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Compare & contrast

Books | God-centered versus government-centered approaches to academia and media

Issue: "Steve Jobs 1955-2011," Oct. 22, 2011

Since academia and media are such key fields, I keep looking for Christian books in those areas that thoughtfully challenge established orthodoxies. In the decade since 9/11, though, we've often seen more books by Christians that seem prepared with the goal of gaining secular acceptance. This leaves them like seed tossed on rocky ground, springing up with charm in chapter 1 but withering by the end.

The better way is to start with the Bible and then see what in secular studies corroborates scriptural perspective. By beginning in good soil, a few Christian academic books produce a crop of flavorful ideas-and one example of such is Redeeming Sociology by Vern Poythress (Crossway, 2011), a book that stays true to its subtitle: A God-Centered Approach.

That's the right approach, especially because current sociology is so left-wing. With any book that wins approving nods from sociologists likely to be worthless, a wise Christian writer starts typing with the understanding that faithfulness will bring him no academic glory. Westminster Theological Seminary professor Poythress glorifies God from the start by showing how any good societal relationships we have reflect that of the Trinity.

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Then, instead of tracing secular theories and seeing how he can add some God-flavoring, Poythress step by step takes us through God's covenant, God's government, and God's definition of good diversity. He emphasizes godly ways to exercise love and generosity, contrasting them with bureaucratic egalitarianism. Instead of making contemporary sociological theory the core of his book, he dispatches the major schools of thought in appendices dealing with modern sociology, "scientific" sociology, and other models.

In that way Redeeming Sociology is the opposite of a book that explores another field needing redemption: The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols (Nation, 2010). The title made me think that the book might show an awareness of resurrection, but it instead proposes a Night of the Living Dead: government subsidies of the press so that dinosaur newspapers, and journalists' jobs, would be saved.

McChesney and Nichols properly scorn the 20th-century idea that journalists would be "neutral professionals," but they profess to believe that a government takeover of journalism would not lead to government control. They want Washington to "establish an office to oversee and coordinate the rapid transition of failing corporate newspapers ... into post-corporate newspapers ... with strict control on the official role to guard against censorship and abuses of the public trust." Power without abuse? Want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge or Florida swampland?

The authors are either naïve or dissembling: "We would never advocate 'reforms' that provided the slightest opening for censorious practices." Yet they suggest that government "might create incentives to get bad players off the field-by selling newspapers at fair (rather than inflated) prices to more responsible owners, unions, or community groups." (Who determines the "fair" price? Who defines "responsible"?) McChesney and Nichols also propose "establishment of a 'journalism' division of AmeriCorps, the federal program that places young people with nonprofits to get training and do public-service work."

That last could have as many as 5,000 young journalists in training to be paid $35,000 per year. Given the way government works, they'd probably be in training to become propagandists. There's more: McChesney and Nichols propose that "the government pay half the salary of every reporter and editor up to $45,000 each," and give more money to television and radio stations so that they would hire experienced reporters laid off from newspapers.

One other idea of theirs, for a "Citizenship News Voucher"-every American adult gets a $200 voucher to use for donating to a nonprofit news medium-would be sweet for WORLD, but every other industry could then come up with reasons for having its own vouchers, and government control problems also loom. Besides, the authors propose raising money for their schemes through new and higher taxes on consumer electronics, cellphones, broadcasting, and advertising.

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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