Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television - Nadia Bolz-Weber
Simplistically speaking, there are two Christianities in America: (1) Moderate to Progressive Christians who actively participate in the dominant culture, and (2) Conservative Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians who primarily consume "Christian" culture. In the latter case, Christian does not refer to "theological content but instead points to what is absent: profanity, homosexuals, liberals, uncertainty - basically anything that would challenge a particular worldview" (82). It is a culture "which is clean, smug, overly groomed, socially conservative, and above all wrapped in super-duper positive thinking" (83).
The programming of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is a good example of the latter type of Christianity. In order to better understand this world, Nadia, a young Lutheran pastor, sat through 24 straight hours of TBN Broadcasting.
At the beginning of her experiment, her comments are harsh and critical. Over time, however, she begins to put the microscope on herself and her tradition.
But first, a few of her observations: She realizes that TV preachers cannot be interrupted by flesh-and-blood parishioners, and therefore, they have the luxury of avoiding the complicated lives of real people. This explains their simplistic theology.
She notes that prosperity theology is an accommodation to American consumerism - salvation, identity, comfort, and security through stuff. Many of the shows are like infomercials, except they come with God's endorsement.
A lot of emphasis is placed on "sowing" (that is, financial giving). Tithing is viewed as an investment rather than a sacrifice. She argues that tithing should not be about getting back more on our investment, but on giving ourselves away for the sake of others. However, for all her condemnation of fund-raising, she recognizes that all preachers - including her and her husband - live off the generous giving of others. Likewise, liberals (like herself) rarely consider how PBS and NPR pledge drives are hardly different from religious fund-raising.
Finally, she notes how the label "Christian" is relatively meaningless in the Christian Industial Complex. Sadly, little is said of Jesus in relationship to his incarnation, life, teachings, passion, cross, and resurrection and how these things inform our view of God. Instead, the name of Jesus is bandied about as a talisman.
In spite of all these criticisms, she does find some good mixed in with all the bad. She is forced to ask questions like: Could God be at work in both Christian communities? Is God's redemptive work only limited to those who get their theology right? When we pray for God to work through us sinners, do we also include our theological others?
In the end, she learns the lesson of Jonah, that is, that God doesn't hate whom we hate. Hate will consume us if we do nothing about it. She wonders, "Is TBN my Nineveh? I don't want God to bless this ridiculous 'ministry' which stands for so much that I can't stand" (160). And yet, God may bless it nonetheless.
This is an interesting and insightful look at TBN, made more enjoyable because Nadia is not only willing to criticize TBN, but also herself.