By MARTIN BASHIR
March 17, 2006 — - As Mike Seaver, the eldest son in the smash hit sitcom "Growing Pains," actor Kirk Cameron could make audiences roll with laughter. But now he wants to bring them to the Lord. And he's deadly serious.
Watch "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET for Martin Bashir's full interview with Kirk Cameron.
The show, which began in 1985 , dominated the television ratings. Cameron joined the cast at the age of 14.
At first, he says, he was mesmerized by Hollywood and all the benefits that came from his newly acquired celebrity status. But soon he grew weary of signing autographs and a lifestyle that seemed entirely superficial.
The transition came about after Cameron reached his 16th birthday.
He sat in Beverly Hills in his newly purchased car and decided to pray. "I said, 'God if you're there, I want to know,'" he told Nightline. "'I don't want to be fooled or blinded by any sort of religion, but if you are real I need to know because I've completely ignored you my entire life. And if I die and find out that I am wrong about your existence, I've played the part of the biggest fool, and all of my money, popularity will not mean anything on that day.'"
Conflict on a Hit Sitcom
Soon, Cameron started attending church and began to deepen his own theological understanding and grasp of Christianity. This eventually led to a clash between his personal and professional interests.
"There was a scene where Mike Seaver was to be lying in bed with a girlfriend and as I wake up in the morning, Mike ... rolls over and just says, 'Hey babe, tell me again, what's your name?'"
He found the scene conflicted with the Christian values he had embraced.
"I'm faithful to my wife. I don't wake up in bed next to another girl because I know my children are going to learn by my actions, and I felt that was the responsibility of our show ... to portray real life but in a way that left people with something that would move them up higher morally."
At first he tried to reason with the show's producers.
"If something came up, I thought, let's find another way to say it, let's find another way of doing that. And of course when I would bring that up, then that suddenly became connected with the fact that I was now a Christian. That got spun into 'Kirk is trying to push his religious views onto the show.'"
After seven years, ABC decided to cancel the show. The end of the series gave Cameron an opportunity to resolve the tension he felt between the requirements of his profession and the demands of his faith. He started working on the popular Apocalyptic "Left Behind" film series and then met an itinerant preacher, Ray Comfort, who encouraged him to begin a second career -- as an evangelist.
Together they formed an organization called "The Way of the Master." Operating as a charitable trust, its intention is to educate and equip the church to preach the message of Christianity to unbelievers. Cameron says he is motivated by a literal fear of hell.
"I believe the Scriptures teach that there's a literal heaven and a literal hell, just like Jesus said," he explained. "And without forgiveness of sins that, yeah, the place of punishment is called hell."
In addition to creating teaching materials, books and a Web site, Cameron is now back on TV in a weekly cable program. "The Way of the Master" show features Cameron and Comfort speaking to strangers about Christianity. On occasions, things go badly wrong and the pair is attacked by members of the public.
Comfort recalled one incident, saying "While I was preaching the gospel a gentleman came up and he started spitting on me. And he spat quite a few times." He says he simply remained calm and moved on.
"My favorite Bible verse is where Jesus said, 'If you are persecuted in one city, flee to the next,'" Comfort said. "And that's what I did."
Cameron says that he is producing the show because he objects to the way many churches present the Christian faith. He believes that Christianity has become just another ideology that is used to indulge personal interests and contains little of the original message of repentance and faith.
"Much of the modern message seems to revolve around get what's yours in Christ today. They say, 'If you say this little prayer then all is well' and you'll know health, wealth, prosperity, everything you could ever want. That's not the truthful message of Christ."
Neither Comfort nor Cameron has theological degrees nor any kind of formal training. But Cameron says that he's convinced his new career is vitally important.
"The goal of me doing the 'Way of the Master' and doing this interview is not to convince you that I am an authority on the subject. I have no authority. I am simply trying to be faithful to the God who saved me, who changed me and who has commissioned me to tell you and those who are watching this interview ... about the gospel of Jesus Christ and that it has the power to change people's hearts."