There are perhaps none so gullible as Christians. Any marketer will tell you that. You simply have to put the label “Christian” on a book or cd, and they will buy it. I am horrified by much of what is screened on TBN and similar television channels, or by much of what is sold in CUM Books, for example. The theology is terrible, much of it is exploitative or illogical, and still it gets lapped up. Christians who consume the products become increasingly entangled in fear and guilt, and feel pressured to buy more so that they can assuage those feelings.
It’s a thought-provoking comment on the insidious brilliance of marketers, and a sad indictment on Christians. The real product these people offer you is not Christianity, it is false hope: the promise of riches, and love, and health. For those who would argue for the legitimacy of “Christian” TV channels, I would urge you to consider the following: Benny Hinn lives in this $12 million house (image courtesy of http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/why-benny-hinn-became-our-wacky-neighbor.html):
Kenneth Copeland lives here (image courtesy of http://northtexasluxury.blogspot.com/2011/07/kenneth-copelands-18000-sq-foot-lake.html):
Creflo Dollar (as if the names doesn’t say it all), lives here (http://pimppreacher.com/post/69012069835/):
Joel Osteen is reputed to have a personal net worth in excess of $40 million. I could go on. If you are interested, Justin Peters does a very good exposé (http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/TM13-16/spiritual-shipwreck-of-the-wordfaith-movement). I am not claiming that this is true of all of them, but I am relatively certain that if you did any research on any of the television pastors, you would find they all lived in luxury.
What this tells me is that these people are profit (not prophet)-driven. They are more interested in your money than your souls. I know very many very beautiful and gracious Christians, and I know the Bible very well. No true hero of the faith is focused on things of this world. In fact, Jesus calls such people fools (Luke 12:13-21). Even a rudimentary reading of the gospels will reveal Jesus’ stance on material wealth.
Yet these are the voices that so many base their theology on. It is no wonder that so many thinking people treat Christianity with such disdain. Too many Christians completely lack discernment, and make not only themselves, but faith in general look ridiculous.
There are many complex psychological reasons for the willingness of many to avoid thinking and embrace these hollow promises, I am sure, and certainly doing so is less work and demands less soul-searching than the real gospel does. So it makes sense that many desperate people follow these charismatic charlatans. (I will not call these preachers Christians, as they preach a gospel that the Bible condemns. If you want to accuse me of judging them, that is fine. I will take a stand on this one, because somebody has to call these swindlers what they are. You may call it judgment, I call it discernment).
And that – if you, reader, are Christian – is what I am calling for. Discernment. Take some time to think about what you so willingly follow. Do not become part of what I call the lunatic Christian fringe. The ramifications of listening to these voices are that you start to think that earthly prosperity and liberation from earthly troubles are the birthright of Christians, and that is rubbish. (I refer you once more to John 16:33). The result is that when troubles come – as they always do – your faith falls apart, and you find yourself either questioning God (who, ironically, warned you about this), or questioning your own faith, and wrongly concluding that your own sins brought on the trouble. So you end up trying to do something that will please God so that he will “bless” you again. You move slowly away from a gospel of grace and towards one of fear, becoming petty and dogmatic about peripheral issues like whether or not to read Harry Potter, and forget that you are not saved by your works, but by His mercy, and that God himself – not material things – is the blessing.
For the non-Christians reading this, please don’t judge Christianity by the lunatic fringe. The idiocy of the theology is apparent, even to many Christians. I believe that you need to judge an idea or philosophy by its best practitioners, not its worst ones. While performing teacher appraisals I have seen many science experiments fail. I do not therefore conclude that scientific laws are nonsensical. Similarly, I do not judge the beauty of Pachelbel’s Canon by listening to a 10 year old scratching it out on the violin. When I listen to a professional musician play it, it always moves me.
I am also angered by the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, and I wish other – more influential – Christian leaders were as angered by “Christian” television as I am. But there is too often a deafening silence. Still, I know that some of you see, and so I plead for discernment. Judge Christianity not by the lunatic fringe (which is, admittedly, a large one); rather, think of the one Christian you have met who best embodies what you believe Christianity is about, and ask: ”Would the world be better off without this person?”
I suspect not. Because the Christian who really embraces the idea of grace, cannot help but become gracious. When you read the gospels, you cannot help but see a passionate and humble Jesus, whose ideas, if followed to the letter, would transform not only ourselves, but society for the better.
That is why I am happy to – despite all the negative connotations to the term wrought through the efforts of charlatans and the lunatic fringe – call myself Christian. At the end of the day, I can see the beauty in the music of Jesus’ gospel. It is an ideal worth dying for. More, it is an ideal worth living for.