While journalism might not be thought of as ancient profession (it developed after the invention of the printing press), you could be forgiven for thinking that it is now an outmoded profession in much the same way that buggy-whip making is now a craft assigned to yesteryear. While the first journalists who lived tens of thousands of years ago were simply people who gave eye-witness reports of events without the benefit of photography or video – or even recorded audio, journalism evolved from one person telling another person what happened into a professional craft where the journalist was trained to get a broader perspective from multiple sources and retell it succinctly to an audience prepared to pay to read it. With the advent of radio and audio recording technology came the emergence of broadcast journalism. With the development of the camera, photo-journalism was born. Then came motion pictures and television journalism. In much the same way that people predicted the demise of physical books with the rise of the internet (more hardcopy books are sold now than at any other time in history) many people are predicting the demise of the journalist and journalism. I think history will prove them wrong. Here’s why.
Cedric: “What on earth was that Ethol?” Ethol: “I think it was one of those new fangle mechanical carriages Cedric!” Cedric: “They’ll never replace the horse and buggy Ethol!”
And the report of this went through all that district. Matthew 9:26
THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE BECAUSE OF JOURNALISM
I have been making the case that ever since Jesus divided time, the world began to become an even better place. Historians such as Professor Rodney Stark of Baylor University have pointed out that Christianity has been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. The impact of Christ, His example, His teaching, and His followers, upon the world changed the way culture regarded women, serving, humility, and truth-telling. And arguably, it was journalists who were initially responsible for this! The earliest accounts of the life of The Christ were told by journalists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – but particularly Luke. Of the gospel writers, he was the only non-eye-witness. He stakes his claims on his efforts to be a thorough journalist who employed the sound principles of journalism – go to the primary sources of a story – to report about The Christ, His teaching, and the deeds of His followers.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4
Luke wrote his account sometime around A.D. 50. Many of the eye-witnesses to the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus, were still alive. A few years after Luke published his account in what has become known as, The Gospel of Luke, the Apostle Paul cited from it and made reference to the many eye-witnesses to the events described by Luke as still being alive – and therefore able to verify or dispute the account.
¶ Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. ¶ For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. First Corinthians 15:1-6
As Professor Stark has demonstrated in several books, Christianity has been a force for good in the world. This has also been documented by the British historian, Professor Jonathan Hill in What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? (How It Shaped the Modern World, 2005). But Christianity’s involvement in pioneering modern journalism was never just limited to the retelling of the life and teaching of the Son of God. At the time it was birthed, history was being written by the Romans who epitomised the saying, History is always written by the victors. From the second century Christians began writing what are now referred to as polemics. A polemic was what we might today call, an exposé. Some of the earliest Christian polemics criticised idolatry and the practice of exposure (the killing of newborns).
“We have been taught that it is wicked to expose even newly-born children, first, because we see that almost all those who are exposed (not only girls, but boys) are raised in prostitution.” Justin Martyr (Saint Justin Martyr, The First Apology, in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. Thomas B. Falls (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1977), 27.)
This journalism contributed to Roman Emperor, Valentinian (364 – 375), banning the practice of infanticide particularly after polemics written by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (330 – 379). Christians writing about the evils of Roman society would have been informed by the Christian teaching of truth-telling :
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible Ephesians 5:11-13
Down through the centuries, authentic Christians have often done journalism based on this teaching. Here is just one example. From the late 1800s King Leopold II of Belgium was conducting a rein of terror across the African nation of the Free State of The Congo as he brutally sought to exploit its natural wealth of rubber, minerals and ivory. His unchecked atrocities came to an end when an English missionary, Alice Seeley Harris, who was also a pioneer photographer and a journalist, began to document the Belgian King’s atrocities with a series of graphic photos. Her journalistic efforts led to ‘Congo gaining its independence and the demise of the King Leopold. You can read more about Alice Seeley Harris and how the work of other Christian journalists have made the world a better place in another article I wrote here. There are of course times when even non-Christian journalists practice the kind of tell-telling-exposure-of-evil encouraged in the New Testament. I think most recently of the Boston Globe investigative team, Spotlight, who exposed the sexual abuse of children by clergy – initially in Boston, then around America, then around the world.
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. Acts 4:23
OLD JOURNALISM IS THE NEW JOURNALISM
In the same way that people who predicted the demise of books with the rise of the internet have been proven wrong, those who predicted the demise of the journalist are also being proven wrong. It may be true that physical newspaper circulations have fallen dramatically, but in the same way that falling buggy-whip sales did not mean the end of private transportation, but rather, a change in the way private transportation occurred, the role of the journalist has now also changed in two dramatic ways. Firstly, the rise of citizen journalism. Secondly, the rise of global platforms. In both cases, those who are succeeding in this era as journalists are those who are practicing the basic principles of good old journalism: tell the truth succinctly; support your reporting with primary-source evidence. If that sounds like the same principles that governs the recording of history, you’re right. And you’re right because journalism is the act of recording history. The first of these two trends means that nearly anyone can be a journalist of sorts, even if it is only for a moment. Whenever someone writes their firsthand recollection of events on social media with supporting pictures or videos, they are practicing citizen-journalism. For those whose vocation is journalism, platforms such as the emerging Apple News+ is a game-changer. This platform, which was announced last Monday (March 25th 2019) by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, will turn newspapers and magazines into the newspapers of Hogwarts and give every journalist a global platform of up to one billion readers.
THE ETERNAL DESTINY OF SOME IS GOING TO BE SHAPED BY THE ROLE OF A JOURNALIST
I want to challenge (young) people who feel called by God to be a journalist to see their schooling, and more importantly, their education, as necessary for their preparation in becoming a journalist. I want to encourage you to learn the elements of your craft: spelling, grammar, lexicology, investigation. I further want to encourage you to write! If you’re young enough, write for your school newspaper. If you’re old enough, write your reflections on an event you attended and post it on a social media. And be consistent. Write regularly. Like any craft, practice makes perfect. And here’s why we need Christ-followers to revive the ancient tradition of Christians doing journalism:
¶ He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. Matthew 13:24-26
Christ ‘sows’ His followers into various parts of the world, the field. But according to Christ’s parable, so does his enemy. Whether wilfully or unwittingly, some journalists serve the purposes of Christ’s enemy. This becomes apparent by their biased reporting – or, more commonly – lack of reporting about news about Christians. For example, in 2013 when France was debating whether to change its laws about marriage, one million people marched on the streets of Paris (28th May 2013) appealing to their government not to change their marriage laws. The event was boycotted by mainstream media outlets. We were all moved by the tragedy in Christchurch on March 15th 2019 when a gunman murdered 50 Muslim worshipers. We grieved with our Kiwi cousins. But in the same week, several hundred Christians were massacred in Nigeria without any mainstream media (MSM) coverage.
A photo of the second time one million concerned French citizens marched on Paris to protest their government’s marriage law changes. May 28th 2013.
Sometimes the selective reporting isn’t quite this dramatic. But when there is so few Christ-followers serving as journalists, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is so much selective reporting portraying Christians as bigots, intolerant, anti-science, hypocritical, hateful, doctrinaire, and anti-women. In fact, there is an urgent need for competent Christ-following journalists to tell our story/ies (better). These stories can be found readily in how we care for refugees, help those traumatised by sexual abuse, aid those battling with post-abortion trauma, provide meals and shelter to the homeless, maintain free medical clinics among Aboriginal communities, provide education to the under-privileged delivering literacy and numeracy skills, and health services in major cities. Added to this, is the good work every church is doing on the frontlines of their own communities, which are almost entirely never told.
As long as the Christian story is largely untold – or, continues to be largely misrepresented – we will be at a disadvantage in society. This is why I am calling for people, particularly young people, who sense the call to be a journalist to commit to the following –
Undertake discipleship training to become familiar sound Biblical theology (2Tim. 2:15)
Learn your craft (Prov. 18:16). This may mean going to university, being mentored, and learning to handle failure and criticism (Prov. 17:10; 24:16).
In addition to this, it is critical that you commit to being a member of a local church and one of its small groups because you will need people who truly know you and pray regularly for you. I know I am not talking to everyone. But I suspect I am talking to someone.
“Daddy, tell me a story” is one of those requests each of my children uttered (and one still does) all through their childhood. Children love stories because they are created in the image of the story-telling God. Stories come in varying degrees of complexity depending upon their intended audience. The reason some stories don’t resonate is often because the medium in which they are told does not resonate with their degree of complexity. When my children were each little I could tell them a story using a picture book which had no words. As they got older I could use storybooks with pictures to tell a slightly more complex story. And when it came to reading the fantasy works of C.S. Lewis, there was only the occasional sketched picture. As our imaginations develop we increase our capacity for conceptualising complex stories which can be in words, text, pictures, dance, installations, music, poetry, drama, video, and fashion. I want to invite Christ-following artists to refocus their gifts and talents toward the One who gave them, because when we ask what’s it going to take to repair our society, artisans are a part of the solution!
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Psalm 106:7 (Notice how Psalms 105 and 106 tell a story)
TIERS OF STORY-TELLING
Ideas are the kernels of stories. Often times we don’t realise that the ideas told in stories have a powerful effect in shaping the way people see the world. If ideas are like water, the way they seep into a culture’s thinking often begins like a little trickle of water down a mountain which eventually grows into a mighty river. Ideas often originate in the halls of universities when lecturers promote their ideas to their influenceable students who will themselves become influential. These ideas, no matter how demonstrably false, such as a person’s feelings define their reality, find their way into the corridors of government. Because they originated in some professor’s “research”, politicians are often swayed by these ideas (without considering closely the actual evidence) – nearly always by hearing a supporting story from someone who is convinced that their imagined reality is actualreality. (History tells us that exceptional cases always make for bad legislation.) And while some people claim that you can’t legislate morality, the truth is, you can only legislate morality (it just depends on whose morality we are legislating!). Legislation is always education. It informs the thinking of a culture about what is right and what is wrong. This then finds its way into the arts of a culture. It pops up in TV shows. It’s normalised by Hollywood. It gets embedded into the novels we read. Poets lyric about it. Singers sing about it. Photographers capture it. Painters paint it. And voila! There you have it. Society unquestionably accepts that the Emperor is clothed with a beautiful suit of the finest golden thread!
These ideas are then discussed over kitchen tables. Thus, ideas trickle down through the various mediums of art (Textbooks > Legislation > Artistry > Dinner-table discussion) –
You will notice in my previous editions in this series I have already argued my case for the need for Christ-followers to enter into the upper tiers of ideation by the political and legal arenas, and the Academy. Many people have noted though, that it is at the level of the arts that ideas truly become accepted. It is claimed that the Scottish poet, Andrew Fletcher, wrote – “Give me the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws!” Whether this can rightly be attributed to the Scot or not, there does seem to be a lot of evidence that this statement rings true (note my article “Something’s Missing“). In fact, many social commentators are now claiming that politics is now “downstream” from the arts. And they maybe right, especially when you consider the history of Christian art and its influence for good upon culture.
And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. Exodus 36:2
THE HISTORY OF CHRIST-INSPIRED ART
From the first century, Christians employed visual art to communicate their faith in Christ as the Saviour of the world. Art is the communication of concepts (ideas). This involves the use of symbolism. God Himself has ordained to use symbolism to convey His Word: text. Early Christian art initially consisted of simple symbols, particularly the fish symbol. The fish was a commonly used symbol in Roman times, so when Christians began using it there were no suspicions raised. Like any symbolism, its power lies in the meaning invested in it. For the early Christians fearing martyrdom, it became a discreet means of associating without fear of publicising their meeting location. The Greek word for fish also formed an acrostic meaning: Jesus / Christ / God’s / Son / Saviour (ἰχθύςIchthys). The Gospel story of Christ taking 2 fish and 5 loaves was apparently something the first Christians re-enacted in their church service when, as part of their worship service, they ate a “Love Meal” together. This practice continued for the first few hundred years of church history. Second Century theologian, Tertullian, linked the symbolism of the fish to the early church’s practice of water baptism by full immersion to mark the new birth of a convert to Christ, “We, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in the water.“
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:26
Music became integral to Christian worship very early. Some of the creedal statements in the New Testament are believed to be the basis of early hymns. These include – 1 Cor.8:6; 15:3-7; Gal.1:23; Rom. 1:3-4; 10:9-10; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Phil.2:5-6; Col.1:12-20; 2:9-15; 1 Pet.3:18-21; Luke 24:34; John 1:1-5, 10-14,16-18. The use of musical instruments in Christian worship also has a long tradition and its use in hymn singing served to help the spread of Christianity by helping the largely illiterate converts to memorise the truth of Scripture. By the 1800s Christian leaders such William Booth (who helped to found the Salvation Army) were using Christian music as a means of outreach to those on the streets of London. Music, lyrically and melodically, has the power to move people to the core of their soul like few other art forms can do. Even hundreds of years later, people are still moved by Handel’s Messiah, and touched by Franz Grüber’s classic, Silent Night.
The art of novel writing began in the 18th century. Some Christians, such as Jane Austen, wrote novels with a Christian worldview in a way that formed the background and air of her stories. Over in France, Victor Hugo wrote stories that were thematically Christian without being preachy. Les Misérables is considered by many to be one of the most powerful sermons on forgiveness and redemption ever preached. Incredibly, this story has been made into a movie at least 52 times (which includes international language versions).
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7
HOW NETFLIX HAS CHANGED THE GAME
Time was when Hollywood ruled the world. But no longer. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed the way movies are watched and made. Added to this, traditional television stations are now offering some programs from their websites and mobile apps that they do not broadcast free to air. The digital revolution now means that aspiring film-makers have an opportunity previously unavailable to any other generation [Watch my movie]. I doubt that ten years ago anyone thought that someone could be a professional YouTuber. But now, there are thousands of video producers around the globe who have given up their day job to concentrate full-time on producing weekly YouTube videos. Amazingly, some of them are making tens of thousands of dollars a month in revenue! (By the way, thank you to both of my YouTube followers!)
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of Me: Psalm 40:7
LEARN YOUR STORY-TELLING CRAFT
If you are an aspiring film-maker, a platform like YouTube is a great place to test the waters and begin to learn or hone your craft. If you’re an aspiring writer, learn or hone your craft through a commitment to writing a weekly blog or serialised novel. While you’re at it, take a course in English from ICI College Australia (affordable distance education). If you’re an aspiring song-writer, find other song-writers to collaborate with. If you’re an aspiring photographer, start posting on Instagram and see what others think. If you’re an aspiring actor, make sure you join a school production first, or a community theatre group. If you’re an aspiring dancer, get lessons. Whatever your art, do all you can to learn how to do it well. Be teachable. Ask for advice.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9
If God has called you to be an artisan, I’m urging you to give your art to God as an act of worship. This doesn’t mean that you have to be make cheesy/preachy art. You might be subtle like Jane Austen or Victor Hugo were. You can tell real stories from a Christian worldview without necessarily telling the Christian worldview story. If you’re called to sing, you don’t always have to sing worship or Gospel songs, but you can promote the virtues of the Biblical worldviewthrough clever story-telling which also involves stoking the viewers’ imagination covertly.
A WORD TO THE WISE
Artists, whether they be audio producers, musicians, videographers, actresses, essayists, poets, advertisers, are the interpreters of ideas. They often take powerful concepts and package them attractively for people to consume over the kitchen tables. The Kingdom needs artists to tell a new generation that there is hope to be found in Christ. The King needs artists to show the world what love really is. The Lord of Life needs His redeemed and creative ones to expose lies and declare truth in a winsome and subtle way that people want others to see as well. But I have a word of caution for you who are these creative redeemed ones. Your craft is like a powerful horse that needs to be saddled. Underneath this saddle called “a theological education” is a blanket called the Bible. Commit to being a Bible reader who acquires a theological education. Just as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were part of a small group known as The Inklings, you need to be in a church-community – the Sunday gathering, and a small group that prays, studies and shares, together. Too many talented artists have come undone because they neglected these three essential things – and I don’t want you to be numbered among them! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Perhaps leave them in the comments below.