had a win
Yet he was under threat, his life was at risk Jezebel wanted him dead, he was really been put to the sword
Elijah came to a cave, damp, dank, and dark, weather beaten, uncertain, hungry and thin
The word of the Lord came “What are you doing here, Elijah, He said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD,

The God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars
And killed your prophets with the sword and I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Elijah had lost focus, lost sight of God’s power, his faith receding, his trust in God did falter
He saw what he wanted to see, tears obscuring that which God desired wanted him to do and say
Despondent, afraid, what can I do in the midst of my enemies, what can I do to them alter?
For they are going to kill me, I’m the only prophet left, and they seek my life, to take it away

“So He said," Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD" And behold, the LORD
Was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks
The LORD sees all our needs, understands our fears, he is worthy of our trust, he keeps his word
Sometimes we expect God to do things in certain ways; we look for the big things that will blow our socks
We expect big things; we want to see signs and wonders, yet no eye has seen nor ear heard
No mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, despite us, opportunity knocks
To do that which he has appointed us to do, whether it be what we imagine or not, it is to be obeyed
For God does not always reveal himself in winds which rend mountains and break into pieces the rocks

Before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD
Was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire;
We look for a sign, it’s not a big arch with a “M”, yet how often do we stop texting and read the word?
My word is a lamp unto your feet, a light unto your path, yet how much do you it desire?
It is life giving, will you sit, will you read, will you consider, listen and then act on what you’ve heard?
Don’t expect me to shake you or light a fire underneath you, often I am not in the fire

And after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave and behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
What are you doing here? Have you heard God whisper, heard him call, or are you to busy to be still, is God about?
God is always there, like the father waiting for the prodigal to come back to him, God knows and is beside you
Will you be still and then know that he is LORD, or does the clamour and noise of the word buffet you inside and out?
Those who are prepared to wait upon the LORD will renew their strength, God’s call to you what are you doing here?

Mark Maffey, December 2007


What are we doing here as a Church in New Zealand? Let's seek the still small voice, listen to what our God would say, lift up our heads and with purpose go forward in the plan he has for us as a Nation
Christina said…
Hi Mark,

I feel that I should clarify that my intention wasn’t to be bemoan the state of the church, rather to express a genuine and heartfelt call that we have not yet seen the best that the kiwi church has to offer and as leaders (including myself in this) we need to work harder at drawing out the potential to lead that is lying dormant in the kiwi church at the moment.

You state that “The reality is that isn't the medium that is used, whether, it radio, print, tv, church services etc, rather it is the MESSAGE. We do need to be culturally relevant, without becoming Syncretistic and absorbing to much of our society mores and unbelief.”
I’d like to share two thoughts that occur to me from this. Firstly I think we emphasise the message over the medium to our peril. Generation Y in particular (who I work with so always think of first) sees the medium as an important and crucial expression of the message. The medium must be a genuine and faithful representation of the message, otherwise it devalues the message. So a preacher with a castle pulpit is expressing something about himself (hierarchical authority?) and his message (how he believes money should be spent) by using that. We need to bear in mind that the medium is the message now.
Secondly my question around cultural relevance is who decides where the line is between ‘absorbing too much of our society’ and being contextual. We have all laughed at the missionaries of early last century who equated Victorian values with Christianity when they came to the pacific, but that is of course with hindsight. We seem to be less culturally sensitive to white western society, and less able to see the cultural norms from other countries that are being equated with Christianity – which is my concern with the adoption of programming from the US. We need to stop pretending that we have inherited a clear cut Christianity that is objective and not culturally bound. Of course I agree that the answer is searching the scriptures well for ourselves, but we need that to be reinforced with faithful biblical exposition, so that we are no longer overly reliant on other countries for understanding the bible.

Thanks for reading.
Mark Maffey said…

I agree with you that the media we use can visually impact an reinforce what we are saying, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, having said this if the content of what we are saying is not speaking into or relevant to our listeners then we may as well not speak.
The message needs to be articulated well, delivery is extremely important, but if the message we are delivering is unclear, uncertain, and extra-biblical then it is not worth sharing.

Secondly your question around cultural relevance is who decides where the line is between ‘absorbing too much of our society’ and being contextual? Do we adopt the language of the culture and end up dissing God in the process, do we preach using abbreviated text style language?

The ongoing quest " to be relevant" is one which has value if we are to reach our society, at the same time we can end up striving to be "so earthly relevant that we are lose sight of God's will" or vice versa " So Godly focussed that we become irrelevant to earth"
Richard said…
half the problem with this discussion is that we as Christians think that we are removed from society and we can talk about "the culture", as if we aren't already part of it; at the same time we forget that there are many differnt cultures and groups within society itself. It then doesn't make any sense to talk about us "absorbing" the language

Considering most churches are really just gathering places for disperate inidividuals with related religious interests (we are basically an "interest group" in the liberal democratic sense interms of our politics/agenda for society) and as a whole we aren't much of a visable alterative community (see Matthew 5 here in a strict sense, but the whole new testement concept of what it means to be God's people under God's rule)to other communities witin our society itself...its very difficult to talk about "contextualisation" in any sort of meaningfull sense then. The church in the West doesn't know who it is well enough to "contextualise" the message. Our ecclesiology often borrows more from secular structures like coporations, liberal democratic institutions, class and ethnic structures, sports and recreation clubs, music scenes, NGO's and charities that it does from the bible story.

the current language and cultural practices of the church is often far from being biblically grounded, hence i think the risk of "contextualisation" is more swapping one theologically incoherent and silly language (case in point: american pietistic self help gospel...martha stewart and tony robbins gone christian) for another incoherent and inappropriate language (case in point: the language of starbucks and very 1990's branding turned into theology; see some of the pop emerging church stuff evangelicals over here are doing).

Until we get back to the narrative of scripture and the role of church within that story forming both our theology and practice and language(i think you need to be both a community of holiness and good practice to do good interpretation and vice versa)we aren't going to know exactly where the line in the sand is between between ‘absorbing too much of our society’ and being contextually sensitive.
Paul said…
This is such a spirited (and valuable) discussion ... it has been great to listen in on it.

A couple of comments if I may:

When it comes to the contextualisation/relevance discussion I still find it useful to go back to bedrock: Jesus' teaching on salt and light. Being salt calls us to participate fully in society/culture ... Being light calls us to participate in a way that maintains our distinction as the people of God. Again and again I think this latter element is being forgotten today. This 'being different with distinction' is what keeps this driving desire to be relevant from becoming a shallow idolatry. It keeps our contextualising from becoming a compromising. It helps our witness to be both incarnational and attractional.

Then we need to welcome the global village more and the mixing of cultures around the world that is taking place. We need to build friendships and partnerships with people unlike ourselves and become close enough so that we can expose each other's blindspots in our understandings of gospel and culture.
I watch Christian TV and ask myself "How would the poorest of the poor, a fledgling follower of Jesus living under an oppressive regime in Asia or Africa, respond to Pat Robertson gibbering on for his 4th or 5th decade on the 700 Club?" And I feel desperately sad. I find it deeply offensive. It shouldn't be on our TVs either.
Rhett said…
I would say the biggest danger is what these shows are teaching people.

Having seen first hand (as I'm sure most of us have) completely sane people simply swallowing everything Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen has to say without any critical thought has certainly led to some tricky moments for me personally in church leadership.

Sometimes I watch these guys and wonder if we are even part of the same faith... such as Mr Hinn asking for US$500 gifts for his new private jet.

Sure, Hinn is a popular target but the prosperity doctrine spouted by the Meyers, Osteens and Jakes of this world are just as dangerous if more subtle.

Forgive my soapboxing here, but many of the people in our congregation simply don't have the tools to critically evaluate much of this tripe and it pains me to see people getting caught up in it.

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