Initially in a blog post, and later in an eBook, I critiqued Lee Grady’s response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire. I also argued that Grady’s response to Strange Fire was disappointing in light of his previous appeals for reformation within the Charismatic movement.
The recent death of Paul Crouch has sparked online discussion about the nature of Christian TV, and Lee Grady has added his voice to the discussion with an article, ‘Is it time to reboot Christian Television.?’
Grady’s article is commendable in many ways – he calls for the following changes to be made to Christian TV:
1. Support it with advertising, not donations.
2. Prosperity preaching shouldn’t be allowed.
3. Preachers—and their doctrines—should be more carefully screened.
4. Donors should never be manipulated.
5. Money should never be misused.
6. It should be relevant to today’s culture.
7. Network owners should not set up broadcasting kingdoms.
Grady expounds each of these points in his article, and to almost every point I contribute a hearty amen. However, I do think his response neglects to take note of the elephant in the room. It misses the fundamental question, which came first the dodgy showmanship or the cameras? Pentecostal historians have acknowledged that the development of radio and film stations created a golden opportunity for pentecostal evangelists. In other words, the pentecostal evangelists were ideally placed to step into that market – for all the reasons that Grady seeks to challenge. They were natural performers, they were entertaining and charismatic. People watch TV because it is entertaining, and it is also one of the main reasons why so many people watch Christian TV. To ask the faith healers to ditch their exploitation for a social conscience is a bit like asking the owner of a pub to stop selling alcohol and to start selling only soft drinks. It aint gonna happen, And if it does, the punters will vote with their feet.
Grady claims, in regards to the Crouch Era of Christian TV: ‘My generation and my children’s generation tuned out long ago because Christian TV came off as fake, campy and spiritually out of touch.’ As well meaning as Grady is, I cannot help but think that this is wishful thinking. In reality the present generation are happy with health and wealth in the same way that their fathers were. Joel Osteen is for today’s audience what his dad was for the previous generation. And if the younger crowd feel that Osteen is a bit out of touch, well there is always Steve Furtick.
In summary, Grady’s critique is a praiseworthy attempt to rid the tree of bad fruit, but like most charismatic attempts at self-correction it fails to get to the root of the problem. Most Christian TV shows, like Americanised Christianity and charismatic spirituality in general, all share the same root – their existence depends largely on exploiting the natural desires and needs of the masses. Grady asks, ‘Is it time to reboot Christian Television?’, given the en masse gospel corruption that spews forth from most Christian networks, maybe it’s just time to boot it.