Several years ago a Waco business developer/realty/design/construction company generally named Magnolia run by Chip and Joanna Gaines were contacted to star in a HGTV fixer upper show. The first episode aired in April 2014 and has become an instant hit for the network. Ratings in the first season were through the roof. This phenomenon was largely attributed to the couple's likability and charisma, good looks, and business savvy.
The difference, at least in all the conversations I’ve had, is that while doing stunning work, the Gaineses consistently reflect an unassuming, recognizable Christianity. ... But even these obvious clues don’t quite capture the subtle loving-kindness the Gaineses exemplify in their interactions with each other and their children. When the first episode of Fixer Upper debuted in April 2014, after watching for only a few minutes, with no clear evidence, I had a strong presentiment I was seeing fellow members of the body. A little web searching confirmed it.The couple seemed genuinely in love. The pair seemed like dependable, loving parents. In its first season the show was just nice.
So why am I writing about them?
One reason is because the show has taken on massive proportions, huge ratings, and as World Mag says, the husband and wife team are the catalyst for more 'Christian' programming at HGTV. Since the Gaines's have a national platform in which to showcase their Christianity, we look at their testimony.
Also, because of hypocrisy. No matter the celebrity, or perhaps because of celebrity status, we want to make sure of who we are touting and promoting. What brand of Christianity do they adhere to? Do they live what they say they live? The Bereans said they would listen to Paul but then go back and examine what Paul taught (Acts 17:11). Paul welcomed transparency to examine his doctrine, and he was the biggest Christian celebrity of his time. Later when Paul's integrity was attacked, he defended his lifestyle, because integrity in life mattered as much as the doctrine he taught. (2 Corinthians 5:11–15).
Therefore, my examination of the Gaines phenomenon will be two parts. This part 1 will examine Mrs Gaines' testimony, the doctrine portion. The next part will look at their lifestyle.
I mean them no harm and I'm truly happy the couple who has worked very hard for a long time on their business goals and ambitions, are seeing them come to fruition today. I am glad that they have opportunity in interviews to share about their faith and their church. Their long-term and more recent financial bounty has afforded them opportunities to give and support others in a blessed way, as Chip hinted in one interview. I am grateful that they love each other and are raising their children with good values, from at least what we can see through the lens of what is shown to us on camera. They are attributed with almost single-handedly revitalizing the Waco downtown with business, art, and tourism, something that every small town or city hopes for. Because of the Gaines' an entire cable channel is looking for more Christians to produce a show around. These are all good things.
That's what makes raising these issues even harder.
Recently Mrs Gaines' alma mater, Baylor University in Waco, produced a video which has since gone viral with over 4.5 million views on Youtube alone, in which Mrs Gaines is given over four minutes to testify to the glory of Jesus Christ and her gracious salvation. And here is where it gets troubling. Mrs Gaines used the time to speak not of sin, grace, redemption, and Jesus, though she mentioned Him once at the end. But instead the video is a testimonial to Mrs Gaines' ambitions, Mrs Gaines' dreams, Mrs Gaines' plans, and how God was going to fulfill them by giving her what she wants.
And she knows this because He personally told her so.
We learn in the video that Mrs Gaines always knew God was going to fulfill her business dreams because He directly told her, specifically and clearly. She mentions 4 times in the 4 minute video that God spoke to her. Her story, which remains consistent in interviews as well as the testimony video, is that when her two children were young God spoke to her and said she had to close her store which had been open for two years. In the first two quotes below, in order to salve her disappointment at having her dreams of running a business shattered just so she could perform her biblical function as a mother, God comforted her thus-
"I heard Him specifically say, 'Joanna, I have a calling for you. You’re going to have a platform one day.'"First, God does not personally and audibly speak to us today in the way Mrs Gaines relates. Whatever Mrs Gaines thought she heard is not God. Here is a post by Michael Horton to answer the question "Does God Talk to Us?"
I remember hearing God say, 'Joanna, there’s going to come a time when I’m going to say for you to go, and I’m going to need for you to step out and go.'"
I really felt like God was saying, 'Hey, I want you home, I want you raising these babies at home at this age.'"
I heard God say very clearly, 'If you trust me with your dreams, I’m going to take Magnolia further than you even dreamed. Just trust me.' And I remember hearing that and feeling completely peaceful about it, and I walked away."
Second, God is not a dream-fulfilling machine. God is not speaking to Joanna Gaines. There is no need to hear the voice of God personally direct a mother to stay home and raise her children when the Bible indicates that her entire orientation should already mainly be to stay home and raise the children anyway. (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 5:14). God places a priority on the woman's direct involvement at home.
In addition, though economic necessity sometimes force a couple to make a tough decision for the mom to work outside the home, and the Bible does leave some room for couples to make their decisions, in the Gaines' case working such long hours outside the home was not necessary. Chip has always been good at making money. He made $30,000 the first year he was out of college, after having started and sold two businesses already while in college. Joanna's store was also doing well at the time. But more on their lifestyle in the next part.
But please note that Joanna's dream in the video that God was going to fulfill was the business, not the children. I'm not saying she isn't a good mother, I don't know that she is or isn't. I do know that on the show there is frequent mention of passing the children for child care to an extended family member or a babysitter. I do know that they incessantly showcase the children on the show. I am saying that when you've been given 4 minutes to testify to the important things about your salvation, the items one would expect to hear are absent. She chose to focus entirely on God fulfilling her business dream.
After the store closure in 2005, Chip and Joanna Gaines had two more children. They now have four kids, Drake (age 11), Ella (9), Duke (7) and Emmie (6) all as of this coming May. Mrs Gaines continues from the testimony video saying that after a few years at home with the children, working her design business from home too, she says 'God said' in 2014 it was OK to re-open her store.
And I felt like God said, 'Jo, it’s time.' And I was like, 'Time for what?' he said, 'It’s time to reopen your store.' I said, I don't think I can do that.' And just cool and calm, 'No, it’s time.'I find it curious that God told her to stay home with her first two babies when they were young but that it was OK to become a business woman while the second two were young.
From various interviews within the last year or so, Joanna is quoted as saying,
I really felt like God said, 'You're gonna have a platform one day with women.' (source)
I kind of felt like God just kept saying, 'This is gonna be something that I'm going to take to another level,' (source)
But I felt like God said, 'Hey, this is the season to be home, and you need to trust me.' (source)
But I felt like God said, ‘If you trust me with your dreams, I’m gonna make Magnolia bigger and better than you could have ever dreamed.’ (source)So God is great because He gave her a big store. That's her testimony. Not so much about raising her babies, nor about the blessing of marriage and a husband. Her dream, her store, her things.
The 'key' as Joanna said in the video's conclusion, is to let God speak to you and "let his father heart say this is what I have for you." Again, an emphasis on self and the things God will give her, not the blessing of knowing Jesus, of being redeemed from sin's curse, for escaping wrath, of being made holy in sanctification, for the promise of heaven, for the pleasure of enjoying God forever. Nothing of the sort. Just gratitude that He will "take the store further than she ever imagined."
But apparently Mrs. Gaines has been giving interviews, especially this past fall, attributing their success to Christian faith. She says specifically that God spoke to her directly and promised earthly riches if she was faithful. Which is interesting because that makes her just one more proponent of the self-serving "prosperity gospel" movement.Another commenter:
(I'm episcopalian and many of us regard God speaking directly to an individual as both unlikely and a sign of possible mental health issues or blind ambition.)
I googled Joanna's testimony on youtube today. I've never had God talk so fluently and directly to me like He does with her. I wish He'd provide me with such specific instructions and reassurances. That's really something.They nailed it.
When Jesus spoke to Saul He knocked him flat on the road to Damascus, rebuked him for persecuting Jesus, struck Saul blind and told him he must suffer. When God spoke to John on Patmos it was to have John pen letters of rebuke, condemnation, and warning to several churches in Asia. When God spoke to Jeremiah it was to tell him do not marry or have children because the times are going to get rough, then spent 40 years prophesying so through the weeping prophet. Not that He isn't tender, he is. (Genesis 16:7-13). But not once did God say to anyone He talked with in the Bible "I am going to fulfill your dreams." Even to Moses who God said was a friend, in the end God banned Moses from entering the Promised Land because Moses had disobeyed God.
After the Apostolic era, nothing is ever said that indicates God interposes Himself audibly to specifically instruct or reassure people in life. This is because the completed Bible does that. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Revelation 22:18, Hebrews 1:2).
God wants His people to be people of obedience, honor, integrity, repentance, bearing fruit of the Spirit, making disciples, witnessing to the Gospel, and persevering. Nothing is said about someone's dreams, platforms, or levels. Self-serving prosperity gospel on display, for sure.
The other problem with Ms Gaines' testimony is that it normalizes audible conversations when they are not normal at all, nor are they even from God.
Beth Moore, Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture, Christine Caine, Sarah Young of Jesus Calling, and many other women "with a platform" claim to have nearly daily conversations with God, visions, strong impressions of the heart, and other messages that speak of fulfilling their dreams and hopes or otherwise give specific instruction. These are not from God. The kind of Christianity Mrs Gaines puts forth in her testimony video and in interviews is the kind that diminishes God in holiness and stature and exalts the recipient of these messages to an undeserved status. As in, "Wow, she must be special because God talks directly to her just like He did with Moses and Abraham!"
Millions of women who see Mrs Gaines' seemingly vibrant and healthy relationship with God as expressed frequently and audibly presents itself as the norm - when it is not. And this is a problem when the network goes searching for another person or couple that displays this "recognizable Christianity." It might be recognizable to the world, but it is not recognizable to God.
Part 2 here: The hypocrisy of Chip and Joanna Gaines