On Bouffant Hair and Bad Theology: Random thoughts while watching TBN

OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I watch TBN.  For several reasons:

1. It's just flat out entertaining.  Folks with way too much makeup, gaudy sets, and crazy hair-dos with hands raised to the ceiling, praising God, pronouncin' blessing, and claimin' the anointin' of the Holy Ghost.  And, I gotta admit: Watching Rod Parsley and "Bishop" TD Jakes is incedible.  I mean, I think Rod's prosperity theology is waaaay wacked, and TD has some questionable doctrinal areas too, but the dudes are used of God, changing their communities, and bringing people to love Jesus (can I get an Amen?).  And they are just flat-out dynamic, quirky, and fun to watch.  It's all a freak show... and it reminds me that Jesus LOVES freaks!

2. Which brings me to this point: I know that at least some of the folks on TBN are there because they feel called by God and are doing their absolute best to serve the Jesus they know.  And they are willing to be ridiculous doing it.  May I- and all of us- be willing to be equally as foolish for the Lord, and do things that nice society scoffs at.  So many times I worry about catering to Christianity's "cultured despisers" and "cultivated consumers" that I loose vision of the radical demands of the Gospel.  These folks on TBN remind me, in a way, what it means to be radical.

3. These people have their fingers on the pulse of something, and people watch and listen to them by the millions.  If this were not so, they would not be on the air and (in some cases) raking in the dough.  I watch them to understand what concerns and problems they are speaking to, and what solutions and theology they are popularizing.  I firmly, FIRMLY believe that if we are going to speak to our own "flocks" we need to be able to deal with the same concerns, with the same charisma, preaching and teaching a Gospel and a theology that is MORE Biblical and well thought-out than these folks.

4. It helps me remember that God uses ALL types of folks to build His Kingdom.  I know several people who came to Christ and have become life-long disciples through watching TBN (although it is a very, very small percentage compared with the amount that I know who have done the same through involvement in a local body of believers).  We can tell the Holy Spirit that it isn't nice, proper, or doctrinally correct to use such "crass" means to reach people, but the Spirit doesn't care!  She will just use whatever means is available to bring people to be reconciled to the Father through Christ.  It's almost as if God is "no respecter of persons".  I know that is a crazy idea, but perhaps we should ponder that as we make decisions about what "types" of Christians we will work with and be associated with.  If God is willing to love and use freaks, but we are not, what does that say about us?

Now, with the TBN "love fest" out of the way, let me say that some things REALLY disturb me when I watch that station.  In particular the National preachers Creflo Dollar, Joel Olsteen and John Hagee, and a local set of (Dallas area) pastors who run a TBN spinoff station named Marcus and Toni Lamb.

I know that the catalog of errors could be immense (but couldn't all of our errors?).  Yet, I want to focus on a few that just smack me in the face:

1. We need to preach against the Prosperity Gospel found in Dollar, Olsteen, Lamb, Parsley (to a lesser extent), and Jakes (to an even lesser extent).  If this does not sell God as a means to a selfish end, I do not know what does!  I know the root of this teaching comes out of the Pentecostal and Charismatic belief that God really does want us to be healthy, healed, and whole people (cf. Luke 4:18-19; 1Th 5:23; and the healing ministry of Jesus and the Apostles).  I am basically a charismatic, and do believe that God wants us to have healthy spirits, healthy souls, and healthy bodies in that order.  But, I also believe that God will allow us to have a sick body, or even a depressed soul, if that pushes us to have a healthy spirit (cf. Paul's thorn in 2Co 12).  So, God wills the healing of our whole self, but some parts are more important to be healed than others, and some parts may not be healed until we stand in His presence after physical death.

But, the insight of God's desire for our health and blessing has been perverted by the prosperity folk to focus almost solely on the physical aspect of our existence.  And, it has turned the order and priority of healing around so that our souls and spirits are healed as the means for us to ultimately attain physical prosperity and healing.  So, prosperity folk urge us to clean up our thinking and seek God in prayer, as a means to release the physical blessings of fat retirement accounts, great houses, and new cars.  This, in turn, makes God a means to my personal fulfillment, rather than the goal of my existence.  This is very dangerous, because I hear that God will not bear to be a means to anyone's end for long.

Furthermore, it screws up the whole moral life, because we no longer give time, talent, and treasure to Church, ministry, and social justice for the sake of helping other people made in God's image.  We give it as a "seed" to reap a far greater harvest of personal wealth and prosperity.  It is no longer "love your neighbor AS yourself", but rather "love your neighbor FOR yourself".

2. It drives me up the wall how folks like Hagee wrap themselves in the flags of the US and Israel, and proclaims both of them to be sacrosanct instruments of God's Kingdom on Earth.  The mixture of the Gospel and Patriotism is as dangerous as anything could possibly be for the health of the Church.  I won't go into it here, but I have reason to believe that the "Antichrist" will actually be a system of religion that is extremely Biblical, extremely "Patriotic", extremely Prosperity oriented, and uses the Gospel as means to attain political and economic power.  I have written about this here.

This does not mean that I am against a "just war" to protect the innocent from oppression, or Christians making political choices based on Gospel ideals about justice and economics.  I support all of these things so long as they are the effects that flow from a life devoted to Christ.  However, when we treat Christ as a MEANS to a political end (in the case of Gospel = Patriotism), or to an economic end (in the case of Gospel = Prosperity), then we break the first two commandments and invite God's judgment upon us.  And, while I am at it, Liberals are no better than Conservatives on this matter.  While conservatives tend to use Christ as a means in the above two ways, Liberals tend to use Christ as a MEANS to a political end  (Gospel = Socialism) and to an economic end (Gospel = Liberation and forced redistribution of wealth).

I think that the misuse of God and the wrong priorities of both the "Left" and the "Right" can lay equal claim to being "Antichrist".

3. One thing that bugs me, but is not so much a "heresy" on TBN is this: Everything on that station is "lifechanging!", "transformational!", and will totally change you life in the next 30 minutes (or double you money back).  Someone said this morning "I am believing in God for your total transformation in the next 20 minutes".  I mean, come on!  Isn't this over-selling it a bit?  I know the Holy Spirit can and does transform people's lives radically, sometimes in very short amounts of time (I have experienced this!).  But, do we really thing that God wants to radically transform us every 30 minutes?

I think this buys into consumerism big time!  It caters to our sense of immediate gratification, and our craving for novelty for novelty's sake.  Furthermore, it sets up false expectations that can only be dealt with in one of two ways: 1. "I do not feel transformed, therefore I must be defective in my faith somehow and I need to do something to make me more acceptable to God". This puts folks on the never-ending treadmill of good works trying to earn God's favor.  I have seen it. 2. "I do not feel transformed, therefore God must be defective and not worthy of belief or worship".  I have seen this too.

And, to beat a dead horse, it also makes God the means for a personal, selfish end.  I believe God so that I will be transformed.

What about concepts such as a long, steady obedience in the same direction, even when the road gets tough (or worse, gets boring)?  What about steady growth?  What about wrestling with God in periods of doubt, or drought, or "dark nights of the soul"?  Yes, I believe that the Spirit sends "latter rain" upon people and they experience renewal and transformation at critical crisis moments in their lives.  But these crisis moments are not every day.  These crisis moments, as refreshing as they are, happen only after long walks in the wilderness with God.

That's my recurring thoughts on TBN.  Enjoy.


Caren said...

How insteresting (coincedental?) that we are on a similar brain wave of late. I am in the midst of a personal/professional battle with consumerism.

The question I have found myself asking repeatedly is this: If we are to enourage people to come to church, how far do we go to make things 'convienent and easy' to fit into a weekend?
How much market research should a church do?
How much of our message do we bend to fit what people want to hear (we usually rationalize it to ourselves by saying that its "what they NEED to hear")

I'm in the middle of reading "The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives". I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on some of the ideas brought up and to talk with you more about consumerism in youth ministry.

As you can tell... I'm a little fired up about this...
and I'm on cup #2 of coffee...

Bret Wells said...


I am right with you on this tension. While I am very much opposed to the Church becoming a "provider of religious goods and services," I do like the idea of our congregations serving as a familiar meeting place, where we love to spend time with fellow Christians. The idea of coffee shops and bookstores in our church buildings has always intrigued me.

The tension I feel between these two positions is sometimes very painful and never easy to reconcile. Nate and I have been talking a lot lately about the need to maintain the tension rather than try to neatly solve it.

However, when we're talking about consumerism there is some very unhealthy junk that we need to flat out avoid. So we find ourselves in the difficult position of discerning what is unhealthy consumerism and what is good-natured relational ambiance.

Tough one.

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