The Problem with Christian Television
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Artists with a biblical world-view are the salt that have been missing from the arts and entertainment landscape. Their absence from this vital sphere of society has seen our culture go rancid.
The church, as an organization, in its attempt to reach the culture through Christian television, has failed miserably. This is because Christian television, (as a product of the church, established and run by pastors and teachers) has totally overlooked the artist.
For the most part, the church and Christian television, hand-in-hand, have thought little of the role of the artist. The often intangible and ethereal nature of an artists work holds little value to the clearly defined activities of the church. Also, the economy and business of the arts and entertainment industry make little sense to the preacher, who has little patience for the complexities and unpredictable nature of it.
Don't get me wrong, I love the church; I am for the church; I am dedicated to the extension of the church. I realize that the church never considered it was engaging in the arts. The church only ever intended on engaging in the spreading of knowledge, and so, it made decisions that supported the proclamation of truth in its entirety - I get it, and I believe it's motives were (mostly) pure.
I am not saying Christian television itself is a failure - only its attempt to reach the culture.
In-and-of itself, preachers broadcasting on screen, as on radio, is a good thing. It has been abused at times, by those who saw the opportunity to enrich themselves through the donor model, but on the whole, Christian television has had tremendous value. But Christian television is more like that of news, or business, or even sport, it is a non-scripted broadcast. It is the area of scripted storytelling the faith artist has been kept from. It is the realm of the heart, the land of dreams and ideas, that has been most effectively defended by Satan. This is the battleground for the culture where the church has been mostly inactive.
The problem is that Christian television has remained the only formal attempt, by Christians, to answer the rise and prominence of the screen-arts throughout the twentieth century. Christians have spent decades prioritizing education through the screen and it has been a dark period for the arts. The total lack of value placed on the arts of our time has been to the absolute detriment of the culture. We need to face the reality that if we continue to devalue the role of the faith artist, and the value of story, our effectiveness in reaching the culture with the gospel will continue on its downward decline.
In a recent blog The Real Reason Christianity Drifted From The Mainstream I talked about how from 1933 to 1966 faith and biblical values had great influence over the film industry, both in governance and artistically. Christian men standing in the gap for the sake of goodness and beauty held back the clutches of darkness for a time. It was not like that from the beginning. The inception of film in the opening decades of the 20th century saw Hollywood quickly become infiltrated by dark adult content (probably PG by today's standards) derived largely from the New York stage. By the 20's, after numerous scandals, it became apparent that Hollywood needed to clean up it's image, so it engaged a Catholic layman and a Jesuit priest to help establish a governance that artists would work by. The code was not easy to govern and impossible to enforce, so by the 60's the code was abandoned just as television was emerging as a new technology. Click here to read more.
Like radio, television was an attractive medium for the church to use for evangelical purposes and soon preachers began to broadcast their sermons in pictures. The economic model of radio broadcast was adopted and television was quickly beholden to advertisers to pay for air-time. This presented a problem for preachers. While advertisers want to appeal to the largest segment of the population as possible, preachers, on the other hand, need to preach the truth; and the two don't often go well together. They needed a solution to this problem.
So the church devised a work-around to this predicament. They decided that rather than being beholden to the wishes of advertisers, they would instead raise their own money to pay for airtime. They went to their respective congregations and the donor model - the system by which Christian television would be funded - was born. Raising their own funds to pay for air-time, separate to the demands of the market, succeeded somewhat in maintaining the integrity of the evangelist, but there was a side-effect. As Christian television became the churches principal method of reaching the mainstream culture, it instituted a system that prioritized sermons over story, education over imagination, and preachers over storytellers; locking the artist-of-faith out of the role of reaching the culture they had been gifted to reach.
Christian Television elevated content produced by the church to be the only legitimate answer to the growing influence of the screen arts. It prioritized the profile of preachers and their sermons, over the profile of artists-of-faith and their stories.
Christian television didn't recognize the role of the artist and considered its offering to the masses adequate. Christian television didn't recognize the sphere of arts and entertainment at all, and so for an artist, the options were not good.
With little support from the church, believers who wanted to work in the arts were forced to either come in line with the strategy of Christian television or fend for themselves among an industry that increasingly detested anything to do with faith. Many artists either walked away from the art-form or from faith altogether. The churches expression of faith on television commandeered what was essentially the role of the artist, leaving the culture without the salt that would ensure its preservation.
Should the church use screen arts? Of course it should! It's not a matter of either or, we need both. The church should distribute teaching through video or broadcast using open platforms where possible. They should produce products to teach and edify the church, or even evangelize where possible. None of that, however, replaces the need for artists of faith to engage in the industry that molds the hearts and minds of the culture, which is only: arts and entertainment.
So what is the answer?
The answer is that we need significant investment in the arts and entertainment space, to underwrite the development and growth of Christian businesses within the arts and entertainment industry. We need entertainment companies of faith to grow financially and strategically to compete in the arts and entertainment marketplace. More than anything, we as Christians need a change in attitude toward the arts.
We the church, need to develop a healthy view of who artists of faith are called to be. We need to understand and respect their important role in cultivating a healthy culture and making it ripe to receive the gospel. We need to support artists of faith and encourage them in their art-form; never dictating what they produce, never questioning their value or worth, but celebrating them, allowing them the grace to fail, and providing the means for the important process of restoration to take place. We need to send our artists out like missionaries; anointing and praying for them as they embark on the treacherous journey within the arts.
We need to honor the important role the artist of faith holds, and acknowledge that this battle for our global culture, is utterly lost without them in place. Neglect has made the front lines of our culture a fierce and deadly battlefield for the artist - it is time to support them as they take their place.
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The 'donor-model' and the devastating impact it has had on artists.