What is fascinating and staggering to me is how, in America, no amount of controversy surrounding a media personality who claims to speak for God will always hurt their influence. The two cases in point are Pat Robertson, head of CBN and Regent University, and Oral Roberts, founder of Oral Roberts University. Both of these men are extremely controversial, but just where we might feel confident that their words have the power to destroy their impact, the opposite occurs. Their ratings go up, donations seem to increase instead of flattening, and attendance at their state accredited universities remains steady.
Now, both Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts are charismatics, and most anyone under the gun would distance themselves from both of these men. What most everyone who I know agrees with is that these men are not really God’s spokespersons, and that in fact, if pressed we could say they are false prophets whose influence has done a lot of harm over the years, politically and for the Name of Jesus. Would it be too much to say that these men are Acceptable?
In this day and age Pentecostals and Evangelicals are very good at saying what they are not in order to maintain a squeaky clean, acceptable image. If Pat and Oral are part of our heritage, they are the Black Sheep. They’re always putting their foot in their mouths and embarrassing those of us who are a lot less assuming. But maybe what’s a little harder to ignore is that in many ways they put this thing we call Evangelicalism on the media map. They proved that the American public was ready for something new with Christianity that emphasized two things: the unacceptability of being Christian and poor, and Miracles On Demand. Aside from these ideas running against the grain of emphasis in the Scriptures, they sure caught on in PostWWII and PostVietnam America. Pat and Oral gave, and continue to give, what the People want: assurance during hard times. That is not necessarily always ignoble, and so what you have is religion that always reaches felt need. The thing about religion that always meets a felt need is that it becomes the sum of what it promises and nothing else. So we’re left with a ten billion dollar a year Jesus merchandising industry, while “the least of these” (Matt. 25:31-46) move further and further into the Western Church’s rear view mirror.
I’ve recently reviewed three “unacceptable movies” that feature ecstatic spiritual worship and worldviews in uncomfortable ways. I would venture to say that most Evangelicals and Pentecostals would feel uncomfortable watching themselves worship through the lens of someone outside their camp. Let’s return to the place where I started: scanning the room in order to be comfortable and window-dressing unwittingly. I believe that there are things about Christian faith, and in that I include evangelicals and Pentecostals, that put personal faith on the spot. It will draw unwanted attention. To raise children into this faith and to use every available means (the media) to evangelize are very heavy responsibilities! With these propositions, faith is moving from the personal to the shared and finally to an assumed collective in a very fast way that isn’t easily controllable!