Saturday, April 30, 2005

My Observations

Yes, this is written in "seminary-speak," but I hope they will be useful and not too horribly boring. Suggestions welcome.

Some Observations about Televised Religion:

I have a very, very small sample size that is statistically insignificant. That being said, I cannot draw true conclusions, but hypothesize on what I observed.

Religion on Television can be broken into several categories.
1. Televised worship services from mainline denominations.
2. Televised worship services from non-denominational churches.
3. Televised worship services from Mega-churches (over 2000 in attendance).
4. Televised worship experiences, that are held to be broadcast – these include an audience, not a true congregation. Sometimes they are ticketed events.
5. Mainline preachers preaching to a camera.
6. Non-denominational preachers preaching to a camera.
7. Denominational (mainline) talk shows.
8. Non-denominational talk shows.
9. Made for television movies.

This discussion will not take in account talk shows or made for television movies.

If we take the Nicean Creed and the traditional confessions of the faith to be normative for orthodoxy, then the theologies of the sermons televised can be categorized as orthodox or non-orthodox. (We will avoid language or “good theology” or “bad theology” in this discussion.)

Of the programming watched, the televised programs from mainline denominations were analyzed and their theologies would be considered orthodox by this viewer. When considering a “worship experience,” none of the programming observed of these types had staged worship experiences (total watched 24.) They also did not have cameras that were mobile; most were fixed cameras within an ordinary church space. The sermons that were televised in front of a camera without a congregation where done in a low budget television studio, dressed to resemble an office or home. There were little to no pleas for money, except for the usual “tithes and offerings” of a normal worship service, or offers to purchase tapes of the programming at a reasonable price. Of the programming considered, not necessarily watched, only one was from a "crusade" in which the preacher was from a mainline denomination (Billy Graham, Baptist). There was no Catholic programming observed.

Of the programming watched that was non-denominational, there was much more variety. Almost all (excluding two) of the Mega churches watched were non-denominational. All of the staged worship experiences with an audience observed were non-denominational. 74% of these non-denominational programs had recognizable un-orthodox theologies. These included non-Trinitarian thought, Gnosticism, Montanism, Monophysitism, Apollinarianism, Donatism, Monarchianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, problems with soteriology, and prosperity theology among others. Because of the small sample size, this figure cannot be determinative, however it is sufficient to show a trend.

The non-denominational programming was much more likely to have a preacher whose ordination status is indeterminable, sermons with no discernable form or structure, sermons that included no illustrations, sermons with proof-texting of the Bible, sermons with no challenge for true Christian discipleship, more likely to include pleas for money and more likely to specifically mention politics. The non-denominational programming ranged from engaging and orthodox to offensive (to this listener) and extremely unorthodox. It seemed that the further the preacher was from day to day pastoring of a flesh and blood congregation with which the preacher had an ongoing, authentic relationship, the further their theologies drifted. Also, the mainline programming remained much more orthodox in their thinking. Perhaps having a higher power -- a Board of Ordained Ministry, a Bishop, a Synod, a Conference, an Association -- to hold the preacher accountable for their teachings helped the preacher maintain integrity to the Gospel and the orthodox teachings of the Church universal.

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