Christian Perspective of Journalism

Sarah McDonald

In the words of William Allen White, "Dip your pen into your arteries and write." That is the life of a journalist. Not only is the writing process immensely more difficult than it appears, but writing is the act of taking something from within the author and recording it on paper. The innermost workings of a human being are revealed through the written word. Therefore, it is important for Christians in the field of journalism to understand what they believe and how it relates to the world on which they are reporting.

newspaperglassesandcalculatorCommunication is powerful. Author Richard Foster even shares his amazement that "squiggles on paper work in the hearts and minds" of readers (Schultze, 2000, p. 21). The term communication means to share or to make common (Schultze, 2000), but it proves difficult to make concepts common in a world of differing worldviews. Schultze (2000) states that every time we communicate "we mimic the Creator, fashioning in our own image the kinds of culture that we desire" (p. 19). In addition, however, "courageous Christian journalists need a biblical understanding of this world; only then can their analysis go far beyond the conventional wisdom" (Olasky, 1996, p. 19).

This is an age of competing values. Should Christians choose what is presented to them or what they know is right? "Television today, whether the viewers know it or not, and whether the television industry itself knows it or not, is competing not merely for our attention dollars, but for our very souls" (Newman, 1996, p. 6). This concept raises the bar for Christian journalists. They now have a heavier burden to carry and an even greater obligation toward the positive values of their works. Olasky (1996) holds the opinion that "if you are serious about putting out a theologically sound publication, you should also be committed to the final authority of the Bible as the inerrant written Word of God" (p. 18).

"Our communication can constructively or destructively define reality" (Schultze, 2000, p. 25). Christians also understand that, based on the doctrine of Creation, there is good in man, and man can choose to use his gifts and talents for good. Communication was given for mankind to represent the Creator on earth (Schultze, 2000). Schultze (2000) also believed that God created humans to be symbolic stewards of creation, which means that their task is to echo God's reality. Journalists today often create what seems to be their own agenda--their own incorrect reality--which was not God's purpose for communication. He intended that Christians be "stewards of creation who use the gift of communication to care for the world" (Schultze, 2000, p. 18).

The Fear of the Lord

Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Knowledge is power, and journalists have knowledge; therefore, journalists have the power to communicate their knowledge in any way that they choose. "God intends for all people to breathe the power of spiritual life into their communication. When we use our gifts of communication to promote shalom in the name of God, we reduce alienation, strife, injustice, and disharmony" (Schultze, 2000, p. 90). Schultze (2000) further encourages Christians to approach all matters with a biblical imagination:

Theologian Eugene Peterson writes, ‘If we get our theology--that is, our understanding of what is really and eternally God-important--from the journalists, we get a few facts, almost no truth, and nothing at all of God. But a biblically trained imagination accustomed to dealing with flawed leaders, discerns our sovereign God working out his salvation purposes in our history.' (p. 142)

In other words, Christians can create good communication by filtering all information through a Christian worldview.

The fall of man caused evil to enter the world. Because evil exists in the world today, Christians must fight an ongoing battle in every area of their lives, including communication. "The Christian doctrine of the fall explains our current condition. Broken from perfect fellowship with God and with the community of believers, we are all ‘lost in the cosmos' ... All communicators are broken communicators. We all live in symbolic ambiguity" (Schultze, 2000, p. 65). Simple phrases of communication are left to abstract and individual interpretation. Received messages are no longer the intended messages. Sometimes, even the most careful communication yields miscommunication (Schultze, 2000).

In another aspect, "our fall from grace hides and distorts the truth about our communication gifts" (Schultze, 2000, p. 68). Sin blinds confidence in God-given talents and, similarly, it encourages us to use those talents for services other than God. Therefore, Christians are less likely to produce the communication for which they were intended. Schultze (2000), who blames sin for the complex and devastating breakdown in communication, even suggests that "we are all ‘seducers' who use communication to get what we want but should not necessarily have" (p. 73).

Christian Journalists Represent the Faith

Just as the Bible states that much is required from those who are given much, Christian journalists have much responsibility to the faith that they represent. Not only do they determine their own values, but they also have the responsibility of shaping others' viewpoints. "Sin fundamentally corrupts our ability to communicate. When we sin, we do not merely misunderstand, nor do we just inadvertently confuse others. We cause confusion and misunderstanding--and far worse" (Schultze, 2000, 75). Just like all Christians, Christian journalists are called to a high standard of living out their faith.

It is interesting to note that, in the early years of human civilization, God's reaction to sin involved hindering communication. "The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other" (Genesis 11:6-7). God understood the importance of communication and knew that affecting verbal communication would be of great consequence to humans.

Of perhaps the greatest importance, God offered a way around the sinfulness of the surrounding world through Jesus Christ's death on a cross. Because of Redemption, Christians have hope of producing godly works of communication. Olasky (1996) sees no purpose in being a Christian editor or journalist if one does not recognize that sinful man needs Jesus Christ as Lord. "Christian publications lose their punch unless the journalists in charge understand that the Bible is useful not only for salvation but also for application to all aspects of current events as well" (Olasky, 1996, p. 17). Sin cannot be destroyed, but by God's grace Christians can contain it and gain back lost ground (Olasky, 1996).

Grace is the defining concept of Christ's redemption. Through grace, God allows Christians to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do. "We cannot become superb communicators simply by working harder. Our motives need to be redeemed. We desperately need grace" (Schultze, 2000, p. 75). Without grace, all communication simply falls apart (Schultze, 2000). Words can be misunderstood in too many ways, motives can be incorrect, and messages are not received. God must be the author of communication. Schultze (2000) believed that "God's ongoing care is necessary to redeem problematic communication" (p. 35).Grace is the defining concept of Christ's redemption

God's grace not only brings accuracy to human communication, but it also brings freedom. "The gospel frees us from guilt and judgment and frees us to love and serve our neighbor, so we should have no problem embracing humankind's freedom to communicate, including freedom of the press and the right to free speech" (Schultze, 2000, p. 145). As more journalists understand and embrace the freedom of God's grace, they will witness an exponential improvement in their writings because grace removes all hindrances and hesitancies. Grace brings understanding and forgiveness toward others' communications (Schultze, 2000).

In this newfound freedom, Christian journalists can release to God their gifts so that He may make them perfect. "In God's symphony, we do not rely ultimately on our own talent but on the power of God's Word and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God perfects our symbolic action. Our job is to take our place in God's creation and play our best" (Schultze, 2000, p. 167).

God's gift of language and communication is one that many choose to pursue as a vocation; however, one must consider the motives with which the decision was made. "[...] our weapons are not guns but biblical ideas prayerfully applied to public issues" (Olasky, 1996, p. 22). A Christian journalist is called to a standard of biblical values in a very secular world and can only accomplish God's calling through the promise of His grace. "Communication can be amazingly powerful. When we recognize our fallenness, transcend our corrupted communities, reject the urge to dominate others, and stop squandering our gifts, we are on the road to shalom" (Schultze, 2000, p. 85).

References

Newman, J. (1996). Religion vs. television: Competitors in cultural context. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Olasky, M. N. (1996). Telling the truth: How to revitalize Christian journalism. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.

Schultze, Q. J. (2000). Communicating for life. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.