Mid-October of 1949 William Hearst, then publisher of the LA Times, infamously gave a two-word directive to “Puff Graham.” The front-page article of Billy Graham instantaneously catapulted him into a celebrity like status. Graham went from tent revivals to stadium filled “crusades.” He took advantage of radio and television to become the first notable televangelist. He dined with celebrities, highly publicizing his interactions and conversions of these celebrities. Not only did Billy open up his own movie studio in Hollywood but he managed to earn a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for his ability to market Christianity.
This is, arguably, the birth of evangelicalism.
Fast-forward 65 years in mid-September (of 2014) 3,000 miles across the country the NY Times features the quasi-prosperity driven Christian institution Hillsong on the front-page. Figuratively speaking current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, of the NY Times gave a two-word directive, “Blast Hillsong.”
Hillsong has managed to also take advantage of radio and television. There is no question they dominate the charts in the Christian music industry. They also sell out entire venues filling stadiums to capacity with devoted Hillsong fans. Like Graham, their pastors interact with celebrities and publicize these interactions via social media.
The Times praises Hillsong’s presentation and ability to market, but question Hillsong’s theology and ability to find depth.
This is, arguably, evangelicalism’s beginning to an end.
“Its finances have been scrutinized by the Australian news media; its preaching is tracked by a critical blog. Hillsong, founded by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, has been anti-abortion and has described gay sex as sinful. But recently, church leaders have moderated their tone; the pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, passed up two opportunities this year to express a view on same-sex marriage, in interviews with Katie Couric and The Huffington Post.”
It’s fair to ask “What’s the problem with Hillsong?” As I also have listened to their music, attended their services, and gone to a couple of their events, that is up until recently I just couldn’t allow myself to do so anymore. The problem with Hillsong has to do with the problem of manipulation through marketing, and a theology that is not representative of Christianity. Although I’m aware of the manipulation other’s are not.
Take a 23-year-old out of college in their first job. Straight out of the suburbs transplanted to one of the cities Hillsong has strategically planted a Church. This is one of their first and biggest life transitions. They want community, they want hope, they want something that is familiar but relevant at the same time.
Having researched demographics, they now spend 100,000 dollars on choreographing lights, throw in some background music, rent a club/bar out and then hire a ridiculously good looking, funny, authoritarian leader and then water their theology down to please everyone… promising us that God will solve all our problems in our most vulnerable and loneliest seasons of life.