Brokaw Among the Evangelicals

In an NBC news special, the veteran newsman focuses on the Rev. Ted Haggard and several members of his New Life Church

In an in-depth NBC "Dateline" tonight (8 p.m. ET, NBC), Tom Brokaw ventures to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, to explore evangelical Christians and their societal impact. Going in-depth with New Life's pastor, Ted Haggard, and several families that are exploring or deepening their own faith, Brokaw finds an often-conflicting portrait of what it means to be an evangelical in modern America.

Rather like a "National Geographic" reporter exploring a lost tribe in a newly discovered Pacific archipelago, Brokaw tries to dissect these mysterious people who, "believe the Bible is the word of God, salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that Christians should share their faith with others." At times he seems bewildered by this group of people, even though his theological definition of them is one that would fit nicely on most Christians for the last 2,000 years.

He explains that their form of modern worship, which includes multimedia and live rock music, flies in the face of 2,000 years of church history. He seems incredulous that they "believe in angels and demons." These are, however, not criticisms of character but rather his interesting anthropological observations. It would have been interesting to see his reporting several centuries ago when Christians took popular beer-drinking tunes from bars and turned them into hymns. Christians, it seems, have a long history of usurping the secular into the sacred.


At other times, however, Brokaw raises important theological points that are at the heart of evangelical debate. For instance, he asks Haggard--a shiny, happy, charismatic pastor who has helped build New Life into a church of more than 10,000 people in a small city--why it is that the concept of sin seems absent from New Life's teachings. This is a point many evangelicals make towards the mega-churches--that they water down a very hard message about Jesus, repentance, and a reformed life in favor of "feel-good Christianity."

But Haggard responds, "the emphasis isn't on how to get our sins removed... but on how to fulfill the destiny God has for people." To Haggard it is an emphasis on the new life that Christ promised. His point isn't that Jesus' death on the cross was any less important but that Jesus' death, which took away all of our wrongdoing, was a first step to what he promises in John's Gospel: ".I have come to give life and give it in full."

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