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Biblical Objectivity

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Before you begin publishing a newspaper or magazine, you should be able to describe coherently your publication’s theological, political, and cultural perspective. Merely saying that your publication is Christian is not enough: Liberal denominations have so devalued verbal theological precision that the glorious word Christian can mean little more than, "We hope to be nice."

A better place to start is with J. I. Packer’s succinct definition of biblical faith: "God saves sinners." Our holy God saves; man is totally incapable of saving himself; neither government nor any other institution can save us. Our righteous God saves through his sovereign grace, not because of anything we do but out of love for those He calls and covers over with Christ’s blood. Our compassionate God saves sinners; we are not essentially good and brought down by a flawed social environment. We are sinners.

You may differ from other Christian journalists on some doctrinal matters, but there is no point in being a Bible-based editor or reporter unless you agree that sinful man needs Christ as Savior and also 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. Bible-based magazines and newspapers, like individual Christians, should be in the top right-hand quadrant of the adjacent graph (Figure 1), witnessing to God’s saving power but also to ways in which transformed sinners can take Christ-centered dominion over parts of God’s creation.

Some people and publications, however, are at top left, praising Christ as Savior but trusting in worldly rather than biblical wisdom to live their lives and cover the news; they emphasize moments of justification but pay less attention to years of perseverance. Others emphasize the Lord’s rules but not his saving grace and thus practice a disciplined but joyless Christianity that rapidly becomes legalistic (the bottom-right quadrant). And non-Christians, of course, are in the lower-left quadrant, just saying no to Christ as either Savior or Lord.

This book is addressed to those who are or want to be in the top-right quadrant, and to all of you I speak emphatically: 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.

Some hard-edged reporters might contend that ideas do not have practical consequences, but biblical commitment or lack of it will radically affect your publication’s posture in every area. Some evangelicals have tended to become otherworldly, and others in recent years have compromised with secular liberalism, the dominant cultural trend of recent decades. Courageous Christian journalists, however, need a biblical understanding of this world; only then can their analysis go far beyond the conventional wisdom.

Furthermore, sound theology has consequences in political philosophy: An understanding of sin and a willingness to battle government-supported sin will place you, in the current American political spectrum, right of center. Some Christians are political liberals, but they should realize that the liberal emphasis in twentieth-century America has been on liberation from traditional institutions–family, church, business–in the belief that these institutions are oppressive. They should also see that liberals repeatedly have used governmental power to batter the walls of those institutions: Some of the battering has been unintentional, but the assault is increasingly deliberate. They should see that liberal culture, which emphasizes government rather than family and stresses subjectivity (as in the freedom to choose abortion) rather than objective truth, is becoming the established religion, one that Christians should oppose.

An understanding of sin will even lead you to become what could be called a "biblical conservative." The word conservative, of course, carries a heavy burden. Many blacks during past decades have associated it with racism, and the Social Darwinist variety of conservatism–humanity evolves economically through survival of the financially fittest and elimination of the poor–has turned its back on the needy. Nevertheless, conservatives generally believe that limitations on human progress come out of human nature, not external forces. Furthermore, conservatives who fight for limited government may privately defend sin, but they do not use governmental force to push others to sin.

Although non-Christian conservatives do not understand the origins and true nature of sin, they see its consequences and are unlikely to buy government-surplus stain removers that in practice grind the evil deeper into the social fabric. The next four-quadrant graph (Figure 2) distinguishes from left to right those who emphasize unbounded human potential and those who understand the limitations of sinful man, and from top to bottom a reliance on the Bible versus a first turning to man’s wisdom.

You must grasp the depth of sin’s ravages if you are to understand the full need for Christ’s sacrifice: If man is essentially good, Jesus did not have to die. At the same time, an understanding that God saves sinners will push you toward biblical compassion, which means suffering with those in need and offering a Christ-based challenge to sinful practices. (True compassion is very different from the liberal, social universalist variety that assumes natural goodness and thus offers merely a pat on the back and coins in the pocket.)

A stress on biblical compassion also separates Christians from those secular conservatives who twist the biblical understanding of man’s limitations into scorn for tender mercies. Those differences can be expressed graphically in a way that also depicts the position of Marxists who take liberal ideas of man’s goodness and, hoping to speed up the move to utopia, exalt ruthlessness.

The secular left and the secular right are both wrong, but at least those who emphasize private rather than governmental action are less likely to seize power and spread mass misery, as Figure 3 suggests.

My hope is that you will develop or support a biblically conservative publication that combines a stress on man’s sinfulness with a concern for others that is based in God’s holy compassion. I hope that you will criticize liberal evangelicals but not see them as the chief opponents; rather, you should concentrate on the aggression of secular liberals and help to turn back that aggression by forming coalitions with secular conservatives on issues such as governmental control of welfare, education, and health care.

In short, you can be most useful if you fight a limited war against secular liberal culture, which is the dominant social, political, and philosophical force in America today. Your goal should not be the creation of a new Israel or the winning of total victory, for we know that God has placed us in Babylon, and that Christian triumph will come only when Christ returns. Your goal should be faithful perseverance in the containment of evil. Other Christians may have different objectives, in part because there are differing understandings as to whether evangelicals should oppose liberalism, in part because some of our brothers hope to create a new Israel out of American society. Figure 4 notes agreements and differences.

My proposal is that we fight a limited war. We cannot destroy sin–Christ will take care of that when He comes again–but through God’s grace we can contain it, and regain lost ground when possible. All Christians try to contain sin through prayer, through building strong churches and strong families, and through worshipping and taking action in many different ways. Some Christians are called to particular strategies of containment; for example, some work politically, and others establish crisis pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, or biblically based homeless shelters. Your particular calling may be to work journalistically; our weapons are not guns but biblical ideas prayerfully applied to public issues.

How will you–or any of us–know the right applications? Only by realizing that this is the world that the Lord has made, and that only He understands it fully. The Christian journalistic goal, then, is true objectivity: presentation of the God’s-eye view. We acknowledge our inability to do that, since we are sinners with fallen wills and very limited understanding. Nevertheless, we do not give up. The Koran calls Allah "inscrutable," but the Bible shows that God reveals his thoughts to man. Much remains hidden, as Job learned, and much we see darkly, as the apostle Paul pointed out. Still, we do have some sight, and when we study the Bible to see what God says about issues, we can come closer to that God’s-eye view.

The opportunity to approach true objectivity also depends on the nature of the issue. White-water rafters speak of six classes of rapids: class-one rapids are easy enough for a novice to navigate, and class-six rapids whisper death. The issues that journalists report are rapids; providentially, the Bible is clear enough so that many of them fall into class one or two. Here are the classes and examples:

Class one: explicit biblical embrace or condemnation. The Bible condemns homosexuality so clearly that only the most shameless of those who twist Scripture can try to assert the practice’s biblical acceptability. Biblical objectivity means showing the evil of homosexuality; balancing such stories by giving equal time to gay activists is ungodly journalism. Similarly, in an article showing the sad consequences of heterosexual adultery there is no need to quote proadultery sources.

Class two: clearly implicit biblical position. Even though there is no explicit biblical injunction to place children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear. Biblical objectivity means supporting the establishment and improvement of Bible-based education, and criticizing government schools, in the understanding that turning education over to "professionals" who have no regard for God is an abdication of biblical parental responsibility.

Class three: partisans of both sides quote Scripture but careful study allows biblical conclusions. On poverty-fighting issues, partisans from the left talk of God’s "preferential option" for the poor, but the biblical understanding of justice means giving the poor full legal rights and not treating them as more worthy than the rich by virtue of their class position. Since even widows are not automatically entitled to aid, broad entitlement programs are suspect. Biblically, provision of material help should be coupled with the provision of spiritual lessons; the poor should be given the opportunity to glean but challenged to work.

Class four: biblical understanding backed by historical experience. Even though there is no indisputable biblical commandment that strictly limits government, chapter 8 of 1 Samuel describes the dangers of human kingship, and it is clearly bad theology to see government as savior in areas such as health care. The historical record over the centuries is clear, and in recent American experience we have particular reason to be suspicious of the person who says, "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you."

Class five: biblical sense of human nature. On class-five issues there is no clear biblical mandate and no clear historical trail, but certain understandings of human nature can be brought to bear. For example, those who believe that peace is natural emphasize negotiations and disarmament. A biblical understanding of sin, however, leads to some tough questions: What if war is the natural habit of sinful, post-Fall man? What if some leaders see war as a useful way to gain more power in the belief that they can achieve victory without overwhelming losses? History is full of mistaken calculations of that sort–dictators have a tendency to overrate their own power–but they may still plunge ahead unless restrained by the obvious power of their adversaries. Objectivity in such a situation emphasizes discernment rather than credulity: If we do not assume a benign human nature concerning warfare, we need to plan for military preparedness and raise the cost of war to potential aggressors.

Class six: Navigable only by experts, who might themselves be overturned. On a class-six issue there is no clear biblical position, no historical trail for the discerning to apply, and not much else to mark our path. On an issue of this kind–NAFTA is a good example–you should balance views and perspectives.

This six-fold definition suggests a framework for biblical objectivity that will enable you to push hard but avoid twisting Scripture. When you take a very strong biblical stand on a class-one or class-two issue, you will be objective. When you take a more balanced position on a class-five or class-six issue by citing the views and approaches of a variety of informed sources, you also are being biblically objective, because we cannot be sure on an issue when the Bible is not clear. Objectivity is faithful reflection of the biblical view, as best we can discern it through God’s Word. When there is no view that we can discern, then we cast about for wisdom where we can find it.

It is important to keep in mind throughout this process that many rapids are class one or two. One of the great contributions of the Protestant Reformation was its emphasis on the perspicuity (literally, the "see-through-ableness") of Scripture. All Christians are commanded to search the Scriptures (John 5:39, Acts 17:11, 2 Tim. 3:15—17). It is bad to mistake hard rapids for easy ones, but experienced Christian journalists who read the Bible faithfully can have confidence in their ability to paddle aggressively through most rapids without being thrown into freezing water.

Accuracy and fairness are always essential for journalists; fear is not. There is no need to approach every issue as if it were a class six. At the same time, arrogance is ungodly and also unproductive: If a Christian journalist pulls a Bible verse out of context in order to tell readers that God commands a specific action in relation to Bosnia or Korea, he generates sneers among those disposed to think that all biblical application is of the here-a-verse, there-a-verse variety. There is nothing wrong with cautiously approaching a truly dangerous section of the river.

In summary, biblical objectivity–commitment to proclaiming God’s objective truth as far as we know it–has different applications on different kinds of questions. Biblical objectivity does not fall into relativism or situational ethics, however, because its sole ethic is to reflect biblical positions. In that way its philosophical base is diametrically opposed to the prevailing liberal theory of objectivity, which assumes that there is no true truth on any issue and that every issue must thus be approached as if it were a class six. Christ did not die for us so that we would be captives of fear.

Liberal theory emphasizes the balancing of subjectivities: Specific detail A, which points a reader in one direction, should be balanced by specific detail B, which points the reader in another. A prosomething statement by Person X is followed by an antisomething statement from Person Y. In practice, this objectivity has limitations: Reporters have never felt the need to balance anticancer statements with procancer statements. In recent practice, secular-liberal reporters have seen pro-life concerns or homophobia as cancerous, and many other Christian beliefs as similarly harmful. But you should be aware that many reporters still publicly maintain their so-called objectivity.

The balancing act in recent years has become farcical: Many reporters privately acknowledge that they put their hands on the scales, but try to do so in subtle ways unnoticed by readers. Christian journalists, in situations where the Bible shows us the right path (and it does so most of the time), should reject both the theory and the farce. Biblically, there is no neutrality: We are either God centered or man centered.

Christian reporters should give equal space to a variety of perspectives only when the Bible is unclear. Editors who see leftist evangelicals as misled should still give them a chance to respond to questions–but a solidly Christian news publication should not be balanced. Its goal should be provocative and evocative, colorful and gripping, Bible-based news analysis.

The kind of approach suggested here–even novices can aggressively hit those class-one and class-two rapids, and more experienced reporters can shoot through class threes and fours as well–is also liberating for Christian reporters, who should not have to pretend: Readers deserve to know the whole story and the perspective from which it is being told, and writers do their best work when they are allowed to tell what they know and believe.

Again, it is vital to distinguish between journalism and propaganda. In navigating tricky rapids, Christian journalists should try not to ignore boulderlike facts that may be shocking enough to force a change in course: Through crisis God teaches us. Later chapters will also note the need to avoid propagandizing, but the crucial need always for Christians is discernment, the ability to apply the Bible to specific situations as they arise, and for humility when it comes to the tougher problems, as Figure 5 suggests:

In practice at World, I roughly categorize probable stories by rapids class, with the proviso that the classification may change as we gain more insight. For example, a World analysis of anti-addiction organizations began with the assumption that tough Bible-based programs could succeed, and governmental programs that by law exclude God would fail. (This would not be a class-one story because the Bible does not say explicitly that secular antidrug programs will have low success rates. It might be a class two in that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"; but I had looked into other programs in the past and had seen the difference that Christ makes, so I was proceeding on a biblical sense backed up by history.)

Often assumptions prove inaccurate, but in this case the evidence backed them up. Here are excerpts from the story,"A Government Cure for Sin," that resulted:

Mogan eases his lanky 6-feet-3-inch frame under staple-suspended wiring that would have brought an adrenaline rush to any building inspector; he steps through doorways that seem to be shedding paint and structural integrity each time his heavy footfalls shake the dubious wooden floors.

"Just in here," Mogan says, ducking another electrical cord and flashing a smile at a Hispanic man peeling potatoes at the sink. "Here: the tile. Look at the workmanship."

About half of one wall of a nightmare kitchen in a decaying, discolored three-story house is tiled. Mogan is right; the tile is straight, unchipped, clearly the work of someone who cares. At second glance, the wiring isn’t so bad, either. It hangs from the ceiling, but no bare metal shows. The floors are old and achy, but they’re swept clean.

Mogan, a 43-year-old former drug dealer, returns to boasting about the tile work. The man who did it, he says, is one of "us." Mogan explained, "He was an addict for years, then he came to Victory Outreach," an inner-city ministry founded by and for addicts who have turned to Christ and rejected their old lifestyles.

Like the tile work, Victory Outreach’s drug rehabilitation program in Houston’s dismal Third Ward back streets is unexpected order amid chaos. Through the sounds of sirens and blaring horns from the nearby interstate, through the vocal posturing of politicians promising drug rehabilitation for all who need it, Mogan speaks softly about what works–and why the government’s preferred methods of rehabilitation don’t.

"It’s not a disease," he says of addiction. "It’s something you do to yourself, it’s an action you take. It’s sin."

Following the descriptive lead came a look at the disjunction of Washington theory and street practice. First came the official story.

President Clinton traveled to a Maryland prison on Feb. 9 to announce his new strategy in the war on drugs. Citing his cocaine-abusing brother and his alcoholic stepfather, the president told prisoners he wants to spend $13.2 billion beginning Oct. 1 to fight this "threat to the stability of our society and the economic future of our country."

Law enforcement would be beefed up by $271 million, but interdiction efforts, now de-emphasized, would be cut by $94.3 million. Treatment would be boosted from $826.5 million to $5.4 billion. Of that, new government treatment programs costing $355 million would treat 140,000 "hard-core" drug abusers.

Then the streetwise reality:

Pastor Mike Hernandez inspected on Feb. 14 a possible new recovery house and reflected on the president’s plan, wondering what kind of treatment Clinton was talking about.

"I understand what [the government] wants to do, but all the money in the world isn’t going to buy them one rehabilitation," Hernandez says. "In fact, the more money that is there, the more harm. I call them the dogs of war–the people who put together these drug-treatment programs. They’ll see the money, they’ll start a program and find some addicts, and then you have five doctors and three lawyers getting the government to pay them. It costs them nothing [emotionally] because they have no love for the addicts, and because they have no love, they have no success."

After presenting the disjunction, reporter Roy Maynard brought in additional evidence.

The debate is on. Clinton showed his desire to move away from a war on drugs and cling more tightly to the concept of drug addiction as a disease: "I know treatment works." But the track record of government programs has been, Hernandez knows, simply dismal. For example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a stinging evaluation last year of Minnesota’s government programs, which are widely copied and commended.

"The $100 million-a-year Minnesota treatment industry claims a recovery rate of 60 to 70 percent," the newspaper reported. But "findings show that the short-term abstention rate is certainly less than 50 percent. And observations from halfway houses and drug and alcohol abusers themselves indicate that the true, long-term success rate may be closer to 30 percent, even as little as 10 percent."

Maynard then took on a pet government-funded program.

And although it’s a drug prevention–as opposed to drug rehabilitation–program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (better known by its acronym, DARE) is by far the largest antidrug effort in the nation, with $700 million per year being spent to send police officers into fifth-grade classrooms across the nation. It, too, is a failure, according to a slew of studies.

Although there’s a good chance that some of the 5 million children who go through the 17-week DARE program each year will develop warm feelings about police officers by actually meeting one, a 1991 Kentucky study showed "no statistically significant differences between experimental groups and control groups in the percentage of new users. . . ." according to William Coulson, a California psychologist who has defected from the DARE camp.

DARE’s emphasis on self-esteem–and the belief that low self-esteem leads to drug abuse–is flawed, Coulson adds. Kids "don’t need to be told they’re wonderful," he says. "They need to be given direction."

Maynard further examined the government’s "disease model" and then presented more testimony from the streets.

Mike Hernandez, himself a former drug dealer who now pastors Victory Outreach’s Houston chapter, agrees. "If it was a disease, then science could find a cure," Hernandez says. "But science can’t. What science has come up with–for example, methadone, which I was on even when I was still taking heroin–has failed. This hasn’t. That’s because we’re letting God do the work, letting God do the healing." . . .

"I wasn’t thinking about anything like my environment or peer pressure when I took a drug," Hernandez says. "I just wanted the drug. I knew it was going to feel good. I did it because I wanted to have everything–and I guess to some people, it would look like I did. I had my drugs, I had money from dealing drugs, I had my wife, I had my girlfriends, I had my gang around me. But I also had a void. I knew something was missing. I was trying to fill that void with drugs, with sex, with alcohol, but it wasn’t working. What worked was when my wife was about to leave me and I knew I was at the bottom. That’s when I found out about Victory Outreach, and I told my wife I was going in to detox for a couple of weeks, then come home. But I never came home. Instead, she came in with me, and we’ve been in for 14 years."

Here, then, was a picture of a shoestring program that works–and, unsurprisingly, it ran afoul of government authorities.

In Santa Paula, California, a Victory Outreach chapter bought a farm and incorporated organic farming into its daily regimen of prayer, Bible study, and hard work. More than two dozen men were working the farm and Pastor Bob Herrera converted the barn into a dormitory. County health officials threatened the group with criminal charges for what it termed an illegal conversion. Herrera and his supporters worked to correct that; they eventually moved the men into an old hotel, which Victory Outreach members now manage.

The story’s conclusion then brought us back to its beginning.

Mogan, the 43-year-old former addict, is visibly proud of the fading, 1940s-era house, although he knows Houston city officials would nail the door shut if they were to ever venture out into that part of the 3rd Ward. When the house was given to the ministry a few months ago, Mogan slept on the rotting wooden floors each night to keep out the crack users, dealers, and prostitutes. It will take thousands of dollars to repair and remodel the house, but Mogan isn’t intimidated by the job. The house is now livable–barely.

A group from a Houston Presbyterian church stopped by the other day, Mogan says, and offered to pay for materials to fix the windows, which are at best drafty, but more often simply broken. The bedrooms have tight, Spartan bunk beds. . . .

When asked what the neighbors thought when more than a dozen drug addicts moved in, Mogan laughs.

"They’re not worried about us attracting a bad element," Mogan says. "They are the bad element. Next door to us, that’s a crack house. The apartments on the other side are drug-infested. This is a gang area. For them, we’re a step up. Also, they know they might need us here someday."

Christian journalists who can pound the pavement to pick up specific detail concerning antidrug programs and approach them biblically are needed not only someday, but right now.


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