Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Immaturity Of Christian Radio

There's a lot that's good on Christian radio, but I have problems with some of what I hear at the local and national levels. Most of the programming doesn't go into much depth. There isn't much maturity. A lot of what you hear would be appropriate for somebody being introduced to Christianity, but there isn't much use for it beyond that. Think of how many Christians have been on the radio for a couple of decades or longer, and you wouldn't learn much more from them in their twentieth or thirtieth year on the air than you learned from them the first year they were on.

There's a place for introductory material. Churches should have classes to teach people the basics of the faith, for example. But when you live in an information age, with all of the political freedoms, technology, and other advantages that we have in a nation like the United States, should we be spending so much time repeating the same basic information over and over? How many more vague sermons do we need about trusting God in difficult times or following the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do we need yet another Christmas sermon about what a good Christian model Mary or Joseph was? Mature Christians can benefit from listening to introductory material a second, third, or eighty-ninth time. But wouldn't they benefit even more if the material went into more depth?

Then there's all of the false teaching and false ecumenism that are so common on Christian radio. All of the triviality. Bad music. Embarrassing attempts at humor. Bad imitations of the non-Christian world. The concern for appealing to non-Christians in the wrong way. You get the impression that a lot of the people working in Christian radio don't know much about what they're doing. You wait for them to improve, and it doesn't happen much, if at all.

One of the Christian stations in my area has a local program that airs on weekday evenings. It's a talk show. There have been a lot of hosts over the years. The format changes a lot. In its latest form, the hosts spend a lot of time talking about things like the movies they watched over the weekend, what they ate for dinner yesterday, or a concert they're going to tonight. They'll spend five minutes, fifteen minutes, or even longer discussing such things. Then they'll have an interview or a discussion of something like a theological or political issue. They'll go into a lot of detail about something like health care legislation or abortion, but they tend to address theological issues, apologetics, and such in a more vague manner. They often have topics like "hope" and "trusting God". After that, they return to talking about their daughter's soccer practice yesterday or a news story about a hot dog eating contest. They seem to get a lot of their material from sources like Christianity Today and CNN.

I've had email discussions with some of the hosts of the program over the years. One told me that he wouldn't get many listeners if he spent more time talking about doctrine. One host told me that he considers Roman Catholicism "a garbage heap with an umbrella over it", but there's only so much he can say on the air.

Back in the 1990s, one of the hosts was Mark Elfstrand. I don't remember many of the details of his program. One thing he said, though, has stuck in my mind over the years, probably close to fifteen years now. A Roman Catholic caller, if I remember correctly, was criticizing eternal security. He said, as Catholics often do, that nobody believed in eternal security before the Reformation. Elfstrand quickly answered (as if it was an issue he'd thought about and studied) by noting that there were people who believed in eternal security between the time of the apostles and the Reformation, and he went on to note that some scholars who study church history have told him so. He didn't name any names. He didn't go into as much detail as I'd like. But how many Christians on the radio would even go as far as Elfstrand did? How many even have that much concern about historical theology, let alone would study something like the history of eternal security, consult some relevant scholars on the subject, and be prepared to quickly answer a Catholic who brings the subject up? That's highly unusual. And I remember it to this day. I can even remember where I was driving when I heard it. It's that unusual, and it impressed me that much. I don't know much about Mark Elfstrand. Maybe he's wrong on some issues, overly ecumenical, or whatever. But I remember him because of things like that discussion he had with a Catholic caller. It's so unusual.

Instead of spending five minutes talking about how their air conditioning broke down last week, or fifteen minutes discussing a movie they recently saw, why don't Christian talk show hosts use that time to discuss something more significant? Why don't they find better guests to interview, such as scholars who are more knowledgeable than the ones who are so often interviewed on Christian radio? Think of how little people know about Christian doctrine, church history, and other significant subjects. For example, how many Christians can even explain why the Bible contains the books it does? Why not try to educate people about issues like the canon of scripture? The subject is important, and it’s often brought up by the likes of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman, yet Christians, including Christians on radio, do so little to address it. What about the historicity of the Bible, inerrancy, Roman Catholicism, the historical roots of Evangelicalism, paranormal phenomena, and other subjects that come up so often and in so many areas of life, yet are so poorly addressed by Christian radio (and parents, churches, etc.)? Why is there so much immaturity on matters like philosophy, history, and apologetics? Yet, we find so much time to discuss things like sports and movies. The local Christian program I referred to above used to devote its first hour on Mondays to discussing the Steelers game the previous Sunday.

One of the problems is that many of the people who are on the air are chosen for the wrong reasons. A lot of the people on Christian radio are pastors. They're often occupied with conducting weddings and funerals, counseling people, attending church events, etc. They don't know much about things like church history, philosophy, and apologetics. Or somebody is on the air largely because of his voice, his association with somebody else who's famous, or his humor, even though he doesn't know much about the Bible or other relevant subjects. As I said above, there's a place for people who are working at an introductory level. But shouldn't we have more meat along with the milk? A lot more?


  1. Let me start by saying I almost never listen to Christian radio anymore. I have an mp3 player with the whole bible on it, I download MacArthur's sermons, and listen to all that during my drive time. All that stuff was easy to get, and the material is substantial.
    That is the issue. 7 years back I started asking this question periodically as I listened to Christian radio: Am I being edified by this? Finally the answer was no so much I just went and bought that Mp3 player - about 2 years back. Strange...I repented of listening to Christian radio and have absolutely no regret.

  2. Talking about doctrine would initiate lots of arguments and objections from listeners, not only about the doctrine in question but about doctrine itself. The average Christian has embraced wholeheartedly the "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion" slogan and doctrine usually falls under the category of religion, which is antithetical to relationship.

    Christian radio stations tend to stay in business based on listener support. This means that, like a politician trying to get the most votes, it pays to take the "center" non-controversial positions. They need the net that catches the most fish and they justify this watered down approach by saying it's better than no Christian radio.

    Somewhat unrelated anecdote: In my town there were two local Christian radio stations, one was protestant (in the most generic sense) and the other was run by the local Catholic diocese. Around last year the protestant radio station went out of business due to not enough listener support. The catholic radio station is still in business. I know the Catholic station has little segments where a listener will write in a question and a catholic priest will provide an answer.

    Beyond that, I don't really know much either station handled/handles teaching. I never listen to either because Christian music is crap (not necessarily lyrically, but artistically). Seriously, it sounds like there is one male Christian music artist and one female Christian music artist doing all the songs. They all have similar sounding voices. And the songs basically sound they all came off of the same album.

  3. I had supported my local Christian station for many years. I liked the music, some of the preaching. But , twice a year they spent a week raising money. That got old. Then one day, I was riding with a Christian man who said he stopped supporting his Christian station, when he got so tired of the "modern music" that passed for christian. He and I in the same age group, missed the old , really edifying songs of yester-year.

    Then , I had discovered alot of wonderful Christian teachers etc. via the internet, and discovered downloading messages to my IPOD. Well, I did contact this station and asked why we could not have some solid Christian programs, like VCY America, and Janet Parshall? NEVER , even ONCE did they replay. SO, I stopped my $160 a month donation to them, and now give it to Olive tree views ministries! They still send me stuff from their station, but I have not listened to their program in ages. Sad day....

  4. I listen to Pirate Christian Radio regularly, though they are unapologetically Lutheran and I am not a Lutheran. Mainly I'm interested in Fighting for the Faith, which is the anchor program of the station and is devoted to apologetic and theology.

    The host (Chris Rosebrough) regularly discusses and compares false/bad doctrine to good/Biblical doctrine on every show. They also do real-time, full-length sermon reviews of prominent leaders in the western church. He does both good and bad sermons/lectures, with an emphasis on the bad.

    Some months ago, they aired several lectures on Martin Chemnitz's The Two Natures of Christ; a work I wouldn't say is the bastion of the immature.

    I credit Rosebrough's incessant preaching of the gospel and his tireless detailed debunking of faux Americanized "Christianity" as the main means by which God made is grace known to me. The constant focus on proper reasoning anchored and steered by scripture over and against generic Churchianity served to deliver me out of the confusion and despair created by a lifetime in a mainline United Methodist congregation.

    Both my wife and I have been matured in a way that amazes us and we credit (along with our current congregation) Christ Jesus via PCR for a great deal of it.

  5. He said, as Catholics often do, that nobody believed in eternal security before the Reformation. Elfstrand quickly answered (as if it was an issue he'd thought about and studied) by noting that there were people who believed in eternal security between the time of the apostles and the Reformation, and he went on to note that some scholars who study church history have told him so.

    What kind of "eternal security"? The kind that's also called "Once Saved, Always Saved" (which is often grounded in Dispensationalism)? Or the kind that Calvinists believe which is often called the "Perseverance of the Saints"?

    With my limited studies, I'm not aware of any major or noteworthy theologian (famous or infamous) prior to the the Reformation who taught the doctrine of the "Perseverance of [ALL of] the Saints". Clearly, there were many predestinarians prior to the reformation who believed in the "Perseverance of ALL of the ELECT"; but that's not the same thing. Among them were Augustine, Lucidus, Gottschalk, Aquinas, Bradwardine, Wyclif (et al). Even Luther merely/simply believed the elect will persevere but that genuine Saints/Christians can still fall away. Whether Luther believed genuine saints actually have and do fall away permenantly or not is disputed. Some say he did, while others say he only spoke of it in the hypothetical.

    Whatever the case, my understanding is that all the Pre-Reformation predestinarians believed genuine Christians could and do fall away permenantly but that the elect can't and don't. It is Calvinists (like myself) who believe the additional proposition that only the elect can become true Christians, and that all true Christians are numbered among the elect. Pre-Reformation predestinarians didn't seem to believe that. They seemed to believe that while all the elect are or will become saints/Christians/believers (leaving out for the moment infant salvation and mentally handicapped salvation), not all those who have or do become saints/Christians/believers are numbered among the elect. I'd be interested in documentation that shows that there were predestinarians before the Reformation who believed that only the elect can become Christians and that therefore (by logical implication) all Christians (i.e. all Saints) will persevere.

    to be continued:

  6. Of course, part of the problem with documenting that is the definition of "Christian" or "saint" prior to the Reformation was often based on baptism and (usually) baptismal regeneration.

    The above deals with the Eternal *Security*, which has to do with objective theology. A related but distinct matter is the nature of *Assurance*. Its epistemic grounds and psychological nature.

    There are at least two kinds of "assurance."

    1. The assurance of currrent salvation (which even non-predestinarians can believe). In other words, whether one can have certainty of being in a current state of grace (even if one could possibly lose that state).

    2. Whether one can have assurance that one is numbered among the elect and therefore, by extension assurance that one will persevere OR that God have given him the "gift of perseverance" (as Augustine used the term).

    There's nothing in the doctrine of predestination, by itself, that could lead anyone to have philosophical apodictic certainty that one is numbered among the elect and therefore will persevere. It's a logical possibility that one can have Biblical grounds to believe in absolute unconditional election and deny that *assurance* is possible (either with the 2nd definition only, OR BOTH (!!!) 1st and 2nd definition). Historically Calvinists have disagreed about the definitions of assurance and how (if possible) one can attain it. On the one extreme there were the Calvinistic antinomians. On the other extreme there were Calvinists who made determining one's current salvation (and therefore election, or vice versa) so difficult that some of them had continual life-long anxiety over the issue and were constantly seeking it. Even some of the puritans.

  7. I rather enjoyed Jerry Bowyer when he was on Christian talk radio in Pittsburgh a while back. Are you familiar with him?

  8. hundredfold,

    Yes, I'm familiar with Jerry Bowyer. He still occasionally comes on as a guest. I only have vague memories of his time as host of the program, though.

    As I recall, he was the first permanent host of the program after Marty Minto was fired. You'd expect Bowyer to be more ecumenical, as the first host to replace Minto, and I think he was. He was good on some issues, like politics and economics. The current hosts are good in some contexts as well. I wouldn't claim that they're entirely bad, nor would I make that claim about Bowyer. But they're also wrong about some things, like Roman Catholicism, and there's so much they could and should be doing that they haven't done.

    When I was driving home from work today, one of the hosts said that they'll be giving a lot of coverage to the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks next week. Why? We know that the subject will get a major amount of coverage in other places. It will be discussed prominently on non-Christian radio programs, television, etc. Given how many more important issues are so neglected, even in Christian circles, why give so much attention to September 11? And what are they going to add to the discussion? Not much, apparently, judging by the segment they had on the subject today. That's another problem I have with the program. Not only is their choice of topics often problematic, but they frequently don't cover their chosen topics well either. Think about what we'll probably be hearing next week. They'll be discussing September 11 a lot, even though the subject has been covered so much, in so many places, already. When they discuss the subject, they probably won't say much of significance about it. And the listeners will be reinforced in their false priorities. People who spend an inordinate amount of time listening to Rush Limbaugh, reading National Review online, watching Fox News, etc., where they'll also get a lot of coverage of September 11, will get more of it from a Christian radio station. Maybe the coverage will be better in some ways, but what does it amount to? Not much. And so many opportunities to do more worthwhile things will be passed by, again.