Gavin Drake

Journalist

Why can’t we have culturally relevant Christian TV in the UK?

In October last year I was invited by Sat-7, the Arabic Christian television network, to visit their studios in Cairo.

I was impressed by what I saw: a small team of dedicated professionals committed to serving the church in their locality with culturally-relevant locally-produced programmes.

Christians in Egypt are experiencing something of a transformation as the Church and its place in society changes; as the society itself changes as a result of the two recent revolutions.

Sat-7 is able to respond to those changes through its public affairs programme, its women’s programme, its youth programme and its regular broadcast acts of worship.

Sat-7 isn’t just reporting on what is happening around them. They are also helping to bring transformation – not least through its women’s programme which is challenging cultural norms about the status of women; and its children’s programme which took a call live on air from a child who was frightened by the petrol bombs being thrown outside his house.

Sat-7 sees its role as serving the local church and building up the Body of Christ in Egypt. It doesn’t sell its airtime to international Christian ministries and it doesn’t ask for money on air.

I wish the UK had such a station!

Today, after months of being trailed in the EPG, the Christian channel TBN UK began broadcasting on Freeview channel 65. Less than three minutes watching it this evening confirmed my worst fears about this new channel.

The EPG said that the channel was showing “Tbn Play Praise & Worship”.

Now, I’m sure that Americans are very nice people. Some of my best friends are American! Some of them are American Christians. I know that their faith is real and I have no doubt about the strength and vitality of their faith.

But, did you know, there are Christians in Britain too!?

Is it too much to ask, that if we are going to have a Christian TV station on the UK’s primary free-to-air network, a station which has “UK” in its name, that the station is culturally relevant to the UK?

Why not broadcast worship from the UK lead by British based worship leaders addressing issues that are relevant to the UK?

The preacher on the TBN UK programme tonight was US tele-evangelist Joel Osteen. I watched for less than a minute before the text at the foot of the screen invited me to make a monthly financial contribution to “Joel Osteen Ministries”.

And the message was hardly biblical – a challenge to his audience to be victors rather than victims; and to “celebrate the very best God has for you.”

I have no doubt that God has good things in store for us; but his promise is not for treasures on earth. And glib statements about being victors rather than victims has more to do with the psychobabble preached by “motivational preachers” than Gospel preachers.

This unbiblical message has nothing to say to people with disabilities or to Christians in Iraq and Syria being persecuted by the so-called Islamic State. What relevance does it have to Christians in the UK today.

It is not even topical – a quick Google search shows that the sermon was preached in May last year.

So, a US tele-evangelist asking for donations using an eight-month-old unbiblical sermon – hardly culturally relevant Christian programming and not a promising start for TBN-UK.

If only we could have a Christian television station in the UK from people with a vision similar to that held by the people behind Sat-7.

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© Gavin Drake 2017