TBN Founder Paul Crouch Dies

Over the weekend, the Christian broadcasting world lost one of its most powerful leaders when Paul Crouch of TBN died Nov. 30 at 79.

Anyone who has read Cerulean Sanctum knows I am not a fan of TBN, largely because it was indiscriminate in who it gave airtime to. For every Jack Hayford or Kirk Cameron featured on its programming, there was Benny Hinn or T.D. Jakes.

And then there was all the garish opulence and money, much of which was spent in ways I’m pretty sure Jesus would not have condoned.

From a TV broadcasting standpoint, though, few can argue with the success of what Paul Crouch built almost singlehandedly. Some might contend that one did not need to be a broadcasting genius to blow through millions of dollars generated through prosperity gospel teachings, but still. In it’s prime, TBN was a force to be reckoned with, and despite some fall-off from its glory days, it remains the largest religious TV network of any kind. At one point, I used to watch TBN because it was the only place one could see Christian music videos. As a popularizer of the Christian subculture through media, Crouch and TBN were both shrewd and peerless.

What will be the legacy of TBN and Paul Crouch? I find it hard to say. Certainly, TBN put Word of Faith and its teachers in a bigger spotlight. Even if Oral Roberts had been the real forerunner in that regard, Crouch perfected it. Those unfamiliar with Pentecostalism got an eyeful and earful of it through TBN, and I’m certain that some of TBN’s broadcasting had an influence on African nations and the religious trends toward Pentecostal Protestantism both there and in South America.

For me, Paul Crouch is a conflicting character, and I don’t know what else to say about him and the television ministry he built. There really is no real contender for that Christian broadcasting throne, and with Pat Robertson hitting 83,  the last formidable challenger for Crouch and TBN may also be exiting center stage shortly.

by Dan Edelen

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9 Comments

  1. Diane R
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    The sad thing is that in the early days of TBN they had such excellent guests. Many were very articulate and theologically intelligent mainline Charismatics as well as the best of the Pentecostal pastors and even theologians. But then sometime in the middle to late 1980s things abruptly took a wrong left turn. From then on, IMO, it was downhill for TBN.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Diane,

      Yep, that’s about right. However, I think there was also some effort to branch out and not stay in the Pentecostal ghetto, as TBN often had non-Pentecostals as guests. I know Presbyterian D. James Kennedy was a consistent presence when he was alive. Charles Stanley had his show hosted on TBN. Then there’s Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Funny thing was that the presence of the non-Pentecostal only showed how messed up some of the Pentecostal regulars were.

  2. Posted December 3, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Dan, after I did doing some googling about Paul Crouch’s passing, wow, it amazes me what an outpouring of pure hatred that you can find out there for the man.

    Crouch’s TBN was never my style in taste. But, whoa, Paul Crouch wasn’t Hitler or “Hostis humani generis” either.

    That makes it two that have passed away this year so far, Paul Crouch and Chuck Smith. If things come in threes, then I won’t be too surprised if I hear about Billy Graham next.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Oengus,

      Or Jack Hayford, 79. Or Pat Roberston, 83. Though Billy, 95, makes them look like kids. Still, that recent Graham film…he looked and sounded so frail.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      Oengus,

      If I were to add anything about Crouch to what I already wrote, I think he was prescient in gauging the coming together of Christianity, marketing, and entertainment. My best defense of him is that he did two things well: (1) he got out of the way when he had guests on the Praise the Lord show and gave them their time, which made him the Christian Johnny Carson, and (2) he regularly stepped outside his own denominational ghetto and featured leaders in other Christians sects, which is something too few are willing to do today, no matter their spiritual predilections. I think he was genuinely interested in what was happening in other sectors of Christianity, not just for whatever the “cash value” of that sector or celebrity might be.

  3. ccinnova
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I haven’t watched TBN for years; no Christian networks are available anymore on basic cable where I live. However, I remember wanting to throw something at the TV whenever I saw Paul and Jan Crouch on the air, even though some of the other TBN programs were worthwhile. The prosperity teachings and the couple’s wealth aside, Jan Crouch reminded me too much of the late Tammy Faye Bakker.

    Paul Crouch’s legacy is indeed mixed. He was a husband, father and grandfather; he built a successful TV network; I have no doubt many were brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ through TBN programming. Yet we also must consider the bitter fruit of the prosperity doctrine he preached as well as the opulent lifestyle he led.

    Paul Crouch’s passing is not a time for spewing hatred, but I’ll admit some sober reflection may be appropriate.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      ccinnova,

      Crouch often featured “up-and-comers” in the Christian world and gave them a platform when others wouldn’t. Some of those folks were solid and some weren’t.

      Yes, it’s a mixed bag. Crouch was a shrewd businessman, no doubt, and he tapped into the zeitgeist like none other before him. I think his fatal flaw was that he moved too far from his more humble roots and forgot where he came from. Or else he remembered all too well and rejected it. I know someone who went to seminary with Crouch, and the two men went in opposite directions despite coming from the same background. Makes me wonder what, in the end, actually drove Crouch in the direction he took.

  4. Diane R.
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Here is an interesting anecdote. In the 1970s I was a member of Jack Hayford’s Church on the Way. One day, as I was heading toward the church for the service, I saw a green Rolls Royce pull up in front of the church. Out stepped the actor who had a very popular show on at that time, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. He had become a Christian through TBN and it was a policy for TBN to give its new converts names of good evangelical churches in their area. Since Zimbalist lived in the San Fernando Valley (where Church on the Way was also located), and I also imagine that because stars like Dean Jones and Pat Boone were also members there, TBN had suggested Hayford’s church. I found out later that the day I saw him was the very first day he came to the church. I think this was sometime in the late 1970s

  5. Posted December 4, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Just stopped by way if Rick Dawson. I like that you separated the broadcaster from the TBN personality.

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