“Messiah” on Netflix: Use discernment ⚠️

Messiah – Season One
Produced by Michael Petroni, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey
Featuring Mehdi Dehbi, Michelle Monaghan, Tomer Sisley, and John Ortiz
Netflix, 2020, Ten episodes

3 Stars

A fellow-blogger recently re-blogged a cautionary post about a new Netflix series called, “Messiah.” Curious, I did a little digging and discovered the new series is about the rise of the end-times messiah, er, or is it the end-times anti-Christ? I’m not big into eschatology, but decided I would give this new series a spin. My wife and I watched the ten episodes of the series in successive evenings, an anomaly when it comes to me and television. The summary below by necessity leaves out a lot of details.

Plot (spoiler alert)

A young man (Dehbi) miraculously brings peace to war-torn Syria and then treks to Israel with his growing group of followers. On the steps leading to Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the enigmatic al-Masih (“the Messiah”) announces he is going to usher in an era of peace into the world. The CIA becomes concerned about this religious rabble rouser and a top agent, Eva Geller (Monaghan), begins to investigate. Al-Masih next shows up in Texas, seemingly saving a church from a tornado. The pastor (Ortiz) is convinced the reticent al-Masih is the second coming of Jesus. Seekers from across the nation flock to Texas to get a glimpse of the messiah. Pastor Felix leads al-Masih and a caravan of credulous followers to Washington D.C.. Al-Masih subsequently shocks the city and the nation when he seemingly walks on top of the water of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Monument. The President of the U.S. consults with al-Masih who advises him to withdraw all military personnel throughout the world as part of the new era of peace. CIA agent, Geller, isn’t buying al-Masih’s schtick. She discovers he is actually an Iranian named Payam Golshiri, whose dossier includes an apprenticeship as a magician, studying in college under an anarchist professor, and being treated at a psychiatric facility for a “messiah complex.”

Just when al-Masih is to appear on national television, he is abducted by a Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence) agent (Sisley). Simultaneously, a White House official who fears the President is falling under al-Masih’s spell leaks the CIA’s classified dossier on Payam Golshiri to the media. Feeling he’s been duped, the disillusioned pastor Felix returns to Texas and burns down his church. The plane bringing al-Masih to Jerusalem crashes, but the enigmatic young man “miraculously” survives. Viewers are left to wonder whether al-Masih is the genuine Messiah, the anti-Christ, or a self-deluded megalomaniac. The cliff-hanging ending is served up as incentive to watch a (possible) second season.

Comments

Christians who know their Bibles will know right away that the al-Masih character has no connection with the Scripture prophecies regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ:

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:27

We know that the Bible foretells the coming of the anti-Christ at the end times, but many do not know that Islam also teaches the coming of al-Masih ad-Dajjal, a false messiah who will eventually be defeated by Jesus Christ. This series seems to incorporate elements from both the Bible and Quran regarding the anti-Christ.

There was some initial concern among both Christians and Muslims as to the identity of the mysterious al-Masih character. The show’s producers and Netfilx were banking on the uncertainty to generate interest. Some Muslims jumped the gun and mounted a petition calling for subscribers to boycott Netflix for its provocative “anti-Islamic propaganda.” After watching the series, it’s clear the show’s creators don’t intend for the al-Masih character to be Jesus Christ returned because it’s revealed that he’s actually Iranian Payam Golshiri with an unflattering past. So the question is whether he’s the anti-Christ or a mentally-unbalanced imposter. The show is interesting because it does demonstrate how the anti-Christ could possibly rise up and gain the allegiance of people worldwide, including both nominal (c)hristians and Muslims.

I don’t think Gospel Christians need to be overly alarmed by this series, but we should be discerning. One of the producers, Roma Downey, is a Roman Catholic New-Ager who, with her husband, Mark Burnett, has given us such Biblically-challenged television series as “Touched by an Angel,” “The Bible,” and “A.D.” We definitely shouldn’t be getting our theology from Downey and must remain ever-cautious and discerning, but we can view this series strictly as entertainment material and, yes, even use it as an opportunity to evangelize. Our unbelieving oldest son who lives here in town would not be caught dead reading the Bible, but he’s expressed interest in watching “Messiah.” We’ve already had a few discussions with him about the series and the coming anti-Christ.

The Two Popes: A ham-fisted plug for pope Francis

The Two Popes
Directed by Fernando Meirelles, screenplay by Anthony McCarten, and featuring Anthony Hopkins as pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as pope Francis
Netflix, 2019, 125 minutes.

2 Stars

Back in February 2019, I reviewed an interesting book, “The Pope,” by Anthony McCarten, that contrasted the doctrinally conservative, pope Benedict XVI, with his successor, the progressive reformer, pope Francis. See me review here.

Netflix produced a film based on the book and released it for streaming this past December 20th. Just as in the book, the sharp contrast between the conservative Benedict and the progressive Francis is the theme of the film. Benedict is portrayed as hopelessly out of touch with the world with his rigid clericalism and doctrinalism. Francis, in contrast, is presented as a breath of fresh air who is willing, make that eager, to eschew clerical privilege and bend/circumvent doctrine in order to reach people with the progressive version of the Catholic works-righteousness “gospel.”

This film is a biased representation of the current battle within the Catholic church between conservatives and the Francis-led progressives, with Francis the clear favorite. Pro-Francis screenwriter, McCarten, “swings for the fences” at the end of the film with Benedict XVI/Hopkins admitting the error of his rigid ideology and fully embracing Francis’ reforms. The two characters seal the deal over Fanta and pizza, watching a soccer game, and dancing the tango together (VERY creepy in light of the current clerical abuse and homosexuality scandals in the RCC). What a “hammy” ending and it’s all pure fiction.

People love Francis for being so “down to earth,” but neither in conservative Catholicism’s rigid doctrinalism or in Francis’ doctrine-bending “pastoralism” can be found the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

While “The Two Popes” is garnering a lot of accolades at the various Hollywood awards shows, I would recommend this pro-Francis puff piece only to serious evangelical Vatican-watchers. Everyone else should use the two hours for something more productive.

Underwhelmed in Buffalo at restaurant featured on Triple-D

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was doing my usual evening channel surfing and came across “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network cable channel. Triple-D is one of the few shows that I’ll actually stop and watch. Gregarious host, Guy Fieri, does a great job.

So, in this particular episode, Guy took a trip to nearby Buffalo, New York and the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub at 2134 Seneca Street. He focused on the restaurant’s specialties: beef-on-weck (sliced roast beef dunked in au jus on a salted kimmelweck roll, a Buffalo favorite), crab cakes, and beer and cheddar soup. If you watch the show, you know that Guy showers profuse superlatives on every single gastronomical creation he reviews, as if each and every one were the absolute greatest thing he’s ever tasted. The hyperbole was flowing during his visit to Blackthorn’s as well.

Well, there was only one thing for me to do. I announced to my wife that we would be driving to Buffalo the following day. If you know my wife, you know she never passes up a trip to a restaurant. That Sunday, after church, we made the 60-minute drive to Blackthorn’s in Buffalo. I was worried the traffic on the Thruway would be heavy because of football, but the Bills were playing the Giants at New Jersey that particular day.

So, we arrived at the restaurant in the South Buffalo, Irish “working-class” neighborhood around 1 p.m. and were seated at our table. Bills fans were whooping it up upstairs and on the outside patio as they watched the Bills and Giants battle on big screen TVs, but it was relatively quiet where we sat. I scanned the large menu and settled on the “Triple D Platter” (see photo above), which, according to the menu featured “the items selected for the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives…a mini beef-on-weck, mini crab cake, small cup of Irish beer-cheddar soup and tater tots” for $16. The multiple “mini”s scared me, so I bumped up the soup order from a small cup to a bowl. My wife ordered a prime rib sandwich, one of the day’s specials, that came with french fries and gravy and she also ordered a bowl of the soup.

The waitress brought out the soup first. I make a decent beer-cheddar soup myself, so I was looking forward to sampling what Guy had raved over. Ach! I would give it only a “C.” It was way too thick and the large amount of potato cubes were an obstacle. My wife was disgusted and only ate a few spoonfuls.

Next came the mini beef-on-weck and mini crab cake. “Mini” was a very accurate adjective. I was underwhelmed by the small amount of food on the “platter.” Adding insult to injury, the roast beef was overcooked. The crab cake was tasty, but was gone in a few bites. The same with the two jalapeno-cheddar tater tots. I gave the items on the “platter” a “B,” but the portion size a “D.” My wife ate only half of her smallish prime rib sandwich, saying it was also overcooked. After I was done with my micro-platter, I finished off my wife’s bowl of soup because I was still hungry.

After paying the bill, we hopped into our car and started the long trek back to Rochester. As we ambled down Seneca Street, which eventually turns into Center Road, we spotted Schwabl’s Restaurant up ahead. Ah, the regret! Folks, don’t listen to Guy Fieri when it comes to roast beef in Buffalo. If you want an excellent and ample medium-rare beef-on-weck sandwich in Buffalo, you have to go to Schwabl’s.

Postscript 1: While doing my research for this post, I was surprised to learn that the particular episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” that featured the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub in South Buffalo had originally aired way back on 02/01/2010.

Postscript 2: No, this post does not mean I’m considering a new occupation as a restaurant critic. 🙂 But this experience reminds me that the things of this world, even when they receive a great deal of hype, ultimately disappoint. Yes, we praise God for delicious food, but many people make food their religion.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17

Postscript 3: If you’re trying to lose weight, I definitely recommend that you avoid watching “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”

I don’t usually sit around and watch paint dry…

…but when I do it’s because my wife has one of the “Star Wars” movies on the TV in the other room.

 

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to offend those who do enjoy “Star Wars.” However, I have a reputation for being very closed-minded about the “Star Wars” franchise that I need to uphold and this frivolous idea somehow popped into my head last night that I thought some might enjoy. 🙂

“God Friended Me” – Review of pilot episode

I finally got around to watching the pilot episode of CBS’s new religious-themed show…

God Friended Me
Pilot Episode – Originally broadcast Sunday, 9/30/18 on CBS
Featuring Brandon Micheal Hall, Violett Beane, and Suraj Sharma
Directed by Marcos Siega and written by Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt

Plot

Miles Finer (Hall) is a young single living in New York City and working at an internet security firm by day while attempting to interest Sirius Radio in his New Atheism podcast diatribes. He begins receiving mysterious Facebook friend requests from god, which he initially dismisses as a hoax. (g)od then directs him to save John Dove, who just broke up with his girlfriend and attempts to commit suicide by walking in front of a subway train. (g)od then directs Miles to Cara Bloom (Beane), an internet magazine writer. Persistent Miles enlists Cara in helping him determine who is at the bottom of this Facebook god sham. Miles’ computer software-savvy friend, Rakesh (Sharma), traces god’s IP address to a house in New Jersey, but Miles and Cara find nothing there except for a porch swing similar to the one she used to sit on as a child waiting for her absent mother to return home.

Back at Miles’ apartment, a photo mysteriously appears on his laptop, that of his deceased mother while she was in the hospital, surrounded by family and medical staff, which sends Cara exiting in a tizzy. Miles had become embittered against God when his mother was cured of breast cancer, but subsequently died in a car accident on the way home from the hospital. Oy! With help from his estranged minister father, Miles determines the nurse in the photo is Cara’s mother, who had abandoned her as a child. We find out that Cara had tracked her mother to NYC, but is ambivalent about contacting her. Miles encourages her to meet with her Mom, but when the reunion goes sour, Cara frantically dashes across a nearby street and is hit by a car. As she lies in the street, very close to death, a driver gets out of his car and comes to her aid, saving her life. The driver just happens to be….you guessed it….John Dove, the gentleman Miles had saved at the start of the show. Dove also just happens to be a doctor. As Cara recovers in the hospital, her Mom visits and they reconcile. Miles then reconciles with his minister father.

Comments

As expected, the god that’s presented in this show is the same feel-good deity presented in previous shows such as “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched By An Angel,” a god who is mainly concerned with fixing broken temporal relationships. The God of the Bible was not presented and neither was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus was not mentioned throughout this entire pilot episode. Followers of most any religious stripe could watch this show with its generic deity and not be offended, which is obviously by design. The Facebook tie-in is a none-too-subtle gimmick to hook millennial viewers. In an awkward effort to demonstrate that the god of “God Friended Me” is not some kind of a “Puritanical prude,” Rakesh takes a brand new female acquaintance to Miles’ apartment for sex and god seems to be quite fine with that because the occasion is “providentially” used to disclose information vital to the happy ending (i.e., the photo of of Miles’ and Cara’s mothers).

The god of this show is a far cry from the God of the Bible. After watching the pilot, I doubt if I’ll be watching and/or reviewing any more episodes.

Postscript: My wife is much more of a “glass half-full” type of person, and she insists that this show, even with its very faulty theology, is better than having no shows about God on the big three networks. Comments?

“God Friended Me” debuts this Sunday, 9/30/18

Several months ago, I had posted that CBS had improbably planned another religious-themed television series, even after cancelling its disastrous “Living Biblically” show. The pilot episode of new series, “God Friended Me,” will be debuting this Sunday at 8 PM Eastern.

The show launches with Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, an outspoken atheist who receives several Facebook friend requests from God and subsequently has his world turned upside down.

I certainly don’t expect this show to present the God of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, I do fully expect that the (g)od of “God Friended Me” will be the same feel-good, faux deity portrayed in Michael Landon’s “Highway to Heaven” and Roma Downey’s “Touched By Angel.” You know the one. No sin, no repentance, no salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, just a lot of Oprah-style religious cotton-candy that will appeal to the all-good-people-go-to-Heaven crowd.

But can the Lord use something like “God Friended Me” to draw a person to Jesus Christ? Absolutely He can! So with that thought in mind, I’m hopeful.

If you’d like to watch the pilot episode before Sunday evening, just click here.

Reviews of each episode to follow.

TBN’s Rogues’ Gallery

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I channel surf, I usually scoot right past channel 50, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). The cable channel is a cesspool of heterodoxy with its stable of prosperity gospel and Rome-friendly televangelists. The other day, I got the idea in my head to list all of the TBN “entertainers,” so using my limited Microsoft Excel spreadsheet skills, I copied and sorted all of the shows scheduled on the cable channel during a week’s time span and came up with the list below. Based upon my own knowledge and/or with a little Google research, I categorized each televangelist as to whether they were propagators of the prosperity gospel and/or supporters of ecumenism with Rome. A “Y” means Yes, an “N” means No, and a “?” means I could not determine the status. Generally, prosperity gospelers are too busy picking out their next Mercedes or airplane to care about doctrinal differences with Rome. There are also several on the list who, while not flagrant prosperity gospelers themselves, make a habit out of hanging out in prosperity gospel circles.

A quick glance reveals this list of TBN’s 60 televangelists is heavy with prosperity, word-of-faith shysters and Rome-friendly ecumenists. BTW, Father Cedric on the list is, in fact, Roman Catholic priest, Cedric Pisegna. There are only a few on this list who I could recommend, like Charles Stanley and Ray Comfort. Several I have never heard of.

This listing is obviously not set in stone so any challenges or help with the “?”s will be appreciated. Forgive the wide columns, but incorporating an Excel spreadsheet into a WordPress post is a little messy.

Prosperity Ecumenical
Mark Batterson ? ?
Irvin Baxter ? ?
Reinhard Bonnke Y Y
John Bradshaw ? Y
Jonathan Cahn Y ?
Christine Caine Y Y
Ron Carpenter Y ?
Alicia Britt Chole ? Y
Ray Comfort N N
Kenneth Copeland Y Y
Gregory Dickow Y Y
Creflo Dollar Y ?
Jesse Duplantis Y Y
Tony Evans N Y
Karl Faase ? Y
Jentezen Franklin Y Y
Steven Furtick Y ?
Louie Giglio ? Y
Billy Graham N Y
Jack Graham ? Y
John Gray Y Y
John Hagee Y ?
Allen Jackson ? ?
T. D. Jakes Y Y
Robert Jeffress N Y
David Jeremiah N Y
Mark Jeske ? ?
Daniel Kolenda Y ?
Greg Laurie ? Y
Hal Lindsey ? ?
Max Lucado N Y
James MacDonald ? ?
Guillermo Maldonado Y ?
James Merritt ? ?
Joyce Meyer Y Y
Beth Moore ? Y
Robert Morris Y ?
Joel Osteen Y Y
Father Cedric N Y
Fred K. Price Y ?
Joseph Prince Y ?
David Rives ? ?
Pat Robertson Y Y
James Robison Y Y
Samuel Rodriguez Y Y
Sid Roth Y ?
Rabbi Kirt Schneider Y ?
Bobby Schuller ? ?
Jay Sekulow Y ?
Priscilla Shirer ? Y
Kerry Shook N N
Erick Stakelbeck ? ?
Charles Stanley N N
Perry Stone Y ?
Tommy Tenney ? ?
Holly Wagner ? Y
Don Wilton N ?
Andrew Wommack Y Y
Ed Young Y Y
Michael Youssef N ?

Senator John McCain’s funeral: An example of civil religion?

Last Saturday, I watched some of the funeral service for United States Senator, John McCain, which took place at the National Cathedral (Episcopal) in Washington D.C. It made me sad because, while there were some references to Jesus Christ, the Gospel was not presented. I was reminded of 2 Timothy 3:5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The service was a mixture of (c)hristianity and civil religion, all in keeping with the “good people go to Heaven” philosophy.

I surely do not mean any disrespect to Senator McCain or to his grieving family. Perhaps at some point in his life Senator McCain did accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. Articles on his religious views state that he did attend North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch, for many years with his wife and children, and a visit to that church’s website indicates they do preach the Gospel of grace there, but when asked if he was spiritually born-again, McCain answered no (see here). However, when asked by ecumenical celebrity pastor, Rick Warren, what being a Christian means, McCain replied: “It means I’m saved and forgiven” (see here).

The senator was ill for a very long time and was able to personally plan every detail of his funeral, but the Gospel was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, I heard from one of the speakers that the senator respected all religions:

“I can tell you everything we did together around the world and here in Washington and across America, he showed that same acceptance, respect, curiosity about everybody’s religious observances, and about everything else about them that was different from himself and his own experiences.” – former U.S. Senator, Joe Lieberman, speaking at McCain’s funeral service

I rarely attend a religious service these days where the Gospel is not preached, so to watch a service like the McCain funeral, that propagated a quasi-(c)hristianity/civil religion/all-people-are-God’s-children theology, was jarring and sad. I hope to see John McCain in Heaven, but it’s not altogether clear where he stood in regards to the Gospel. As we live out our lives, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not allow others to have to wonder where we stand in relation to Jesus Christ and the Gospel!

“My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” – Psalm 71:15-18

Answering the alleged “95 Catholic Verses” – #s 4, 5, 6, & 7: The Authority of Sacred Tradition? – Part 1

Today, we will continue with our responses to Dave Armstrong and his book, “The Catholic Verses,” in which the Catholic apologist presents ninety-five Bible verses or passages that allegedly validate Catholicism and are claimed to “confound” Protestants.

With the four verses below, Armstrong argues for the authority of oral tradition:

#4) Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. – 2 Timothy 1:13-14

#5) And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2:2

#6) Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. – Jude 3

#7) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42

Directly beneath these verses, Armstrong writes, “Catholics believe that these verses clearly set forth a notion of binding oral tradition that has as much authority as the written word of Scripture.” – p. 12.

Catholicism readily acknowledges that the Bible is God’s Word and is an inspired authority for faith and conduct, however it also claims that its “sacred oral traditions” and its teaching “magisterium” (i.e., the pope and his bishops) are equally authoritative.

It’s true that the Lord Jesus did not commit His teachings to writing during His earthly ministry. He communicated His teachings orally to His apostles and disciples. The apostles and disciples then committed the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry and His teachings to writing through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a span of about forty years, beginning in the late 40s or early 50s and ending in the early 90s. The infant church absolutely depended on the oral teachings of Paul and the other apostles, but as the inspired Gospels and apostolic epistles were written and circulated throughout the church, apostolic oral teaching ended with the deaths of the apostles. God’s Word is the sole authority for Christians and all that we need.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16

Catholicism claims that it has preserved many of the mysterious, unwritten, extra-Biblical oral teachings of Jesus and the apostles down through the centuries, but how was that done? By word of mouth? One would think that, by now, all of those oral teachings would have been collected and published, but you won’t find a “Compendium of the Oral Teachings/Sacred Traditions of Jesus Christ and the Apostles” at your local Catholic bookstore.

However, appeals to “sacred tradition” have served an extremely useful purpose for the Roman Catholic church over the centuries. Every time that a doctrine was formulated that had no basis in Scripture, the Catholic hierarchy was able to invoke its sacred tradition “wild card.” Incredulous Catholics were unable to object because the proof allegedly rested upon undocumented and unverifiable oral traditions known only to a privileged few. From this dark hole came such doctrines as purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception and assumption of Mary, praying to canonized saints, the pope, the seven sacraments, etc., etc.

Untethered from the sole authority of God’s Word, Catholicism has been able to propagate one un-Biblical teaching after another. In contrast, throughout God’s Word, believers are exhorted to adhere to the sure teachings of Scripture. Yes, there are examples in Scripture when believers were encouraged to obey doctrines that were taught orally, but that was always in connection to teachings that came directly from Paul and the other apostles, not handed down mysteriously over many centuries and made manifest out of the clear blue.

While Armstrong presents 2 Timothy 2:2, Jude 3, and Acts 2:42 as irrefutable “Catholic verses,” which validate “sacred oral tradition,” an objective analysis reveals the fallaciousness of this self-serving and dangerous “wild card.”

“And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” – Mark 7:6-8

Catholic apologists like Armstrong are currently in a pickle having to explain how the current pope, Francis, is able to overturn church traditions previously taught to be infallible, like the ban on communion for remarried divorcees and the ban on intercommunion with Protestants.

For more information, see the articles below:

Should Catholic tradition have equal or greater authority than the Bible?
https://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-tradition.html

Questions for Catholics on Sacred Tradition
https://carm.org/questions-for-catholics-on-sacred-tradition

The improbable “return” of Jimmy Swaggart

Disclaimer: I do not endorse Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (JSM). I offer this posting strictly as a summary of my recent observations.

Back when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in the early 1980’s, (c)hristian television was pretty bad, just like today with all of the shenanigans going on at TBN. The biggest name in (c)hristian television back then was Jim Bakker, who preached a nascent prosperity gospel with his flamboyant wife, Tammy Faye, on their PTL network. Another big-name televangelist at the time was Jimmy Swaggart. It was Swaggart who helped bring down his fellow-Pentecostal, Bakker, when financial improprieties and sexual scandals began coming to light in 1987. But Swaggart wasn’t immune from scandal himself. Just a year later, in 1988, he was caught with a prostitute, and again in 1991. Swaggart should have resigned, but he had a mini-empire down there in Baton Rouge and kept the wheels rolling. Defrocked by the Assemblies of God, Swaggart faded into semi-obscurity.

Flash forward to 2018. My wife and I just purchased a new mattress with an adjustable base. Wowza! It’s a fine thing to recline in bed with my head and feet raised up. Ahhh! I usually wind down my day by aimlessly channel surfing in bed until I turn out the lights, but lately I’ve been pausing on Jimmy Swaggart’s SonLife Network (SLN) cable channel. Jimmy Swaggart? Is he still around? Yes, brother Swaggart is now 83-years-old, and has actually revived his once very-troubled ministry with the help of his son, Donnie, and grandson, Gabriel.

I’ve watched the SLN channel irregularly for about a month and I do have a few observations:

  • Pretty much forgotten after his scandals, Swaggart’s ministry was deep in the dumps – Sunday attendance at his 7000-seat Family Worship Center was only a couple of hundred in the early aughts – until he improbably revived the enterpri$e through his SLN cable network. Read the amazing story here.
  • Swaggart is a Pentecostal and I am a cessationist in regards to the apostolic gifts of the Spirit. Jimmy and his associates refer to glossolalia and healings quite a bit, but I take all of that with a grain of salt, no offense intended to my Pentecostal and charismatic brethren.
  • Swaggart does preach the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, but he delivers it packaged as “The Message of the Cross,” a slogan he uses repeatedly. A viewer gets the impression that he’s had the phrase trademarked, he uses it so often. For every time Jesus’ name is mentioned by Swaggart, “the cross” is mentioned ten or fifteen times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not saying we should never mention what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, it’s just that the cross is given a strange preeminence at JSM.
  • Swaggart constantly hawks his “Expositor’s Study Bible,” in which his commentary in red lettering is intermixed with Scripture instead of being placed as footnotes. That’s just wrong.
  • Speaking of hawking, during the program breaks, JSM materials are constantly promoted by Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe. It also seems like there’s a never-ending plethora of telethons for the support of JSM and SLN.
  • To his credit, Swaggart indirectly refers to his past failings with remorse.
  • The prosperity gospel is not pushed hard by the Swaggarts compared to televangelists like Copeland, Dollar, or Meyer, but it’s still a part of the message. A young Donnie Swaggart notoriously rebuked prosperity preachers twenty years ago (see video here), but he’s now saying financial prosperity is part of the believer’s inheritance in Christ.
  • Speaking of financial prosperity, the Swaggarts do not divulge any of JSM’s financial records. If you’re sending your money to JSM, you have no idea if it’s going towards ministry or Donnie’s new Rolex. The Lord commands us to be good stewards. If a ministry refuses to allow its financial records to be scrutinized, we shouldn’t contribute one red cent.
  • The other night, I was listening to Donnie praising the work of the Holy Spirit in regards to the proliferation of the manifestations of the Pentecostal gifts of the spirit throughout the world. He specifically mentioned the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) movement as an example. Donnie makes my point for me. One-hundred and sixty-million Catholics, including tens of thousands of priests, belong to CCR. They still strongly believe in Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit, yet Pentecostals and charismatics embrace them as believers because they manifest the requisite gifts. To be fair, many cessationist evangelicals also embrace Rome.
  • The music/worship segments that are broadcast are generally very enjoyable. Swaggart employs some talented singers and musicians and ol’ Jimmy can still tickle the ivories. You won’t hear any Hillsong music during one of Swaggart’s worship segments. I imagine many Christians who otherwise would not devote any time to Swaggart tune in for the music segments.
  • All of the shows on SLN are slick. There’s nothing amateurish about the production quality. The operative word here is slick. Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe are exceptional communicators and entertainers. If they were selling cars, they would have the most profitable dealership in Louisiana.

Final thoughts: I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get their teaching from Jimmy or the other Swaggarts. As I mentioned previously, Jimmy should have resigned from the ministry following his scandals. However, there is “some” good information that does comes through SLN. I imagine some people have genuinely accepted Christ after listening to the Swaggarts give out the Gospel. But a believer definitely needs to be cautious and discerning while watching SBN and must be constantly engaged in “chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones.”

Postscript: A couple of months after writing the above post, I happened to catch a telecast of a “classic” (pre-scandal) telecast from the Family Worship Center and I was amazed to see a mammoth balcony stretching across the auditorium filled with people. The balcony is still there but current telecasts of services at the FWC purposely limit the camera angle so as not to expose the empty balcony.