Wednesday, December 21, 2011


How to Revitalize Christian Journalism
by Marvin Olasky
Crossway Books, 1996, 303 pages

The best media book you’ll ever read… and it’s free!

If you want to understand the media, if you want to understand how the news business should be done, if you want to know what it means to be truly objective (hint: it actually involves bias – biblical bias!) then you need to read Marvin Olasky’s Telling the Truth.

To give just a taste of the book, here is one of the more important lessons Olasky passes on, using whitewater rafting as an illustration.

We know the God, in his Word, gives us direction on how to please Him, and do what He wills. But in some situations it is clearer than others what his will is. And that is an important point to note, and concede. If we act as if an issue is clear-cut, when in truth the biblical position on the issue is only discernable after extended study, then we will be seen as unreasonable and even arrogant, both to other Christians, and particularly to non-Christians. This too-certain-by-half attitude will ensure that people who might learn from us, won’t want to talk to us. It’s important then, to remember that while the Bible addresses many issues, it does not speak directly to all issues.

In Telling the Truth, Olasky compares the Bible’s various degrees of direction to the six classes of whitewater rapids. Class one rapids can be navigated by anyone, while class six rapids are all but impossible.

Class one: Specific biblical embrace or condemnation. Gay Marriage is a hot topic these days, even in the churches. But the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality is so clear that it can only be misconstrued by those trying to twist Scripture. To pretend that this is anything other than a black and white issue is to act as if the Bible as a whole is meaningless.

Class two: Clearly implicit biblical position. As Olasky notes, “even though there is no explicit command to place our children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear.” So while not explicit, there is a clear implicit biblical directive to follow.

Class three: Partisans on both sides quote Scripture, but careful study does allow biblical conclusions. Some Christians, citing examples like the Good Samaritan, and quoting texts like “love your neighbor as yourself,” think that helping the poor means guaranteeing everyone a certain standard of living. But as Olasky notes, if in the Bible, “even widows are not automatically entitled to aid then broad entitlement programs are suspect…the poor should be given the opportunity to glean, but challenged to work.” With issues like these, looking deeper into Scripture allows us to find a more certain direction.

Class four: Biblical understanding backed by historical experience does allow us to draw some conclusions. While large government initiatives like, for example, a proposed national daycare program, may in many ways seem like wonderful ideas, we can look back through history and see what happens when governments exert more and more influence over daily life. There is no clear biblical directive for limited, smaller government, but Samuel’s warning in 1 Sam. 8 and Lord Acton’s historically verified adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” show us we should be suspicious of any government that seeks to constantly expand its sphere of influence.

Class five: A biblical sense of human nature provides minimal, but real direction. The malevolence of 9/11 shocked many people around the world. They wondered how anyone could do anything so evil. The same sort of reaction occurred 50 years ago when the truth was fully revealed about Hitler’s “Final Solution.” As Christians we know that man is by nature inclined to all sorts of evil, so while we might be saddened we shouldn’t be too surprised at those events. We should recognize that war and violence are more man’s norm than peace, and prepare likewise. So our biblical understanding of human nature shows us that we should prepare, even if it doesn’t make clear how we should prepare.

Class six: These issues are navigable only by experts, who themselves might be overturned. Some issues have no clear biblical position. These issues can range from the local (Should we put up a stoplight at this intersection?) to the national (How should we address the problem of illegal aliens already in the country) to the international (what should be done about Iran's nuclear program?).

It’s all too easy, in a world embracing lawlessness, to overreact and embrace the opposite extreme, but that is also wrong - it is legalism. But to be a true light to the world Christians must remember both to speak out clearly where God’s intent is clear, and to speak out more charitably where God’s direction is less clear.

This is just one of the lessons Olasky teaches in this amazing book. I can't praise this book highly enough: it is one of my ten favorite of all time, a book I have read and reread, and if you are thinking of going into journalism it is simply a must-read. And if you read newspapers or any sort of media, well you'll find it amazing too. And, yet one more amazing thing about it: it is available to be read for free online by clicking here.

That said, if you have any interest in writing or journalism, you'll want the paper copy to highlight and write notes in.. You can get one at here or here.

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