Three types of press

Our goal: Not amoral, not merely moral, but biblical

Issue: "Chaos in Colorado," May 1, 1999

These days we're busy reviewing applications from potential students at the WORLD Journalism Institute, which begins in July. The good news is that contributions have come in and no admitted student in need of a scholarship will be kept away. But here's an alert: Only a few days remain to apply (e-mail for information). None of us who will be teaching knows what to expect from the students, but we are hoping for good ones. Now that WORLD has jumped in recent years from 40 to 50 issues annually and from 24 to 36+ pages weekly, we need to staff up. We also hope to set up a network of news contributors throughout the country, and to train folks to start up strong publications in their own communities. Those who join our staff often find that working for WORLD is the biggest professional challenge they've ever faced. That's not only because weekly publication means frequent deadlines and demands by editors for tight copy. It's because our journalistic philosophy is at odds not only with secularism but with the conventional evangelical approach as well. Let me get at the difference by noting a recent letter from a subscriber who believed WORLD was disobeying Paul's injunction in Philippians 4:8 to think of noble, pure, lovely, right, and admirable things. To that I responded: Could Paul have meant that we are to think exclusively about those things? How could he have meant us to think only about the good when he wrote about the bad in chapter one of Romans and in so many other places? How could he have meant that and done the evangelistic work he performed so well among peoples whose decadence was probably even greater than our own? And, how could he have meant that when he proclaimed the importance of reading all of God's word, including Scripture that reports (Judges 19) grotesque sin such as the gang rape of a Levite's concubine, and his cutting her up into 12 pieces? Such bad news in the Bible, of course, makes us realize how desperately we need the Good News. Christian magazines and churches should not shy away from reporting the bad news, yet many do. In that way many implicitly teach moralism, the faith that man is good and needs only to have placed in front of him a good code of conduct, and then we will live happily ever after. I enjoyed the movie Prince of Egypt's many good points, but winced at its conclusion, with the Israelites celebrating God's gift of the Ten Commandments immediately after they cross the Red Sea. That leaves out something crucial: While Moses is up on Mount Sinai, Israel forgets God's very recent deliverance and worships a golden calf. That real story shows the deep ravages of sin. The gospel according to Steven Spielberg is the tale of a moral people who merely need prison release plus good rules to live happily ever after. The gospel as told by Stephen in chapter seven of Acts emphasizes Israel's history of sin, and our hope only in Christ. Which gospel should WORLD proclaim through its selection of stories and story detail? Our goal this summer is to train biblical journalists. We don't want to produce amoral journalists; they merely emphasize the sound and fury around us and present our lives as tales told by idiots. But we are also unwilling to settle for journalistic moralism, which merely presents happy, smiling church people, removed from the sinful world and moving from one triumph to the next. We are fighting for biblical journalism that, like Stephen's history in the book of Acts, emphasizes God's holiness and man's sinfulness. Just as morality by itself cannot save, so journalistic moralism cannot save journalistic practice. Whenever people ask whether life itself has meaning and is worthwhile, the result throughout much of history has been formation of or adherence to some man-made religion that sets up a code of morality. But Christianity has a different answer: Christ saves sinners! Christ! Christianity and moralism are two different religions, one centered on God, one on man. Biblical magazines and moralistic magazines are of two different genres. We know that our readers at times will not like what we put in front of them, and we hope they spend much of the time following the admonition in Philippians, but part of the time following other biblical teaching as well. That's one of the many lessons we hope to convey to our potential writers this summer.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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