You probably remember him as the adorable, mischievous teenager Mike Seaver on the hit 80's and 90's TV show, "Growing Pains." In recent years, he is more widely known for his work on the film versions of the "Left Behind" series, as well as work with his Christian evangelism ministry, The Way of the Master.
Cameron recently released a memoir, "Still Growing," in which he describes his transition from an atheist to a Christian husband and father (he married "Growing Pains" costar Chelsea Noble). He recently spoke to Beliefnet about how becoming a Christian changed his work on the show, why God may have removed "His hand of blessing" from our nation, and the best--and worst--ways to share the gospel.
You grew up in a nonreligious but moral household. What happened to make you decide to embrace Christianity?
I grew up as an atheist. [But] we had a traditional family [with] some good old-fashioned family values. But the thing that really got me thinking about God was realizing that I was part of the ultimate statistic. Ten out of ten people die. You start thinking about that and it really makes you start to ask the big questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going when I die? What happens when we step out of here? What's out there?
As I started asking these questions, I also knew that things were not right between me and God—if there was a God. And I began to ask these questions with a humble heart and a willingness to want to learn the truth. I began reading the Bible and became convinced of the truth of the gospel, and its power to really transform me from the inside. It's what developed my ability to form convictions and stand on those convictions in every area of life, whether it's being a dad or being a husband or an actor.
Your parents wanted you to choose your own religious path once you were older. As a parent yourself now, do you embrace that attitude with your own children? Should parents who are Christians lay the foundation for their children or let them choose their own path later?
As a father of six kids and as a man who's been transformed by the power of the gospel, I would never just let my kids flounder and just sort of try to figure out their own way through life when I know that I've got the best guide on the planet—God and His word.
So of course I'm going to bring my kids up to know and understand who God is, and then pray that God will regenerate their heart and bring them to a living, real, and lasting faith in Him through repentance and faith in Christ.
[Y]ou really need to decide if you're an actor in Hollywood whether you want to be faithful to the Lord or you want to be popular, because chances are you're not going to be both.
Is simply leading a moral life good enough to go to heaven?
I'm part of a ministry called The Way of the Master in which we go out and we talk with people on the streets, asking them, "What do you think it takes to get to heaven?'"In essence, someone was approaching that same question when they asked Jesus what do they have to do to get eternal life. Jesus first stopped this man and corrected his understanding of what "good" was and said, "There's none good but one."
And so, the idea that you can be good enough to enter heaven is really a man-made idea. From God's point of view, none of us are good enough. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's standard and what we need is His grace. We need His grace to transform us and to motivate us to do good works for the right reason.
But, ultimately, salvation is a gift. Getting into heaven is not something you can earn or deserve. God makes that really clear in the scriptures.
How difficult is it to be a Christian in Hollywood?
You know, there's a message that's floating around out there that all you need to do is just believe in God and ask God into your heart and life will be a bed of roses and things are going to work out well for you. There's even some books out there that make those kind of crazy promises.
But, the truth is, when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus Himself said that all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution. When you have moral convictions and you start to stand on those and you let those guide your decisions in your life, you're ultimately going to be ruffling some feathers and it will cost you something.
So you really need to decide, if you're an actor in Hollywood, whether you want to be faithful to the Lord or you want to be popular, because chances are you're not going to be both.
Do you think celebrities—whether they're Christian or not—have to take more responsibility as role models?
When you're in the public eye and you're in television or music or movies, you are willingly walking into a position of being a role model. Kids are going to look up to you, especially. Culture changes because of musicians and actors and actresses. There's a responsibility there. You may ignore the responsibility. You may choose to be a bad role model. But, you are a role model nonetheless.
And, of course, because I care about kids, I care about my family, I'd want everybody in the limelight to take some responsibility and realize that their actions are going to have some consequences, either good or bad. So they ought to make some good decisions.
When you first became a Christian, you had concerns about certain scenes you were asked to do in "Growing Pains." Tell us a bit about that.
"Growing Pains" had really established itself as a family program. That's one of the things that I've really tried hard to do, maintain a trust relationship with that family audience over the last 25 years.
And so, when I was 17-years-old trying to maintain that integrity with my character, if there was a scene like this particular one where Mike Seaver wakes up in bed under the sheets with some strange girl and rolls over and says, "Hey, babe, what was your name again?" I'd try to talk with the writers and say, "Hey, maybe we can do something different here. Is there a way that we can sort of get the message across without giving these young kids this visual?" I'd try to work together with them.
Sometimes that doesn't go over too well and you get misread as a celebrity who's trying to push his weight around or trying to rewrite scripts, when in reality it's just a young guy trying to live by his convictions and do what's right with the audience.
Would you say that there was hostility on the set when you started becoming more vocal about your concerns?
Contrary to what "E True Hollywood Story" would say, there wasn't hostility on the set of "Growing Pains." We were like a family, and just like any family you have times where relationships get strained and everyone's trying to figure out who they are and they go their separate directions.
We had differences of opinion and we had times where our relationships were more strained than others, and sometimes it was because of personal convictions. Just convictions for conscience sake on what we thought was good or not good for the show.
But today we're friends. We have a great time with each other. Jeremy [Miller] comes over and cooks dinner at our house for my wife and kids. I just saw Tracy [Gold]—she had a new baby. Alan [Thicke] just had a grandson. We get together for little reunions pretty often.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently in handling situations on the set of "Growing Pains"?
Well, in the book I talk in detail about what it was like going from an atheist to becoming a Christian, and how the decisions that I made really affected my relationships on the set.
As I look back at some of those decisions, I think I could have handled things maybe with a bit more grace, maybe not quite as bluntly as I did. But, again, that's also looking back in hindsight. I mean, at the time, you're 17 years old, you're a brand-new Christian, you're wanting to do what's right, and the pressure is on. And you've got to make a decision quickly sometimes when it comes down to a script.
So, I wouldn't have done a lot differently, but maybe just seasoned it with a bit more grace.
In the book you talk about the difference between believing in God and experiencing God. How does a Christian who believes in God work to have a full experience with God?
Well, by definition, a Christian is not someone who simply has a belief in God. A Christian is someone who knows God experientially, someone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The devil has a belief about God.
He knows exactly who Jesus is. That's very different from being a Christian.
People can take a head knowledge about God, [but] they need to have that knowledge move right down into their heart. And it needs to result in an act of their will, of embracing the gospel, of turning from their sin and putting their trust in Jesus Christ. When that happens, God regenerates the heart and makes the person a new person from the inside, gives them a new heart with new desires, and they know the Lord and they have eternal life. That's an experiential thing that is much different than mere intellectual knowledge about God.
Was it a difficult process for you as a teen idol to embrace God?
Some people have this idea that religion is just one more thing that they can sort of add to the mix of things that they've got in their backpack to help them get through the day, sort of a crutch to make life easier.
But Jesus said, "If you want to follow Me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me." And really, the difficult thing for any Christian is to learn to say to yourself, that "life is not about me." As a celebrity that's kind of what you grow up with—the idea that the universe revolves around you, that you're the most important person in your life. And the wonderful realization that you are not God, that you were made by a wonderful creator, and instead of giving you what you deserve, He offers you grace and pardon and forgiveness and eternal life.
That is difficult to learn, to deny yourself and take yourself off the pedestal that everyone else has put you on as a celebrity. But it's the most wonderful thing in the world.
It's like when I got married to Chelsea, I had some friends who said, "Man, wasn't that hard giving up the bachelor life? You were playing the field. What are you doing?" And I said no, because I realized how shallow the celebrity bachelor life is. And in comparison to the treasure I found in Chelsea, it's a no-brainer.
And the same with God. Once I realized the emptiness of life apart from knowing God, when I embraced God and the truth of the gospel and the truth of the Bible, it was a no-brainer decision to see that that was a treasure that was infinitely more valuable than some sort of an atheistic Hollywood party life.
...I think we're watching, perhaps, God remove His hand of blessing from a country that once had it in generous amounts.
You also mentioned that Christians on the set of the "Left Behind" movies had to hide their faith for fear of being shunned by others on the set—something I never would have expected from a faith-based film series. Did you encourage the Christians on set to go public with their faith?
No. I really didn't go on a mission to do that. I was there to act in a movie, and I had opportunities to talk with people about the stuff that everyone thinks about: "Hey, what do you think happens when somebody dies? Do you pray? Do you think there's a God? What do you think about this movie and what it's all about?" And that always opened up good conversations with people.
But I think what surprised me was for a movie about the return of Jesus Christ, there were no conversations that I could hear going on about anything having to do with faith in God or about Christ. And so it was usually something that I'd have to bring up intentionally to be able to talk about it.
When you started doing these movies, did you think that you were going to be working in an environment where people did openly talk about their Christian faith?
I think I had the same reaction that most people do when they find out that really the only couple of Christians on the set were me and my wife during the filming of "Left Behind." That was very different from a movie I recently did called "Fireproof." The whole cast were volunteers. And every day we'd start out and everyone would be on their knees praying and thanking God for the previous day's shooting and asking for his blessing and protection on the upcoming scenes.
There'd be times when we'd be in one room doing a really emotionally intense scene while 30 to 50 people are in another room of the house praying for the actors in the scene. It was just wonderfully supportive. The whole project was so ministry focused that it didn't seem like work.
Do you see yourself reviving a career in mainstream film, or do you want to stick to Christian or family-friendly films?
I've never looked at myself as a Christian actor and I never exited the Hollywood scene in order to do faith-based stuff. Faith is really just at the core of who I am. I love to do projects that really are in line with my heartbeat.
This movie "Fireproof " [which is produced by Sony and coming to theaters in September] is a movie about marriage. It's not a faith-based movie. It's not a Christian movie. It's about a love story that leaves God where He belongs as the creator of love and personal relationships, of trust and healing.
Those are the kinds of movies that I love to do because they inspire people. It's about the stuff that counts and the stuff that matters to everyone.
Do you believe that the End Times, generally speaking of course, may occur similarly to how it's portrayed in the "Left Behind" series?
You know, to really wrap my mind around how God is going to wrap up history here on planet Earth is a difficult thing. You realize that you're really swimming in the deep end theologically when you dive into the book of Revelation and the End Times.
There are so many guys that have devoted their lives to eschatology or the End Times, the last things, that I would defer to [them] on that subject. But what I enjoyed about the "Left Behind" films was it gave us an opportunity to present the gospel and get people thinking about eternity. Because whether it happens in a scenario like you saw in "Left Behind" or somewhat differently than that, the truth is you and I could die tomorrow, and you could be transitioned from time into eternity in a heartbeat. It doesn't have to happen during a Rapture event. And so, people need to be thinking about eternity now. That's what I saw as the value of the film.
It seems like so many bad things are going on in the world right now. Do you think God is angry at the way things are going and is He punishing us?
That's the exact same question that I ask people on the streets on our TV show, "The Way of the Master." 'Do you think God is angry with Americans? Does He have anything to do with hurricanes and floods and tornadoes?" You'd be shocked at the answers that people give.
You look at all of the countless hurricanes and tornadoes that line up off the coasts and just destroy crops and houses and everything, and you start to wonder who is in charge of the weather department anyway? I mean, does God have anything to do with cancer and floods and droughts and these kinds of things?
I think we can get a clue about the way God deals with nations by looking at the nation of Israel. If you go back into the Old Testament you'll see that God promised this special nation of Israel [and] that if they would obey His commands that He would bless their crops and bless their nation and their children and their marriages and things would go well for them. But, that if they didn't, if they turned and rebelled against Him and followed after other gods, that he'd remove that hand of blessing and they instead would inherit a curse and He would allow their enemies to overtake them.
The Bible says that God will bless those nations who honor Him. America was founded on biblical principles, but no longer do we honor those principles as a nation. We kicked God out of schools and we can't pray there, and we're giving more honor to the right of free speech and let people burn our flag and curse the God that's blessed us that I think we're watching, perhaps, God remove His hand of blessing from a country that once had it in generous amounts.
I think the hope is not going to be in who our next president is. I think our hope is not going to be in the laws that govern us, but in the power of God working in the hearts of people who turn their back to the Lord and humble themselves and read His word and honor Him in the things that they do and that they say. That's why I'm so concerned about getting the gospel out to people because that really is what it's all about, is people coming to know God through faith in Christ.
What do you think is the single best way Christians can share the gospel with others?
There's been a phrase that's become very popular called "friendship evangelism" where [the mentality is] "Hey, we can share the gospel with somebody just by the way that we live our life." And while living a life of integrity certainly speaks volumes to people, the only way someone is going to really understand the gospel—the gospel which saves people—is for you to just talk to them and share with them. That's really what "The Way of the Master" television program is about. It's teaching Christians how to share the gospel, and [that] there's good ways and there's bad ways to do that.
I think we ought to take our cue from the one who was the best at it and that's Jesus. He would speak to people eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart, in terms that they can clearly understand so that they can see their sin, [so that] they can understand their need for a savior and turn to God in repentance and faith and be saved.
What would you say is an example of a bad way to share the gospel?
I think that there's a tendency today to be so politically correct in the way that you talk to people that people water down and sugarcoat a message to the point where it loses its effectiveness. If you had a terminal illness and I had a cure, but the cure had some bitterness to it and I didn't want to see you make a sour face, so I just water it down, water it down and sweeten it up with a lot of sugar, eventually if I gave you a little teaspoon of this cure, it's all but lost its curative properties.
And so, really what I need to do is say I care more about you and your condition than I do about making you like me. I want to give it to you in its full strength because I really care about you.
What we need to do is take the velvet out of our mouths, as Charles Spurgeon used to say, and tell people the truth. Give it to them straight, but give it to them in love.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
My favorite prayer is the one that comes from a person's heart, [like] when my wife and kids and I sit around the dinner table and one of my little kids says, "Daddy, can I pray tonight" and he just prays straight from his heart, nothing that's pre-written, nothing that's memorized, but something from his heart. Those are the best kind of prayers.
What do you pray for most often?
A lot of times I'll ask people, "Do you pray?" Sometimes people will say, "Yeah, when things are tough. But when things are going well, I usually kind of forget about God."
Prayer is not just talking to the big genie in the sky and asking him for three wishes when you're in trouble. Prayer is a conversation, talking with the one who loves you and will listen to you and has everything that you need to be who He wants you to be.
And so, when I pray, it's usually thanking God, admitting my own inability to do the things that I need to do and how much I need His help.
If I were to ask for one thing, it would be that God would continue to save people. The thought that people are going to hell is horrifying to me. I know that that's why Jesus Christ came, to save sinners. My prayer would be that God would continue to raise up courageous, loving Christians who will go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature so that they can be saved.
When you think of hell as a place, what do you envision?
I take my cues from scripture and from Jesus, who said it's a place of torment, a place of punishment. The thought of divine wrath is just horrifying. But it really is in direct correlation with the goodness of God.
If you hear that some child has been abused and hurt, there's something in you that rises up in anger and you get angry about that because there's something in you that says that's wrong, that's bad, and that person should be brought to justice for what they've done. There's sort of a righteous anger because of evil that I think anyone feels. If someone wasn't upset at something like children getting hurt, you'd say there's something wrong with that person, right?
And in the same way, because God is good, because God is love and He is pure, he absolutely abhors evil. Because we're sinful by nature, there is a sense in which God will punish sin and evil. We're on the hook on judgment day, and God's place of punishment is called hell.
Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven, warning people not to go there. In fact, He cared so much about people not going there, that He lay down His own life and He paid the price for our sin with His own life's blood to save us and bring us into a right relationship with God.
What's the best piece of life advice you received?
In the book of Proverbs it says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path."
If there is such a thing as a seeker, someone who is really trying to search out the truth, trust in God with all of your heart. Don't listen necessarily to what some celebrity tells you. Don't listen and take all your cues from Oprah—or from me, for that matter. Search God and trust Him with all of your heart. If you do that, come to Him with a humble attitude, He'll direct you to His word. You'll understand the truth and the truth will set you free.
I've got a great pastor at the church that I go to. He said--I love his--this kind of summation of people who come to faith. He said, "A lot of people say, 'I found God.' And he says, 'No, you didn't. God wasn't lost. You were, and He found you.'" And that's exactly what happened to me.