Christian Media

Jesus Junk

This blog first appeared as an column in the Charisma Magazine:

My alarm goes off at 5:50 sharp every morning, so I drag myself out of bed and head to the garage where I keep my exercise equipment and treadmill. While working out, I often turn on various TV channels to keep track of the early morning round of TV evangelists. I’ve been producing Christian television programming for thirty years now, and I’m still amazed – and often shocked – at the junk some evangelists pitch on television.

Vials of anointing oil and “miracle water” are still big, as well as prayer cloths, miracle seeds, and gimmicks of all kinds – I prefer to call it “Jesus Junk.” One TV prophet will even give you a “personal prophecy” (once you call and give him your credit card number of course).

How did we come to this? How has the historic Christian faith that defeated the Roman empire, changed nations, and transformed the Western world disintegrated to cheap trinkets and religious trash? We can always criticize the TV evangelists who pitch this stuff (and we should), but the fact is, there’s an even bigger culprit – us.

The truth is, we’ve created a generation of Christians looking for a magic bullet. That’s why people travel thousands of miles from conference to conference just to “get a word,” find “fresh oil,” “get the glory,” or “catch their blessing.” The truth is, they’re looking for the easy way out.

It’s interesting that after World II, we experienced an age of real miracles in this country. We had amazing pre-fab housing, miracle drugs, fast food, space age appliances, and instant satisfaction was everywhere. And it changed everyone. I had an uncle who experienced three heart attacks, but refused to exercise or eat right. He was waiting on a miracle drug to solve his health problems. He died soon after, still waiting.

That’s why it’s no wonder that in such a marvelous era, “miracle ministries” were born. Men and women like Oral Roberts, William Branham, Kathryn Kuhlman, Jack Coe and more exploded on the scene with amazing success. They ignited a new passion for the supernatural and the gifts of the Spirit, and re-energized the church.

But now, fifty or more years later, the pendulum has swung so far, we’ve become addicted to the feeling. We’ve forgotten how difficult living the Christian life can be, and in our pursuit of prosperity and a nice Mercedes, we’ve lost touch with the years Paul rotted in prison, Peter’s horrific upside-down crucifixion, and William Tyndale being strangled and burned at the stake for giving us the remarkable gift of the English Bible.

Yes, God calls us to live in victory, but real triumph comes from doing battle in the difficult trenches of life. And frankly, in this post-Christian culture it’s not going to get easier. But research indicates that millions profess Christianity, and yet know remarkably little about even the basic principles of our faith. As a result, we think The Da Vinci Code is true, wonder if the “gospel” of Judas should be included in the scripture, and look like fools when we feebly attempt to share our faith with others.

Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. I also believe Acts when it says handkerchiefs that touched Paul were taken to the sick and they were healed. But Paul didn’t have them mass-marketed and used for a fundraising scheme. I even believe God prospers people. But I also believe the Christian faith isn’t about chasing a blessing or getting a word. It’s about taking up our cross. It’s about making the time to study to show ourselves approved. And it’s about – as the Apostle Paul said, “Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The next time that TV evangelist pitches his miracle water, prayer cloth, or other trinkets, put back your credit card, turn off the TV, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus.

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13 Comments

  1. My name is Joe and I produce Christian TV. (all together: “welcome Joe”) Yep, I’m guilty of creating programs and spots that have “sold” all that stuff — except for the personal prophecy thing. BUT… I have to say that each and every one of these men of God that I have served who have pushed this “Jesus Junk” have been truly sincere and their heart’s desire has been to minister the life-changing miracle-working power of God. So, what happened? I think the problem stems from the financial model of Christian TV. If you have a national TV ministry with a daily strip on the major networks, you are talking about a serious air time bill every month. The major network will only allow 3 minutes of commercial content at the end of a 28:30 program. So, to get income, you have to continue to push the envelope, and do something different to make the phones ring. In my humble opinion, there are two ways to get past this mess: 1) convince ministries to do tv as a ministry and never ask for income on the air or, even better, 2) get the networks to go commercial, sell spots based on viewers, and buy programs from producers (just like “real” televisison. This would mean programming would get better to attract an audience and ratings and spot income… or the network would go bankrupt. Oh, one more thing… (ha! I just deleted it — that is wisdom in action) Can’t wait for the full blown feature article, Big Phil. Hey, I have your signed “Jesus Junk” page framed for my new office.

  2. I have worked in Christian Television for 20 years and couldn’t agree more. Life is tough; God answers our prayers and sometimes that answer is “No”. I think Christians forget that sometimes!

  3. In refrence to the previous comments by Joe…..sorry Joe, but i think you may have been warped by a personal prophecy that you bought from TV. I work for a large TV ministry that is on one of the networks that only allows 3 minuets of commercial time. However, we don’t “push the envelope”, but we are still able to pay all our bills, be completely debt free, etc.

  4. I am new to the world of this blog but what you say is dead on Phil I beleave that if the Christian TV wants to be taken seriously they must take up that cross and preach the word of God throw there Jesus Junk out with the mourning trash and seek God and they will find the way to pay those bills for we serve a God that does not run short on funds….

  5. As someone working for a Christian TV station in the UK who has to vet potential ministries that want to buy airtime, I have to confess to rather enjoying the “Jesus junk” phenomena. It has provided me with hours of amusement, and a recent “miracle water” offer I saw was so funny my whole life flashed past my eyes and I thought I would die laughing. “Jesus junk” is the biggest source of unintentional comedy in my life (other than the government).

    Seriously though, I agree completely with Phil.

    By the way Phil, you can now view some of my film reviews on the God TV website: http://www.god.tv/MovieReviews

  6. Phil,
    You hit the nail on the head. Most Christian TV and TV preachers are an embarassment to Jesus Christ and to the Church. What we really need is passion for Jesus that will result in compassion for the lost and hurting of this world. The world doesn’t need more “junk,” it needs more of Jesus living through those of us who claim to follow Him. If we would truly surrender our hearts to Jesus, we would allow Him to live in and through us. This would involve taking up our cross on a moment-by-moment basis and abandoning the seductive call of the world. We must die to self in order for the world to see Jesus. That means we seek what is good for God and for others more than we seek our own fortune or comfort. Anyone who says otherwise has not read the entire Bible, only those verses that tickle their ears.
    Thanks again and may God bless you.

  7. I believe it was Churchill who said that a nation that ignores its history is one without a future: the same can be said for a local church, diocese or an entire denomination and religion.

    To be even more specific, when it comes to understanding the history of Christian art, going all the way back to the primitive artwork dating from the 1st Century AD, through the so-called Dark Ages, the magnificent Renaissance and up to the Baroque periods, most of the art produced had a Biblical theme or portrayed a prominent figure or moment in Church history.

    Of course, I breezed through thousands of years in the above paragraph, but the Church needs to do whatever it can to teach its members by using all of its heritage available if we want people to get the whole picture, not the kitsch many hawkers of Christianity are trying to push on us. Much of what’s being pushed is the nicey-nice schlock that might be fine for sentimental buyers. However, for those among us who really want to take full advantage of our whole Christian heritage, there’s no way in Hades that we’d give our money to these “enterprising” preachers for this second-rate stuff in return.

    In fairness to those who specifically look for art that has a sentimental purpose, there are plenty of top-rate Christian folk artists and crafters producing hand-made items that are anything but schlocky or kitschy. Their artwork represents their personal touches and individuality. The same cannot be said for the mass-produced stuff hawked by the telepastors and Christian catalogues.

    The most pathetic irony here is that much of the mass-produced schlock is made in that ever-so-Christian-friendly People’s Republic of China. Calvin Coolidge said the business of America is business. He could’ve added that business is also America’s religion.

  8. Awesome article… This needs to be posted at churches worldwide. I know I’m going to share it…

    Thank you so much! God Bless ~ Bridgétte

  9. the problem with christianity is that we have de-personalized JESUS and made him an activity, a religion, a set of rules and a non entity

  10. I think it is refreshing to know that in the trenches there are common people without much money doing what silver and gold will not do. They visit the sick,feed the hungry, comfort the suffering and preach the gospel. No Jesus Junk, just Jesus.

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