I took the time to listen to a Chris Rosebrough interview with atheist Tanya Levine the other evening just to see what he had to say to her and what she would have to say about Hillsong, since that was the subject.
The chookwatchers feature Rosebrough programs on a regular basis, and this was one of them, as if, being Rosebrough and Levine, who are both built up and promoted at the chookwatcher sites, there must be some merit to the things they said. OK, let’s have a listen, then.
Gosh, I wasted some valuable time there, it has to be said. These are the things you have to do if you are going to check out the discerners, so I guess it was mildly worth-while, and I was able to multitask by doodling some sketches for future projects as I listened out for anything useful in the interview.
What I did glean from this time they had together, which was, in effect, a virtual agreement-fest between a Lutheran priest and an atheist activist who shared antipathy towards both megachurches and Hillsong in particular, was that they merely agreed with each other on their opinions and had nothing new to say. Oh, and Rosebrough clearly did not know very much about Levine before the interview.
The closest Rosebrough, as an online public ‘radio’ interviewer, came to challenging Levine on anything was when he asked for names of so-called prosperity teachers she claimed had influenced Brian Houston on a trip to the US, and she baulked at the question, being unable to produce one single name of any alleged prosperity teacher.
It was a telling moment in the interview, because there are only a certain number of US televangelists out there and they are quite well known amongst the discernment fraternity.
I was waiting, as she ummed and aahed searching through the recesses of her brain to dig up even one supposed name, for Chris to press her into either giving a name or admitting she had no firm evidence for her claims, but, instead, he let her completely off the hook and changed the subject. Great interview technique, there, Chris.
Throughout the interview Rosebrough talked about his own opinion on megachurches, on pastoring small churches, on the kinds of things pastors face, what parishioners go through, to fill in the spaces left by Levine’s surprising inability to clearly articulate her perspective, and never once ministered the gospel to Levine, who had already admitted that she had once been a Christian but had since had issues with the stories of the Bible which had caused her to embrace atheism, after having found an atheist mentor who drew her out of her former beliefs.
There was heaps of subject matter there in this admission, to get to the heart of Levine’s personal issue with the Bible, Christ and Christianity rather than Hillsong, but it was never once taken up. The best interviews are therapeutic and astute and dare to go beyond the surface issue into the cause.
In fact, Rosebrough ended the session, not with an expressed hope that Levine would come back to Christ, or with a simple gospel message for her to encourage her back into faith, but with a list of rock bands, such as Journey, Foreigner and Duran Duran, that they could listen to together because they were better than the current crop of pop musicians. Yes, well…
They did not pray together, or open up to the Holy Spirit. Chris did not minister to her in any favourable Biblical sense, and she left, unchallenged, unenlightened, exactly the same way she came in – an atheist talking to a Lutheran.
I add this because the chookwatchers are very demanding of ministries they condemn because they claim they do not preach the gospel, or their messages do not contain what they consider to be the appropriate gospel presentation, or do not appeal to scripture, and Rosebrough is also an exponent of this kind of criticism of ministries, and yet, there was no reference to the gospel directed to her in his interview.
So what did they discuss? Well Rosebrough let us know that Levine self-identifies as an atheist, to which she concurred. In other words, the content of the responses in the interview was entirely the opinion of an atheist. Yes, an unbeliever. There should have been a disclaimer at the head or base of the interview which let the listener know that these were the views of an atheist activist and, consequently, had no firm Biblical accuracy. How could there be?
Neither, as I have said, did Rosebrough challenge Levine in any way on her views to establish that she was coming at her criticism of Hillsong and Christianity from the perspective of an atheist.
In fact most of his questions were leading questions framed in Rosebrough’s views because she seemed distracted (was she eating her tea or breakfast?) and it was hard to actually draw any information from her except Hillsong or Brian or whoever was not someone she appreciated, but there was no content which told anyone why. Everything stated was opinion, innuendo or supposition. Or it was agreement with the views Chris expressed himself.
We learned nothing with any substance. There were no facts to back up opinions, no evidence to prove suppositions, and no proof of anything wrong or erroneous.
It was just a gossip conversation between two people who did not like the ministries they were talking about. Could you call it backbiting when people are able to listen in to a conversation? They completely agreed about everything, and there was no challenge to anything either said.
Incidentally, they spoke about the incident where Levine was removed by police from outside a Hillsong Conference, but never once mentioned that she rather drew attention to herself by having a Channel Nine TV crew and interviewer with her at the time. Just a small detail.
The most controversial claim, if you could call it that, in an otherwise bland and self-serving interview, was made by Levine who seemed to suggest that there was a possibility of an antisemitism streak at Hillsong because of the way they interpret the Old Testament (I can’t work that one out either), and there was an arguably veiled hint of fascist practices by Rosebrough (he’s suggested it before) because Levine concluded that Hillsong was all about community rather than Christ, which she never proved. How could she? She hasn’t been to a meeting for at least ten years.
They both ended up promoting atheism rather than Christianity in the interview. Of course, Rosebrough did so unwittingly by agreeing that Levine must have been drawn into it because she could not have known the gospel at Hillsong, even though, throughout the interview, she attempted to say what she thought the gospel should be and how it should be preached in a church. But the end result was a hint that the only way out for a Hillsong adherent must, therefore, be into atheism, which is clearly bunkum.
So how do you reconcile Rosebrough’s methodology here? He was basically asking an atheist – a backslidden Christian – what Christianity is. Their opinions were mutually biased but from different perspectives. He gave air to a person who had issues with a growing church, wrote a book about her opinion of it, and has built a minor career out of speaking against Hillsong. He promoted the views of an unbeliever simply because she agreed with his scepticism about Hillsong.
Pray for them
I like Chris. He’s obviously genuinely concerned to point out error in the Church. He has a pleasant easy going style. On the negative side, he interrupts his program with his own views far too often, so that it’s almost impossible to find the thread of what his quarry is articulating, and, in his home-town boy way, he can be annoyingly snarky, biased and opinionated in his presentation.
He occasionally hits the mark, and we should be prepared to listen to critics if they have a point. However, he often misses the target, too, and has his own conspiracy theories and philosophies which are questionable. I’d enjoy a coffee with the guy and we’d probably get along despite our differences. But this was a poor interview with no substance, and he showed a great deal of naivety.
Tanya is an enigma. I hope she finds the way. She is obviously not enamoured with Hillsong. It’s sad that she has to go about things the way she does, but who knows what she’s been through to get to where she is? Maybe there’s a spark in her which will connect with Christ and she will find out the real truth about who He is and how much He cares for her.
I hope she finds the cross and salvation. Interviews like this will never help her because she is being asked to speak negatively about Christians and being broadcast across the Christian landscape, so she is now being typecast, and, I think, used by others to promote their own negativity about Hillsong.
I’d like to think she’s a lovely, caring person who would love to believe but struggles with it. Maybe she’ll meet the right person who can draw her back to the Saviour.
Interviews like this solve nothing, change little for all the wrong reasons, and serve no one.