January 19, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: August 16, 2015


If it looks like an evangelical skunk . . .

I think Jan Crouch’s hair is the darnest thing since the Tower of Babel. I think Benny Hinn is sincere, but probably unstable. I think T.D. Jakes is preaching gnosticism. TBN in general convinces me television is utterly incompatible with Christianity. Most Contemporary Christian music makes me wish I was wandering in the Antarctic wastes. A tour through the Christian fiction section of my local Christian bookseller reveals enough mediocrity to fill a small country. Christian radio, for the most part, makes NPR look downright intelligent. Evangelical cinema is bad- just plain bad. The best Christian movie ever made- Chariots of Fire– was produced by a Muslim.

Yep, those are my opinions, and as my dad used to say, all of them and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee. These are my evangelical brethren, and in general, I think their product stinks. I know billions of evangelicals love this stuff, and always will. Evangelicals will soon be building amusement parks, world-wide satellite systems, movie studios and publishing conglomerates. But if the past is a predictor of the future, we’ll just be swimming in an ocean of tacky.

All of this is my way of voting with Mr. Eric Rigney on the proposition that Christians are not obligated to approve of all that comes sprouting forth from the evangelical subculture compost heap. I agree with Eric totally that we have an obligation, in the name of the integrity of truth, to call a skunk a skunk, even if he is carrying a Bible and singing “As the Deer.”

I would not be as severe as Eric on the Left Behind phenomenon, because I have not read the books. Nor do I plan to. Since they propagate the “rapture” theory, I consider them to be carriers of considerable false teaching and the amusing apocalyptic sub-plots don’t interest me. Evangelicalism embraced rapturism and its bizarre discovery of two returns of Christ just over a century ago. I prefer the classical and Biblical Christian consensus of the previous 1800 years that Christ will only return once. I know the rapture theory makes for a neat scary movie, but we’re talking about what the Bible really teaches, not what makes for a great special effects scene.

I also agree with Eric that Christian propaganda is the use of fractional portions of truth, surrounded by distortion, for the purposes of persuasion. It seems to me that Christians should be the last people on earth to resort to partial truths, caricatures and misrepresentations to win arguments. We believe that our worldview has the advantage of matching reality. So why do I need to resort to the tactics of liberals to make my points? When the truth is told, from all sides and all perspectives, the Christian worldview will be the sturdiest and most realistic.

That means that our ventures into the cultural arena must stand up under scrutiny and comparison. This is where evangelicals wimp out. We have created a Christian cultural ghetto with our own standards of art, writing, quality and truthfulness. The larger world isn’t signing up for that party, and we are diminished by playing the game this way. The use of propaganda is simply a way of talking to ourselves rather than listening to the real world.

I would not join Eric in automatically calling highly biased publications propaganda. Bias is allowed in a lively partisan discussion of issues. That is not the same as misrepresentation and distortion. So if I make every pro-choicer into a slobbering baby killer I am putting out propaganda. If I strongly state the pro-life case and refrain from misrepresenting those who disagree with me, the power of truth will prevail. I think partisan pamphleteering is not the same is promoting propaganda. That’s what I hope this web site is all about.

I agree with Eric that Chick tracts are reprehensible propaganda. And that the public needs protection from Michael Bolton. I would also like an explanation for why so many preachers have weird hair.

I would want to add one point beyond Eric’s article. I think Christians should freely express their criticisms of the mediocrity and distortion that emerges from the evangelical ghetto, and not be the least ashamed to do so. If we critique ourselves, that only speaks more to our confidence in the truth. It also shows (surprise) humility to acknowledge none of us are beyond criticism. It is a general observation of mine that Christians are woefully afraid of engaging in criticism of their own sub-culture as if that meant they were criticizing Jesus. Believe me, Jesus did not come up with all that Y2K nonsense. Or the script for the Omega Code.


  1. “the tactics of liberals”?

    Well far be it for me to let my fellow liberals off the hook when they do silly things like fall for anti-vaxxer and anti-GMO hokum, but it wasn’t liberals who brought us slavery or fascism or the Inquisition or cut-throat capitalism or McCarthyism or CIA torture or the Iraqi invasion or the War on Drugs or Creationism or Televangelists or school textbook censorship or Watergate or the acting career of Chuck Norris.

    Beams and motes friends, beams and motes.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      A couple of lines seems ringingly out of tone with the rest of the post. But written by someone in a time of transition – isn’t that to be expected?

    • I believe the author was referring to THEOLOGICAL liberals, not political ones.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        This is a reason the term Liberal and Conservative are not useful; they are too broad, they bring unintended groups into an ‘argument’. Often times they are used reflexively by a ‘side’ to refer to the other [even if the philosophical connotations don’t fit].

    • Stephen,
      Just how exactly do you define the words liberal and conservative. Because in my own lifetime I have seen a good deal of hate, censorship and irrational thinking from those who politically would be considered liberal. And certainly in history what I would think are considered liberal ideals have brought some tragedies (like the atrocities of some communist regimes).

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > who politically would be considered liberal

        Considered by whom?

      • Clay Crouch says

        Don’t conflate liberalism or conservatism, for that matter, with totalitarianism.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Fascism can come from either Right or Left, in jackboots and silver epaulets or in tie-dyes and Birkenstocks. But the Control Freak core is the same under the coat of paint.

          • james the Mad says

            That’s because politics is more of a circle than a straight line. It has been years since I’ve seen it, but there’s an old diagram showing political right and left as moving away from each other at the top of the circle and reuniting in totalitarianism at the bottom.

            So yes, whether it’s called Fascism or Communism, either side can end up at the bottom of the circle implementing a totalitarian form of government.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Friend of mine coined the term “Fascism of the Left” to refer to Communism and “Fascism of the Right” to refer to classic Fascism.

            (Incidentally, the best-known form of Fascism was THE most extreme form, German Fascism. Which was THE main influence on Arab Fascism/Baathism.)

  2. When was this originally written? It would be nice to have some perspective in time.

    • Oh yeah, it would also be nice to have a link to the article mentioned in this post.

    • January 5, 2000 according to the Great and Powerful Google.

      • It’s undated, actually, but it comes from early internet Monk, before 2004. Michael went through a very conservative phase. Don’t let that aspect of this post distract you from the larger point.

        • Understood. I realize from the tenor of the discussions hereabouts that a bit of water has passed under the bridge since this site began. I have been posting here for only about six months or so, hence I am not privy to a lot of the context that many of you assume.

          I suppose my response was motivated by exasperation at “liberal” having become a pejorative without need for qualification. And this largely accomplished by people who would push me under a bus for a percentage and call it doing God’s will.

          In the end “liberal” and “conservative” are just words. For me what it comes down to is, what are you willing to do to get what you want? How well do you treat people? Yes I suppose from a political and religious point of view I would be considered a liberal. In fact I’m a profoundly conservative person. It’s just that the things I want to conserve are very different from the kinds of things the Albert Mohlers and Franklin Grahams want to conserve.

          • I started reading this blog around 2005 in very rough terms. Maybe a year or two earlier. 20 comments was a really big day.

            Michael change (grew!) a lot over the years. He was a Calvinist for a while and fairly anti Catholic. He dropped both of those positions long before he died. And many others.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Michael change (grew!) a lot over the years. He was a Calvinist for a while and fairly anti Catholic. He dropped both of those positions long before he died. And many others.

            Like Malcolm X dropped a lot of his former positions after his Hadj to Mecca.
            (Except dropping those positions got Malcolm X killed.)

  3. Christiane says

    enormous pink cotton-candy hair . . . Jan Crouch certainly stood out

    . . . now I’m not sure if she wanted to be taken ‘seriously’ or if, in humility, she was making a statement about how ridiculous surface appearances really are. Sadly, I suspect it was the former, but at least I thought about the possibility of the latter . . .

    then again, sensitive people sometimes create a ‘persona’ for others to target and they hide behind it feeling protected from the abuse thrown at the ‘persona’ that they can control . . . that also might be an answer to that amazing hair

    or maybe, just maybe, she liked looking ‘that way’, and it made her happy

    In any case, it’s that pink hair I think about when someone mentions ‘Jan Crouch’ . . . wigs, hair pieces, all piled up, one on top of the other, strangely hypnotic rather than entertaining . . . belonging to some isolated sub-culture few of us will ever have an ability to comprehend or the guts (?) to imitate 🙂

    • Christiane, with all due respect, I think you are overthinking this :-).

      • Christiane says

        Hi GREG,
        yes, and I enjoyed doing it, too 🙂 Something mystical about pink, cotton-candy hair . . . like unicorns and elves, you know . . . . wonderful stuff !

        • Adam Tauno Williams says


          And anyone who dies their hair a bright color, wears lavish outfits, etc…. is *inviting* others to analyze them.

    • And before Jan Crouch came Tammy Faye Bakker. If I wanted a picture of what Queen Jezebel looked like in Biblical times, it would be her.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Tammy Faye Bakker struck me as deep down a tragic figure. Jim USED her. Not too bright, from a background culture of “Stand By Your Man” and “Woman, Submit!”, easy to control. And a control freak would marry someone submissive, not too bright, and easy to control. The street-whore makeup as overreaction to a “no makeup” holiness upbringing; the bling and goodies and fame-by-husband/proxy mistaken for God’s Blessing. In many ways a perpetual child bride in an adult’s body, kept that way. And so out-of-it behind the PTL/Televangelist CELEBRITY bubble she had no idea how ridiculous she looked and acted.

        • That Other Jean says

          Once she got out of the glare of the Jim Bakker/PTL limelight, divorced, and remarried, she did, if I remember rightly, prove to be a pretty decent person–unlike her husband, who is still a slimeball.

  4. Ronald Avra says

    My mother was a devout, conservative Baptist over a long life. In the last few years before she died, she developed an affection for Benny Hinn, which totally baffled me. I can’t grasp how anyone with a thorough overview of the Bible could find scarcely anything on TBN to embrace.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Like apocalypticism I suspect there is a powerful attraction to the Drama; it is *big* and has flair. It makes Life into a good story. It isn’t about the Bible, or theology, or much else – principally it is about boredom and detachment. This makes it especially appealing to those who have grown up in a cultural ghetto as the drama make it is seem *big* and a sense of wider attachment/participation [even if that participation is total slacktivism]. Everything contrary to the drama – impinging on the ‘fun’ – is just ignored, like inconsistencies in a screen play.

      It is terribly sad.

      • Ronald Avra says

        Makes sense

      • The likely answer is marketing, which largely capitalizes on an element of fear. They know what they are doing and have target audiences in mind, including the elderly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It isn’t about the Bible, or theology, or much else – principally it is about boredom and detachment. This makes it especially appealing to those who have grown up in a cultural ghetto…

        A cultural ghetto where most of the normal ways of dealing with boredom and detachment are forbidden as Worldly, Fleshly, and/or Satanic. (“Could it be… SATAN?”)

        Taking the Mark of the likes of Benny Hinn (“Who is like unto The Hinn?”) is about the only acceptable outlet left, and they go for it. And the larger-than-life Drama-Rama just locks it in with an addiction response.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          “”A cultural ghetto where most of the normal ways of dealing with boredom and detachment are forbidden as Worldly, Fleshly, and/or Satanic.””


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Which is why they cling to and defend to the death their Benny Hinns and Christianese Ersatz books and music and stuff. They’ve never experienced The Real Thing, and the Ersatz knockoffs are all they have.

    • Back in 2000, I was living in Denver. We had not watched TV in a couple of years (one of those ‘evil’ things to avoid). There were forest fires in the mountains and our daughter was at camp not far from where the fires were, so we turned on the TV to watch the news. After watching the news we just channel surfed for a while (no cable, just local). We stumbled onto professional wresting and it was a hoot. We then came across a Benny Hinn crusade. It was funny as we switched back and forth between WWE and Benny Hinn. It was like we were watching the same show with different characters!

    • I can’t grasp how anyone with a thorough overview of the Bible could find scarcely anything on TBN to embrace.

      Based on my mother (who was a fan of everything TBN, Daystar, etc… and as we discovered gave $10,000s to) these guys are a big draw for folks who want everything to be black and white. No grey allowed. They all preach they have THE answer. Of course that they seemed to not all have the same answer was totally glossed over in her mind.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “””It is a general observation of mine that Christians are woefully afraid of engaging in criticism of their own sub-culture as if that meant they were criticizing Jesus.”””

    First, I want to search-n-replace Christian-> Evangelical.

    Second, and the question – couldn’t this be due to their interpretation of The Great Commision? Evangelicals are pummeled with the demand to go engage the culture, to ‘reach people’. It doesn’t matter if they are prepared to engage, have the cultural language to ‘reach *those* people’, etc… Just go! As a strategy that is bound to face-plant. But their preachers keep telling them to Go! Go! Go!

    To pause and do research first, to listen to the other side – those are certainly very UN-Evangelical things to do. if you do that you likely, almost defacto, cease to be an Evangelical.

  6. My egg lady had shocking pink hair the first time I saw her. Yesterday it was bright blue. I really like her a lot.

    Last night, for reasons I can’t begin to guess, I dreamt that I met Jack Chick, THE Jack Chick, and he was a nice guy. I really liked him and I was flabbergasted in my dream that he could be THE Jack Chick.

    A woman I have gotten acquainted with in a place where I do business has just self-published what she described as a Christian science fiction book, and she was feeling scared and vulnerable, but bravely “blessed,” that tip off code word so loved by Evangelicals. I was prepared to buy a copy from her to be polite until I found out it is over 700 pages and costs over thirty bucks. I read the first few pages online at Amazon. To say it is awful would be a bit harsh but Michael’s word “mediocre” is a good fit.

    I might buy the ten dollar Kindle edition as a gesture, but to think of actually plowing thru those 700 pages plus out of obligation is simply unthinkable. She’s already writing a sequel and I’m wondering if anyone is going to buy a copy of the first one outside of her family and friends. I don’t think having a much-needed good editor could turn it around. Who knows, I could be wrong, I’m waiting to see if any reviews for the first one show up on Amazon.

    Now I have to figure out what to say the next time I see her. I could solve this by not going into the office any more, but I do have to do business there. Maybe I could send her Michael’s piece above anonymously. Well, Jesus probably wouldn’t do that, but what would he do? Somehow it doesn’t seem like a miracle would be appropriate, unless you count being honest a miracle.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Now I have to figure out what to say the next time I see her

      Ugh, you have my sympathies. Having Artists in one’s circle always brings up this awkwardness.

    • My guess is that Jesus would remind me that the important piece of this interaction is the woman, not the book.

      I agree with Michael’s point that most of the products of the “Christianese” sub-culture are tacky. I even agree that in general, we have a right and maybe a duty to say they are tacky.

      But I don’t think our distaste for the products ought to extend to saying that individual people that we know and care about are mediocre and tacky. (Not that you would say that to your office friend, Charles — I’m just speaking generally.)

      I have a dear friend who loves Benny Hinn’s stuff. I find it repellant. But I certainly don’t feel called upon to tell her that. She also loves the “Christian fiction” which I find dreary and, yes, quite mediocre. But so what? She’s a good person who is always looking to help her neighbors in any way possible, whose prayers are sincere, and whose generosity (in her relative poverty) puts my own to shame. So she likes what I consider trash. Who cares? I’ve been known to sneak a peek or two at some books and TV programs that I wouldn’t care to brag about either (though I haven’t come down as far as the Kardashians. Yet. 🙂 )

      I can write a book review on Amazon saying what I really feel about any of these silly Christian books, and I think that’s fine. But I don’t trash other people’s tastes to their faces. I think we need to be careful, in our rightful criticisms of merdiocrity, that we don’t turn into cultural snobs.

  7. This is a tragedy. We have some wonderful things to say, but we’ve forgotten how to say it. Gone are the Dantes, the Bunyans, the Dostoyevskys, the Bachs, the Mendelssohns, the MIchaelangelos. We used to be at the forefront of the arts, and had quality to boot. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien seems to have been the last of the dinosaurs as Lewis so aptly said.

    What comes from the evangelical ghetto is nothing more than propaganda. The Chick Tract is at the extreme of the spectrum but is an apt representation of the sad prduct of evangelicalism today.

    • Clay Crouch says

      I’m pretty sure all but Bunyan were most definitely not evangelical, at least not in the way we identify them today. That said, there are many believers today who are creating beautiful art, In most cases it’s just not art that “self-identifies” as Christian. I wish that the only thing foisted on the public and the Church from the evangelical ghetto was kitsch.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      It would be extremely inaccurate to describe any of the names you mentioned as Evangelicals; I doubt Evangelicals would accept any of them into their ranks [although by much editing they have grafted Lewis into their canon – although notably one a select few of this works].

  8. To create good art, one must be exposed to good art. Locking oneself in the evangelical ghetto out of fear of worldly influences with nothing but a bible and then deciding to write a novel or compose music is not going to end well. Being motivated to get people to make a decision for Christ will likely come across as manipulative or religious propaganda.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Being motivated to get people to make a decision for Christ will likely

      A work created by a very specific motivation is the definition of propaganda.

    • I mentioned this recently: C.S. Lewis seemed less than Christian when I was younger, because his stories didn’t end in an altar call.

    • And the Hobbit? No mention of Jesus? How carnal. :-\

  9. Modern evangelical “art” now lacks artistic appeal not because it strives to be a glorified Chick track, but because it merely presents good “morals” or strives to be “safe for the whole family”. It’s more product than propaganda.

    • sort of like the kitsch of Thomas Kinkade, the evangelical hack artist.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Kincade was actually a pretty talented artist, but he got stuck in a rut and had to pretend he was more Wholesome than he was to keep his market going.

        There’s a long-ago essay on the Web that analyzed Kincade’s style at various times in his career and concluded that he stagnated when he started selling heavily to the Chrsitianese market. Then he became canonized like some sort of megachurch pastor, got on the Christianese CELEBRITY treadmill, and burned out. I wonder if his drinking got worse because he was stuck as the Christainese Painter of Light and wanted to move on but that was where the money was; I know artists often change and grow and his “day job” was keeping him stuck.

  10. Joseph (the original) says

    I think Benny Hinn is sincere, but probably unstable.

    Benny Hinn is the quintessential ‘crazy uncle’ in a rather generous Christian family membership Michael embraced.

    I don’t subscribe to the same generosity. Benny Hinn is a charlatan and he knows exactly what he is doing to fleece the gullible and live a lifestyle of the rich and infamous…


    Hinn is a good example of taking advantage of that curious phenomena regarding cult status religious celebrity fandom while promoting a religious sideshow circus display peddling signs and wonders for the gullible.

    Lord…have mercy… 🙁

  11. Not all is the fault of the evangelical ghetto. Much blame needs to be directed toward American culture in general. The Rock and Roll Hall of fame is a good example: Madonna is in, but Yes will likely never be inducted, be cause excellence in musicianship is considered pretentious. The best seller’s list is typically loaded with books not worth the paper they are printed on. Often, evangelicalism attempts to imitate that culture in the name of relevancy. Wouldn’t be great if evangelicalism could be guild where artistic excellence is welcomed, rather than a ghetto that imitates the culture’s lowest common denominator?

  12. Most brands have problems with self-criticism. A certain soft drink company invested in a research group claiming that obesity is due to a lack of exercise and not what one eats or drinks.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Most brands have problems with self-criticism.

      Certainly true. But Evangelicalism is not a “brand”, it is a community. Theoretically. Or if it isn’t then you’ve located one of the roots of the problem.

      Of course communities also have problems with self-criticism. But having been deep in the Evangelical community, sat in many meetings – AND having been in, and being in currently, other communities – there is simply no comparison. The depth of self-criticism and self-analysis in other communities is far more developed them anything I encountered in Evangelicalism [where criticism was often whispered, one insider to another, and shrugged off – nothing you can do about it]. But pietism and self-criticism make very awkward bedfellows.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        I would say I more often now experience communities paralyzed by self-criticism.

        The “sin of the advocate” – where the perfect becomes the perennial enemy of the good [or more importantly: of the better, which is all that really matters]. Real good forgone for an imagined greater possibility or opportunity [usually entirely imaginary].

      • But Evangelicalism is not a “brand”, it is a community.

        For some maybe many.

        But for many of it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck …..

  13. Christiane says

    God seems to be able to take even the strangest people with pompadour hair and flashy clothing and all sorts of sinful secrets and still use them to further the Kingdom of Our Lord . . . this is a mystery to me, but for some reason, I have lately tried to see something ‘more’ in the crazy, mis-directed, broken lives of charlatans and their followers . . . it is as though their imperfections are more ‘reassuring’ to many people who need Christ than those preachers whose lives seem ‘in control’ and ‘pure’ and ‘above it all’ . . .

    in other words, look at the audiences for a moment . . . the aging dowdy fat women who have suffered much taking hope from a gently-weeping rhine-stoned, pink-haired madonna of the Church reading something to them from sacred Scripture, and know that, for God’s purposes, this somehow does make sense.
    I don’t get it. But that’s okay. I bow my head to any good that comes for people in this world, even when it’s packaging is only understood and appreciated by some among us and not ourselves.

  14. Quality is one thing; integrity is another. Televangelists are not cheesy; they are sleazy. This sums it up.

  15. Maybe evangelicals are not producing quality art, music, or TV because they have burned their bridges in front of them. There’s nothing that will suck the spark out of life like waiting around for the Rapture. You’d almost think Jesus commanded His church to veg out on brain candy till He comes back and beams them up to Bibleland.

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