Mid-Watch Report: December 2005
Journalists as Theologians and Preachers

by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy

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Mid-Watch Report The American Night Watch (TM)

of  The American Night Watch
Vol. 6   No. 1   December 2005

Journalists as Theologians and Preachers

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away . . . the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory . . . . 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8

Something about the Christian holidays causes the creative juices of some journalists to flow; resulting in reports in print or on television from writers that are anything but friendly to traditional Christianity.

This seems to be the reverse of what is described in Acts 17. Luke tells us that the apostle Paul, troubled by the strength of idolatry in the marketplace in Athens, started preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to turn people away from paganism (Acts 17:16, 17). Secular journalists today, on the other hand, apparently vexed by the presence of traditional Christianity around them, are motivated to convince people to surrender their belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a generic "spirituality." The unstated message of many of their reports seems to be, "Trust us to tell you the truth -- not believers and especially not the clergy." In denying that that any religion, especially Christianity, has universal truth, they become the theologians and preachers of their own universal truth of religious unbelief. And so they proceed to preach in their amiable but dogmatic way not to believe in the birth of Christ as told in Scripture, nor His teaching concerning sin, nor His bodily resurrection, nor judgment, nor hell, nor heaven, nor much of anything else related to orthodox Christianity. "Go ahead and celebrate the religious holdays," they seem to say, "feel good about them and have a good time -- as long as you believe that they have no basis in fact." It seems that for them one's religion is like one's taste in ice cream, a matter of choice, not truth; and with about as much importance as one's preference in desert foods. Implied in their presentation is the argument that people who were believing Christians and Jews in the past were ignorant and that people today can and should be smarter. There is, of course, no shortage of unbelieving scholars and clergy happy to be quoted saying of traditional Christianity, "No one believes that any more."

However, opposition to Christianity is hardly a recent development. It is as old as the Christian faith itself. Jesus was put to death in an attempt to prevent the spread of His teachings. The young Paul originally called "Saul" was a well-educated individual who, before his conversion, believed that Christians should be imprisoned or killed and that it was his personal mission to spearhead the effort (1 Timothy 1:12, 13; Acts 7:58-8:3, 9:1-30).

Luke tells us that after the apostle Paul preached in the marketplace at Athens for a while, the local philosophers became concerned about what Paul was preaching and invited him to come to Mars Hill so they could evaluate his message (Acts 17:18-20). Before Paul finished speaking, a number of these intellectuals judged Paul's words to be nonsense, ridiculed him, and walked out. But not all. Luke tells us that as Paul left, "some men joined him and believed, among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them" (Acts 17:33, 34).

What happened on Mars Hill was something of a pattern for the way Christianity would grow in relation to pagan intellectuals. Along the way, some became convinced of the truth of Christianity. But, most ancient pagans who considered themselves scholars whether Epicureans, Stoics, Platonists, or Skeptics looked at Christianity as intellectually indefensible nonsense. They fully expected Christianity to die out and believed their arguments against Christianity would hasten its demise.

A contemporary of Jesus, the erudite Philo of Alexandria, busied himself interpreting the Old Testament from the perspective of Greek philosophy so that he could make Judaism fit more eaily into Greco-Roman culture. His influence was felt even in the early Christian community. And, for hundreds of years, although Christians argued against pagan philosophers, the beliefs of many Christians were strongly affected by pagan philosophy. Modified teachings of Plato and Aristotle would find their way into Christian thought for over a fifteen hundred years; a trend that was largely, but not totally stemmed by the Protestant Reformation of the 1500's.

When John Wesley preached the Gospel in England in the 1700's, he was shunned by many in the intellectual community in spite of the fact that he had taught Greek and logic at Oxford University. The group he founded was called "Methodist" as a term of derision. Through it all, however, a commitment to the Scriptures and to the central traditions of Christianity maintained the core of the faith in both the eastern and western churches right down to our own time.

Like their pagan counterparts of two thousand years ago, modern unbelievers expect that Christianity will die out soon and are anxious to hasten the process. To their way of thinking, it seems, Christians would have done better to have followed Philo than to have passed down the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, there are almost certainly more traditional, orthodox Christian believers in the world today than ever before.

Many Christian believers today are highly educated individuals who follow Jesus Christ and believe His teachings because they have judged on the basis of the evidence that there is good reason to do so; not because they have been bamboozled by clever talk.

There is no natural law stating that journalists are less likely to be gullible than Christian believers. There is also no less reason to believe in Jesus Christ and His message today than at any time in the past. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, properly understood, is still marvelously unique, fresh, and heart-warming. Lives are still being changed by Jesus Christ today. The Gospel deserves to be heard on its own terms from those who understand and believe it; not solely from those who distort the message and often Christian history to support their own unbelief.

Journalists, of course, have every right to write about whatever they believe merits their attention. Rather than just be scandalized, Christians should take the opportunity to learn from whatever criticisms have some basis in fact, since unbelievers will seldom be shy about presenting the faults of Christians today and in the past, and thus are better able to challenge us to serve our Lord more wisely today than some have in the past. At the same time, many journalists would do better to understand why many intelligent people choose to become devoted to Jesus Christ and His teachings today than to simply pass off Christian belief as an old-fashioned form of ignorance or worse. In any case, it seems inappropriate for journalists to cloak activity as theologians and preachers under the fig leaf of "journalism" and to claim that this gives them the unique right to a better hearing that the advocates of that religion. It should be recognized by all, including secular journalists themselves, that they reflect their own religious beliefs and biases; and too often when it comes to traditional Judaism and Christianity, their ignorance and arrogance as well. - SMD

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