How a generation of Evangelicals failed to colonise TV

How a generation of Evangelicals failed to colonise TV October 29, 2013

The Reformers commandeered  the printing press to great effect in the battle of ideas. In the past 20 years, Evangelicals have also invaded the Internet, publishing a multitude of gospel-centered blogs, sermons, and magazine sites. Unfortunately many of the generation that came before ours signally failed to colonise TV.

I have now finished reading Strange Fire. I want to address the topic of what is on Christian TV before I get back to my series of posts aiming to counter each biblical argument (see parts 1,  2, and 3).

As I have mentioned before a large portion of MacArthur’s book is highlighting the abuses, scandals, and false teaching of many different TV evangelists. I have no intention here of trying to defend the prosperity preachers. I don’t support them, don’t watch them, and actually don’t  think I have any friends who do. I have not watched any Christian TV for years, apart from recently when I found a video from God TV online where they were “rehabilitating” Todd Bentley. It made me feel physically sick.

I hear from some people that there are some outposts of helpful programming on Christian TV. I now feel that if that is indeed the case I should give some consideration to covering some of them here on the blog.

One reasons for the popularity of certain TV preachers is that we are not co-ordinated enough in our promotion of helpful ministries. We are often too tribal, and thus there is no clear message for ordinary Christians about which ministries represent traditional Evangelical beliefs.  We even see this online where I feel that evangelicals  could be much better at linking to helpful material from each other on our blogs and Twitter streams.  As always if you see something you think will be of especial interest to my readers feel free to DM me on Twitter or email me.

In the main, although I didn’t know most of the detail I was reading in Strange Fire, I would agree with the majority of MacArthur’s criticisms of  TV preachers, though I cannot confirm whether his research was accurate.  I did struggle with why it was necessary for me to read scandal after scandal. I certainly didn’t enjoy it.

Just to give you an example of criticism that I would have no problem agreeing with (assuming it was accurate, but which I cannot confirm or deny due to my own lack of knowledge). MacArthur was speaking about Oral Roberts:

 “In all the many times I saw him on television, I never once heard him preach the gospel. His message—every time—was about seed-faith. The reason for that is obvious: the message of the cross—an atoning sacrifice for sins wrought through Jesus’ sufferings—doesn’t mesh with the notion that God guarantees health, wealth, and prosperity to people who send money to television preachers. Our fellowship in Jesus’ sufferings (Phil. 3:10), and our duty to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:20–23), are likewise antithetical to the core principles of prosperity doctrine. As previously discussed in chapter 2, the prosperity message is a different gospel (cf. Gal. 1:8–9). (Strange Fire, page 156).

This quote did make me think that MacArthur has been watching too much so-called “Christian” Television! Surely one of the main reasons for the different way MacArthur and I assess the charismatic movement is TV.  I am starting to feel that I watch too little, while he watches way more than is healthy!

It is very easy to use certain TV evangelists as a stick to beat charismatics over the head with. But as far as I know most  do not have the official support of any main stream groups of Charismatic or Pentecostal churches. As far as I know there are no denominations or groups of churches that strongly support the prosperity televangelists.  Most of them do not hold broad official church leadership positions at all. They seem to prey on individuals rather than whole churches.

The truth is that many TV evangelists are an embarrassment not just to Charismatics but to all Christians.  We could just as easily say after watching, “The Christian movement is hopelessly compromised with prosperity preaching.”

All this is a major problem for us in the West, but in Africa it is a tragedy. When starving people are being taken advantage of and given a distorted version of our faith, the damage is incalculable.  I don’t believe that every single Christian or church group outside of the West has bought into this, however. I do agree that this kind of preaching is the worst export that the USA has ever given the World. 

The truth is that ALL Evangelical Christians are to blame for what is served up on Christian TV. We have allowed an environment to develop where very unhelpful minisries can flourish. We have abdicated our responsibility to fill the airwaves with the true Gospel.

Unfortunately it also seems that in some cases that the quality of preaching in many churches is not proving a compelling enough antidote. Solid and passionate preaching of the glory of Christ should immunise people against the prosperity heresy.

I am interested in hearing from Christian businessmen who want to support good material on TV. I am interested in speaking with executives working in Television who want to brainstorm about improving the general level of quality and gospel content.  I want to understand why some of the current TV preachers continue to be so popular, and how they can continue to domonate the airwaves the way they do. I am interested in discussing with Evangelical Ministry leaders why they have never put their material on the TV. I want to know how much it would cost us to get more Gospel-focussed programming available across the world.

I would love to see something change in a major way, as I do not believe that TV is due to die just yet.  We cannot leave the TV to the prosperity preachers.  Perhaps we need to pool resources in some way.  I do not have the answers, but I think it is time to start asking the questions in a serious way.


Over the weekend, I was musing about how blessed I have been to grow up in the part of the Charismatic movement I have:


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  • Richard

    Amen. Have thought that for years. Surely something similar to the gospel coalition could get something like that going.

  • nickallenphoto

    Don’t you feel the primary reason that the prosperity preachers dominate “Christian TV” is a financial one? Blogs, books, podcasts and vodcasts are probably much less expensive for churches and ministries to justify as a way to spread evangelical and Gospel centered materials.
    The prosperity preachers have to justify the expense because they need the broadest reach of “sowers” for their “ministry”(read pockets). Even the big prosperity preachers purchase TV slots on non cable stations in late night slots. Maybe if TV goes the way of “Pick what you want” like Netflix. The prosperity preachers will lose their stage and good Gospel centered material can have a place at the table without forking over loads of cash.

  • Young Calvinist

    Adrian, since you say you do not watch tv, just to let you know Newfrontiers are on GodTV: Do you know more about it?

    • Thanks. Was vaguely aware that the Together on a Mission conference was on there. Looks like this is replays from that.

      • Young Calvinist

        Now the question is… do NF condone God TV?

        • I think they just wanted to get their message out. Imagine if all Christian TV was full of gospel centered materiel….don’t think Paul cared who spoke before him at the Areopagus.

          • Young Calvinist

            You are spot on with Areopagus.

  • Great question, one that I have pondered for years.

    Prosperity TV
    prospers because people who watch it are 1) theologically ignorant and
    2) desperate for hope. The prosperity preachers sell false hope, and
    desperate people who are not theologically literate fall prey, just as
    their ignorance in the topic of health leads them to fund frauds in the
    weight loss industries.

    How much would it really cost to run TBN
    or DayStar if you subtracted the outlandish salaries, studios, and
    overhead? What does it really cost to gain access to a satellite and
    get picked up on cable networks? Couldn’t the content be largely
    automated by the computerized rotation of specific ministry YouTube or
    vimeo feeds? I could quickly list sources of quality video content
    already on the internet that would be nearly adequate to fill the
    airwaves 24/7 with content that is professionally produced and already
    online at no charge, from ministries and churches well within the realm
    of the conservative evangelical mainstream that combined together would
    present a diverse and holistic gospel message.

    Although many of
    us do not watch Christian TV, we should remember there are many people
    who are homebound, devoid of hope, and who have little to do but watch
    TV–think projects, nursing homes. And there are more people than we
    would probably think who are well to do and depressed, who sit in the
    middle of the night in front of the TV and flip channels. How great it
    would be for those people to hear the true gospel, and not just the
    feel-good parts easily distorted by clowns running religious income machines.

    • Peter Kirk

      Access to broadcast TV is expensive. But access to the Internet is cheap, and more and more people are getting access to it. Many churches, of various flavours, are already broadcasting sermons, conferences and other material on video, through their own websites and through services like Ustream. This, not broadcast TV, is the future, and the direction Christians should be taking now. It may be interesting to ask why only some Christian streams use broadcast TV, but it is essentially a historical question.

      • Adrian Warnock

        I’m not 100% sure that’s even true in the West. But in Africa it definitely is.

  • Peter Kirk

    “As far as I know there are no denominations or groups of churches that strongly support the prosperity televangelists.”

    Very likely true, unless you count the groups of churches founded by each televangelist. But then the same is true of John MacArthur, and for that matter of Terry Virgo and most of your Reformed Charismatic friends – unless you are going to change your tune and call New Frontiers a denomination.

    Frankly, Adrian, I’m surprised at you using this as a yardstick. As far as I can tell the only preachers who ever get the strong support of denominations, at least in the traditional sense, are liberal ones, and the occasional bishop etc like Welby who has sensible things to say. What counts in the kingdom of God is not the approval of the boards of human institutions but the approval and blessing of God.

    By the way, MacArthur became prominent for his use of radio, and other Christians of various viewpoints have made good use of it. It might have been good to include a mention of radio in your post – and perhaps explain why those radio evangelists didn’t move on to TV. Could it have been their general disdain for the visual in preaching and priority given to the spoken word? That could have some interesting theological ramifications.

    • Newfrontiers is a group of churches. Do the tele-evangelists even have groups of churches they lead? Can you give me any examples of those who do?

  • While the whole #StrangeFire thing shows up MacArthur’s poor understanding of charismaticism and poor biblical reasoning, something I have been disappointed with is that most Charismatic responses have been quick to add something like:

    “thank you that I am not like one of those sinful prosperity believers.”

    It would be great if charismatics could avoid doing the same as MacArthur and condemning things they have yet to demonstrate the fully understand. An easy way to do this is by framing criticisms as questions rather than conclusions. But I digress…

    I wanted to specifically pic up on the criticism of Oral Roberts. Roberts’ legacy was far from the black and white picture that MacArthur painted. Here is one view from post Word of Faith, post Charismatic pastor Derek Vreeland:

  • ian

    This is something I’ve thought about for many years, but I think the problem is the medium. TV (not counting internet video) is very expensive to do to a decent standard. It needs a sustainable revenue stream in order to continue to exist – it wouldn’t be viable to run off donations from a few wealthy donors. Two effective methods of creating this sustainable revenue stream is 1) advertising and 2) seed faith type theology. To attract advertisers, you need good viewing figures, which generally means your teaching needs to tickle your viewers itching ears. Don’t challenge their lifestyle, don’t make them feel uncomfortable – and whatever you do, DO NOT suggest they switch off the TV and start living out their faith! For the seed faith teaching to work, you also need to keep them happy – make your viewers think that they are dependent on your channel, that they’ve been greatly enriched and encouraged through your channel – again, don’t challenge them!

    I have no problem groups like New Frontiers having their conferences broadcast on GodTV, but I don’t expect it to ever become the norm. TV will never become a sustainable medium for a faithful presentation of the gospel, because good Christian TV would tell their viewers to switch it off!

  • sewalker3

    // I want to understand why some of the current TV preachers continue to be so popular, and how they can continue to domonate the airwaves the way they do. //

    Here’s your answer to first question matt 24:11 ,2 Tim 4:3 , 2 Peter 2, 1 John 4:5 to name a few

    Here’s the answer to second question Matt 7:15-23 . It will stop when we obey the command to beware and those who recognize error expose it! That may mean naming names.
    When you found out about Bentely did it make you sick enough to speak out against him as much as you have done against MacArthur?

    • sewalker3

      And Jude- “earnestly” contend for the faith. MacArthur is doing and has been doing that. When will others get on board?

  • Scott Hart

    Without the mess that is TV there is more garbage that infects charismatic churches. Having participated in several charismatic churches they tend to gravitate to the personality of the month. With the likes of Rick Joyner, Todd Bently, Dutch Sheets, IHOP and The Kansas City Prophets, Richard Bonke, the Elijah List, etc…

    And I’ve seen the tortuous twisting of scripture to MAKE the Bible fit the prophecy/blasphemy that comes from followers of these and others. I’ve seen it enough in three different states of the US to conclude that this is normative in fellowships that call themselves charismatic. The anomaly seems to be your fellowship, which apparently does not have a counterpart in my part of the US unfortunately.

    Cessastionists conveniently gloss over gifting, yes, but in practically every other theological discussion, at least those that follow the doctrines of grace — THEY get it right most of the time.

    Its one thing to disagree with a point of view from Christian who comes to differing conclusions about WoF, Charismatics, etc and seems to lump them all together and have healthy discussion. But…

    When will continuists start confronting the blasphemous ideologues that make up the face of Charismatics? Until that happens, cessationsist will continue to challenge their falsehoods. PUrge the false brethren instead!

  • eroops

    would say that the “Charisma magazine” subscribers are basically in the mainstream of the Charismatic Church?

  • Jim Durrett

    I just find it perplexing that John MacArther has been preaching the Word for 42 YEARS and gives a 2 DAY conference on the abuses and he is the one attacked. Here you undermine his credibility at least twice, “I cannot confirm whether his research was accurate” … You are implying that he is not to be trusted, and yet will not confirm this or deny in your own words. If you are going to undermine his credibility please do so Biblically (He would even thank you for it). Let God be true and every man a liar…

    • Adrian Warnock

      I’m not undermining his credibility by that comment but protecting my own. I have not looked into these things myself. Thus I cannot confirm or deny his factual assertions.

  • lovelypeace

    Honestly, if Protestants could figure out how to do a network like EWTN, then they’d be better off. EWTN has a variety of programming that’s smart, funny, oriented towards different age groups and segments of the Catholic population. Some of it is (admittedly) kind of hokey. However, the network does its best to teach (and share) the faith. I don’t get that from most Protestant ministers on TV. It’s really sad that most Protestant ministries on television are about selling a minister’s latest book/CD. After a while, it feels like a scam and cult-like. It turns people off.

    While Catholics and Protestants disagree on theology, we still need a strong Protestant presence in the media, especially given that America is primarily Protestant. What’s going to be out there when Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer die? That’s why I really liked this blog post. I’m glad that FINALLY someone’s asking the question. The Protestant community needs to solve this problem because you are losing people because of these “Christian” ministers. (I know because I’m one of them!)

    (former Protestant and recovering Joyce Meyer viewer.)

  • J Doe

    Hello I thought I would suggest a subject your tv channel could do a program on, the hells angels motorcycle club were caught sacrificing women and children at the pickton farm “with police and politicians”, in Vancouver BC, you can google “press tv pickton farm hells angels”, the forensic evidence matches, all of the vicitm’s skulls were made into satanic ritual skulls. I think it is a point made by Jesus, about how satan offered him all of the kingdoms and he denied him, now prominent politicians and police officers and the hells angels motorcycle group are sacrificing women and children to the devil, all of which pickton admitted to to an undercover officer in jail. Thank you, and Shalom.