The auidience for paid-time religious programming reached a plateau in 1977, and has not changed significantly since. Religious television is thus not a universal model for religious faith. It is more of a specialized programming for a specialized audience.
Television is a significant form of social communication. The author suggests several guidelines that should govern the church’s involvement with television.
We interact with God in terms of our own culture. Many examples are given — in images, icons, art, music, hymns and others — of how we confuse our culture with the gospel.
The text that encloses the truth of the Word of God is never so exact that it only bears repeating. This text invites me to retell the myth, and the recreated myth calls me to listen to the ultimate, absolute Word. The Word obliges me to speak implying that the text should never be fixed, reduced to structures, enclosed within itself, or understood as if it were an exact and precise mathematical formula. No valid semiotic diagram exists that can exhaust the text that is a metaphor for the Word of God. Such a text must be spoken rather than dissected.
Four main players in the growth of religious television are examined: the FCC, the television industry, the viewing public, and the religious broadcasters, including their use of sophisticated computer technology to “answer” mail and solicit funds.
In this chapter, a review of communication is outlined beginning with rudimentary forms of oral communication, to writing, to print, to wire, to wireless, to TV and the multitudes of influences upon our culture from these media.
Analysis of specific television evangelists including Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson and CBN, all of whom had humble beginnings. Horsfield reviews their charisma, drive, planning, and in particular their marketing techniques.
The selling of etiquette books, interchangeable jobs, packaged news, and everything from automobiles to satellites are the thrust of today’s media and the result of advanced capitalism. This driving force has changed our culture and its communication modes more during the last century and a half than in any other period in cultural history.
Television’s social functions. TV has exerted a strong censoring effect on the portrayal of religion. The author considers the dangers of TV’s tendencies toward over simplification, instant gratification, and sensationalism, and concludes that when religious buys into the TV culture, it runs the risk of distorting not only life, but also religious faith.
The author examines the debate in the church over the growth of paid-time religious programs which has centered on several major issues, including the nature of the church, its mission, evangelism, pastoral care and counseling, and the social and political impact, and also the communication aspects: one way versus interactive communication. He concludes with some theological perspectives on the issues.