Every time I see an Christian on a talk show I always get a little nervous and depending on who the individual is will determine my level of anxiety:
If I see Tim Keller, I feel somewhat confident. Fortunately, he’s really sharp, unfortunately, he’s really nice, these shows can be tough you know.
If I see Rick Warren, I give it a 50/50. Likely he’ll say something profound, but he could say something kinda stupid.
If I see Pat Robertson, I turn the channel. He’s not sharp, he’s not nice, he is not profound, ugh, please get off the air.
Recently, I saw Rachel Held Evans and her husband Dan on the Today Show talking about her book brilliant and hysterical book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” (review coming soon) but they did a good job on the show.
Years ago I saw Doug Pagitt on CNN talking about Christians and yoga, he also did a great job. John McArthur on the other hand, ouch.
I saw one of my favorite living theologians, N.T. Wright on the Colbert Report … Umm, it was the only time I’ve seen him appear uncomfortable. Still it was cool to see him on the Comedy Central Network.
And who can can forget Rob Bell on the Martin Bashir Show? – Shame on you Bashir for ambushing a guest like that, repeating the same accusatory question three times and ignoring the answer and shame on you Rob for not getting all Mark Driscoll and going MMA on him. ;)
Certainly it depends on the individual, the host, the topic of the day, and the surrounding context. But there’s actually a lot more. The objective of the interview is different to depending on who you are. The guest wants to promote his/her faith, message, book, community, etc. The audience watching is less unified of course. Some want to see the guest embarrassed, some desire the guest to be exalted, some simply want a fair interview and many could not care less. Even more the host, the producers and the network just need those minutes to be interesting enough for the sake of ratings and advertising dollars.
I couldn’t help but think about all of this recently when I saw Rick Warren appear on the “Piers Morgan Tonight” show. Then I had a conversation recently with someone I dearly respect on how the Christian position is routinely ridiculed and the Christian is constantly embarrassed on just about any cable network show (minus Fox News). The media is such a “gate keeper” and although so many media types will tell you that they are simply reflecting the culture at large, most of us know, that feels like a partial truth but perhaps more on that another time.
I’m not sure by what metric to gauge this, for the most part it seemed Rick Warren did well for what he came on the show to do – talk about Christmas and various topics pertaining to the Christian faith. Still, I couldn’t help but think was worth it, was more damage done, were more stereotypes of the Christian faith confirmed by people who held certain presuppositions, did it bring greater unity or disunity to the evangelical church, and what about the worldwide Church of Christ? Are people served and is God glorified in any of this?
Frankly, sometimes even the sharpest of pastor types don’t have great moments here. I think one of the reasons they are caught off guard in these interview style shows is twofold. One, they are not really used to being publicly challenged. Of course, pastor types are challenged constantly, but generally not publicly or outside of their church community. And when they are, their reaction and response are not recorded on the spot. The second part has to do with sharing the spotlight with the host. I think the guest regularly forgets that the star of the show is actually the host, not them. When a pastor speaks from behind the pulpit, they might not consider themselves to be a star but they do feel a different authority than when they are behind a desk or a camera and the “authority” is actually the host of the show. It sets up a completely different dynamic than most of them are used to. Certainly I cannot verify any of this, it’s merely personal speculation.
Now I’m sure Rick Warren has figured this out. But most Christian viewers haven’t. We are simply not accustomed to seeing a figure that we respect not have the “final authority.” The N.T. Wright interview on the Colbert Report is Exhibit A. It felt that even former Bishop of Durham was caught off-guard a little. You can follow him all year long and not see him get interrupted by anyone. Colbert probably did it 10 times in a span of 10 minutes. I’ve seen and heard N.T. Wright stutter when he’s trying to get five brilliant theological truths out of his brain at the same time. However on the Colbert Report, he was stuttering because he was trying to be funny, brilliant, likable and be respectful to the host all at the same time. Lastly, Tom Wright has never spoken for less than 10 minutes on any occasion, in his mind, he was just getting started ;) I doubt he’s ever been in this position before and as admirer of Wright, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s a guest on a Comedy Central show.
So returning to the question, is it good for the “Rick Warren” types to appear on the “Piers Morgan” shows? Well for one, It depends on the person. If it’s a closed minded fundamentalist who firmly believes in his heart that he knows exactly how to fix America … NO, NO, NO – please stay away from the camera. You are the one that does more harm than good. Too many of these types convince themselves (and others) that they are “God’s prophets” and severely misread majority of the O.T. Testament prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Those prophets boldly challenged their own people, their own tribe, their own faith community. They actually didn’t march into Babylon and prophesy (I mentioned the Jonah exception in an earlier post). Today, we live in a very pluralistic society, the O.T. Testament model of prophetic speaking is insightful, still God’s Word but needs to be understood in its context – it is not a strategy to be “copy and pasted” today.
Still, I do think there are a number of open-minded, generous and compassionate followers of Jesus that sincerely love others and do not walk around with a know-it-all superiority complex. If they understand what they are getting into, then yes they should be a good steward of their platform and offer their words and presence. For one, it would be odd for Christian figures to be further removed from these types of public spaces. The “Rick Warren” types dare not go to promote their egos but to offer to others how their message can be helpful to those who are searching for something more and on a big picture sense,ultimately give glory to God.
Lastly, the Gospel message contained in the Christian faith is a powerful, beautiful and many times, a counter-cultural perspective in today’s society. It could be inspiring, courageous and potentially life-giving for people. Perhaps with a little more thought both pastor-types and Christian audience members could make better use of these opportunities. May God give us wisdom.