It is Written

Thousands of viewers across North America are familiar with the It Is Written telecast. Recently Editor J. R. Spangler interviewed George Vandeman, founder and speaker of the 25-year-old broadcast, about the history and goals of this unique television ministry, including the recent nationwide satellite seminar, Teleseminar.

J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.
George Vandeman is the founder and speaker of the It is Written broadcast.

Q. George, how long have you been on television and how did you get started?

A. We've been broadcasting for twenty-five years, Bob. During 1981, It Is Written celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary year.

How did we get started? Well, back in the early fifties, certain individuals felt we ought to put some Bible messages onto film for church members to use in winning their friends to Christ. The 16rmm films had some production shortcomings but were effective nonetheless. We used the old Hal Roach studios in Hollywood. With nothing more than a pulpit and a few flowers for props, I just stood there and preached my heart out. And the Lord blessed in spite of our inexperience.

I'll never forget those early years. It was a cooperative project. H. M. S. Richards, Sr., made several films; I made several; Roy Anderson and Phillip Knox, an astronomer-evangelist, made several as well.

One day Richards was speaking when right in the middle of his talk the cameraman broke out with a string of oaths. After his colorful expletives, he blurted out, "I'm sorry. I was so interested in listening to what you had to say, pastor, that I must have run out of film a half-hour ago!" Several years later, a businessman in Midland, Texas—a Seventh-day Adventist builder—and his Roman Catholic partner took these films and put them on television to advertise their building business. Some of the programs were thirty minutes in length, some forty, and some fifty minutes. They purchased an hour of TV time on Sunday night and filled in the rest of the time with music.

After my return from two and a half years of evangelistic preaching in England, the church sent me to Midland to see what was going on. People there would stop me and say, "Vandeman, I believe everything you've said on the screen in my living room." And that reaction as we visited with the people was in spite of the fact that these programs actually had not been prepared for television.

Church leaders then asked me to prepare a teaching program for TV. We already had a fine drama program, Faith for Today. But the church wanted to see what a teaching program would accomplish. They sent us to California, and a new convert, a young movie star by the name of Penny Edwards, suggested the name It Is Written.

Q. I was going to ask where that name came from. How man-y stations are you on now and what is the scope of your present ministry on television? 

A. God has opened many doors since those early trial and error days. We now cover about 55 percent of the United States and 85 percent of Canada and Australia. We're on twenty stations in Australia and nearly ninety across North America. It would cost us another $1.5 million a year to enter the rest of the country, but that's our goal.

Q. What services does It Is Written offer, George?

A. I once heard E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist missionary, say, "Evangelism, to be permanent, must be educational." And I never forgot it. Bob, it would be of little permanent value to bring the viewers a message of significance and not ask for some response or follow through with services that would meet the felt needs expressed. We follow the plan of giving a scriptural, message-filled book on the subject of the day. If the viewer has been impressed with the presentation—a mes sage such as "The Why of Sudden Death," for instance, or something on prophecy or health—he can call in and request some thing to read on the subject. I believe that a reading Christian is a substantial Christian. By the way, our largest responses come from our health messages. Just last week, our response practically doubled when we aired "The Vegetarian Mystique."

Q. Do you think It Is Written and Adventists. are in a position to offer the public something special and significant in the area of health?

A. I certainly do. Seventh-day Adventists have a message of healthful living that I believe is balanced and progressive and that encourages a life style God can bless. "To make men whole" is the goal. We've produced two programs recently about the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Loma Linda University Medical Center. One of these, "Miracle in Slow Motion," featured that little doll Mary Van Dyke, the 3 '/z-year-old daughter of a Dutch Reformed minister. This plucky little thing put up with seventeen operations before she was 2 years of age. She was actually rebuilt by God and LLUMC. God will use physicians and health-care institutions, along with prayer, for the restoration and healing of the sick.

Q.  So you do believe in the medical aspect the work of physicians and nurses? 

A. Absolutely. Adventists have demonstrated that health and religion go hand in hand as a balanced combination for humanitarian service in the community and for winning hearts for God's kingdom.

Q. What is your present budget?

A. Right now we operate on about $5.5 million a year, about $2 million short of what we should have to do the job right.

Q. How much of this $5. 5 million comes from church coffers, and how much comes from donations?

A. Canada and Australia have their own budgets for airing the telecast, and we provide the programs. So far as the United States is concerned, only about 4 percent of our budget comes from the church treasury. Ninety-six percent of our income comes as donations from the public and from church members. Of course, Bob, the church has provided the facilities of the Adventist Media Center, where we are talking today. We share the center with Adventist Media Productions, Breath of Life, Faith for Today, and the Voice of Prophecy. Thus we are all able to spend more dollars on direct ministry than on brick and stone, mortar and steel. The church organization helps us in other ways, too. No one can look over this center and conclude that the church is not taking mass media evangelism seriously. We have our own complete studio that CBS consultants helped us plan.

Q. When you talk about "response" from the public to It Is Written, can you give me an idea of the average response that comes in?

For some time, responses — viewers who write or call — averaged about twenty thousand a month. Recently they have climbed to thirty thousand monthly here in North America. We service these responses with books, and we have also a limited telephone ministry for emergency needs.

Responses arise from a variety of topics. Health-related topics, I would say, bring the best response. Science and religion subjects such as "Who Told the Honey bee?" "Born to Fly," and others like them appeal particularly to men and to youth. Then, prophecy — the second coming of Chris.t, the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation — is popular. Home and marriage is another area that brings an excellent response. These are practical subjects that meet life where it is lived. We made one program entitled "Writ ten in Ash" at the time of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and aired "God's Yellow Ribbons" on the return of the hostages. All these topics of current interest are spring boards. But the springboards are tied into felt needs. And the felt needs are met in the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Q. So you believe in the gospel and Christ as the center of your programs. Do you teach people victory through faith in Jesus Christ over these habits or whatever problem they face?

A. That's basic, of course. Presenting the gospel in the most vital and alluring terms is the reason for our existence. Our use of these exciting current-interest items simply is a springboard to the mind and the heart. They broaden the appeal to the unchurched as well.

Q. What about the secular audience? There's a great discussion among Christians on how to reach the secular mind. There's a move among intellectuals to reach these people in some unique, unusual, phenomenal way that has nothing to do, initially at least, with religion. You're moving directly in with a religious approach. Are those who respond mainly religiously oriented people, or do you reach individuals who are secular minded?

A. I would be less than honest if I didn't say that any religious program commands a majority of responses from people whose hearts are open to the gospel. And many are open, many are searching. About 42 percent of the population of North America listens to at least one religious program a week.

But, Bob, the answer to your question is in the apostle Paul's attempt to reach Athens. He tried to answer the critics of his day, just as you suggested some intellectuals would do, remember? He wasn't very successful, was he? It was one of his poorer success stories. So he changed his approach. He moved into the pagan world of his day with the message of the cross. Our world today is largely a pagan society. The solution, as I see it, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is first to arrest the attention of the people and second to meet their needs. We know that hearts will be won. Th.e power of the Holy Spirit will and does cut through the crust of apathy, unconcern, and worldliness.

Our program doesn't begin with the traditional hymn and prayer followed by a sermon. We start out, as I said, with some interesting documentary, a springboard, and then before the viewers realize it, Scripture is lodged in their minds. We believe the power of the Word. The scriptures we use in the program roll right over the screen. With this procedure, we feel we can broaden the spectrum of viewers and make a bid for the secular audience as well.

Q. Are you able to reach such people the secularist with the broadcast?

A. Frequently such letters as this reach us: "I'm an unbeliever. I'm surprised at myself for being interested in a religious program."

One young man wrote: "Vandeman, you're a fake, a phony. You'll never see this letter. Some secretary will read it and answer and put your name on it. " I wrote back and said, "I did read your letter — I am interested in you." He wrote back: "You're a liar; you didn't read that letter. You're not interested in us out here." I wrote a second and a third time. The Holy Spirit did His work. Church members and the local minister helped, and when that young man was baptized into Christ weeks later, a number of his friends were baptized with him.

Q. How do you feel about the accusation that religious TV broadcasters are building an "electronic church" to the detriment of the local congregation? 

A. Bob, for a moment, let me go back to the value of mass communication — the "electronic church," if you will. I've been a pastor; I've been an evangelist. When I went to London as an evangelist and faced the challenge of those millions, I was restless. And I thought of New York City, where more people live above the twenty-fifth floor than there are in the State of Nevada. Many a single complex in the giant cities houses several thousand people. How are we to reach these masses battered with tensions and incessant noise? At the close of each hectic day, they retreat into their little castles and will not move. I once tried to bring men and women out to meetings. We all did.

Q. Now, you're taking the meeting to them.

A. Yes, we feel television has its place in the evangelism of the church. It is essential in our day. It is an attention-arresting, seed-sowing agency. But it in no way replaces the powerful personal appeal or the heart-to-heart contact by the dedicated pastor or church member in the home. People are not brought into church fellowship through mass media seed sowing alone. Reaching the masses can be satisfactorily done only by linking all of the witnessing and soul-winning forces of the church. None of us can tackle this staggering job alone. The able pastor, his willing members, the itinerant evangelist—all are needed. You see, what really matters is not who is at bat, but whose team is winning in the struggle against evil— that's the question! It's the team that counts, and that takes in all of us.

Q. I understand you've been assisting the fields during recent years in their follow-through and reaping of souls for Christ by means of seminars. Could you tell us about this? 

A. At It Is Written we believe that seminars are a popular and effective in-depth method of study and growth. People even pay to attend a seminar! Our charge is not exorbitant (in fact, it is very reasonable), but it lends an atmosphere of strength and stability to the teaching program. People who have listened to the program for weeks, months, or even years are willing to come out to study, in a more direct way in a seminar, the things they have been viewing on television.

At the seminar everyone is given a Bible. The people become involved with the Book. The Holy Spirit works. They mark their Bible as we study the great themes of redemption and God's final message to mankind. With such group dynamics, one cannot hire these people to leave! They're involved. After six and a half hours of the seminar (with appropriate breaks, of course), many are eager to arrange for continuing Bible studies in their local area. So, the pastor is able to continue the work of teaching.

In a recent major round of seminars, my associate and I visited twenty cities in seven weeks. Two hundred and fifty pastors were involved, and ten thousand people attended.

Q. Now tell us about Teleseminar. That's exciting!

AYes, we're very much impressed with the way God led in our initial use of Teleseminar. On just one day—March 1, 1981—seven thousand people attended, all the way from Los Angeles to Montreal. Two hundred and fifty pastors were involved.

Q.  By the way, George, if some of our readers would like more information about this program, could you send them something?

A. Certainly. Anyone may write: It Is Written, P.O. Box O, Thousand Oaks, California 91360. Just address your request to Royce Williams, field services director.

He has some most interesting things to share, particularly the new and rapidly developing plan for a pastor to hold his own seminar. We will help any way we can.

But more about Teleseminar. People gathered just as in our single seminars, except that they were in various locations across North America. The other difference was that my associate and I and our wives were not there personally. We taught live via satellite by way of the giant screen. Surprising as it may seem, the eight-foot image on the screen seemed to hold the interest more effectively than our teaching in person! People caught the inspiration of this new departure, and the results were encouraging. One CBS official attended the originating seminar in Los Angeles and said as he left: "George, I came to see the concept but got caught up in the content."

The story of Teleseminar is not yet finished. I believe there is tremendous potential in it to help in every segment of the world field as this idea develops.

Q. What subjects do you teach in the seminar or Teieseminar?

A. Men and women are led to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are taught how to be saved. They learn how to understand the Bible and how to rediscover truths that have been confused or lost through the ages.

Q.  Restoration theology?

A. Definitely. That's the basis of the seminar teaching plan. We share what we believe to be neglected truth while we make basic the great truths of redemption common to all Christians.

In fact, for some time I've wanted to produce a series of television programs on what each of the leading denominations has contributed to the faith of the whole of Christianity. Luther, for instance—"the just shall live by faith." Thank God for justification, the priceless truth that our standing with God is restored through the merits of Jesus. Wesley emphasized the growth factor—sanctification. Knox, Calvin, and others each made his unique contribution. I want to make one show on each group and give a fair treatment of its strength. I feel it would be an excellent series for television that would be appreciated by the Christian community as well as the general public. All we need are funds and time.

Q. I like that idea. But let me ask you about your own personal beliefs. Are you a Seventh-day Adventist because of your rearing, or are you one by choice?

A. I am one by choice. You see, I'm a PK [preacher's kid] . And of course that creates its problems as well as its blessings. I was born in the church. But it wasn't until my late teens that I personally trusted in Christ for my salvation and joy filled my heart. The experience was deep and genuine.

Q. Tell me, George, do you believe that the church is in need of a greater emphasis on justification?

A. Definitely. Let me explain. As Adventists, we have been impressed with the need of reformation — or more specifically, the need of rediscovering truths that have been lost to the church during the confusing early centuries of the Christian Era. We believe reformation is an ongoing necessity. We think the concerns about the early signs of waning faith, clearly expressed by the apostle Paul, as well as the predictions of a needed reformation in the book of Revelation, are to be taken seriously. But there is danger that such emphasis, however legitimate, could, to a certain extent, eclipse and overshadow the precious basic Christian truth of justification. I believe it is my privilege to claim justification not only at the outset of my conversion experience but daily.

However, and this is very important, I believe justification leads to behavioral changes. Jesus added, you remember, "Go, and sin no more"—that touched behavior. If the Lord in His mercy can release me from the guilt of sin, He can release me from the power of sin. There must be structure to my Christianity. My God wishes to restore in me the image of my Maker. There is a beautiful balance between justification and sanctification. And these priceless truths do not in the least limit or short-circuit my assurance of eternal life. Works, as we so often say, are not the root but the fruit of righteousness.

Q. What is your attitude toward Ellen White, in view of recent attacks against her?

A. It's stronger than ever. I've made several television programs on the subject and will continue to do so. One was entitled "She Never Owned a Crystal Ball." Another was "Science Trails a Prophet." I think it's our attitude toward her work that makes all the difference. Just as the giant polished eye of the Palomar telescope, reaching out into limitless space, does not bring any new stars into existence but rather reveals more clearly the ones that are already there, just so, the gift of prophecy through the writings of Ellen White does not bring any new doctrines into existence but reveals more clearly the existing ones. I know men of the cloth in denominations other than our own who consider this gift a strength to their own ministries. Nothing but good has come from Mrs. White's prophetic insight.

Q. Tell us about the prayer ministry at It Is Written.

A. Rex Humbard and others who have a definite prayer ministry have led the way in this, and we honor them for it. Our program is called Prayer Alert. We borrowed the idea from our Portland, Oregon, Adventist hospital. Most hospitals operate a Medic Alert, a Code 99, or emergency call. Well, the chaplain in Portland thought, as he heard those repeated signals for help, Why not encourage the staff to pause and pray for the one in danger? When he gathered the staff together, he discovered that they were already doing this without any guidance from the chaplain's office. That experience gave birth to the Prayer Alert idea.

We feature men and women in all faiths who have had dynamic answers to prayer — Joni Eareckson, who was not healed but was sustained through prayer; Richard Morefield, the returned hostage; Mrs. Lowell Thomas, Jr. , who was saved in an Alaskan earthquake. Men and women can identify with these people. This portion of our program makes our prayer ministry vital. We offer the little book Unlocking Heaven's Storehouse. It's loaded with prayer promises and has become a strength to all who receive it.

Q. How would you sum up the work of It Is Written? How would you describe what you are trying to do?

A. Bob, I can describe it best perhaps with an incident that still sticks in my mind after many years. In the earliest days, when we were shooting our programs in New York City, I had a Roman Catholic director. We were resting between takes when someone who had come in happened to say to the director, "Who's the star of that show?" And without a moment's hesitation the director answered, "The Bible is the star of this show. "

That's what we're trying to do at It Is Written. We're trying to lift up the Bible and make it available to the thousands and thousands who need its message and the Saviour, Jesus Christ, who shines from every page.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.
George Vandeman is the founder and speaker of the It is Written broadcast.

September 1982

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