Truth is most powerful in a free forum
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
”Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”
“Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you.”
God Is Communication
Of all the domains, communication is the most difficult to isolate and study. The entire Bible is made up of books, poems, and letters, which God intended, along with everything else He made, to communicate Himself. He is the Word. The visible world reveals His invisible attributes. Man is made in His image. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth and Jesus reveals the Father. Everything God does is communication and everything you and I do communicates. We are communicators made in the image of a communicating God. One great difference between biblical thought and all other worldviews and religions is that scripture records God communicating with man while others are attempting to find God. Again, we have no single text for this domain because the entire Bible is communication, but we will look at an overview of the subject.
God compares Himself to words. He calls Himself the Living Word (John 1:14) and says that words have power if we give them power. As much as any other arena, the domain of communication reveals the sovereign will of God’s human creation and our individual ability to choose to listen, see, believe, and say what we like. God will not overrule that sovereignty of the individual, even for His own message. We have the power, we have the right, to accept or reject anyone’s ideas, concepts, or words. Our job as Christians is not to overpower others with our view of the world, but to persuasively communicate our message – to give others a choice so that, by the grace of God, “we might win some.”
We Are Sovereign
God is sovereign and, created in His image, we are sovereign. What are we sovereign over? We are sovereign over ourselves. We should not sin, but we can sin. God does not desire to be separated from us, but we can choose to separate from Him. We do not have to spend eternity in heaven; we can accept or reject the truth when it is presented to us. When we study communication and the domain of the individual we see the power of sovereignty and just how wonderfully, and terrifyingly, we are made.
Research reveals that we are literally able to see and hear what we want to see and hear. We filter out messages that we reject or that make us uncomfortable. For example family members of alcoholics literally cannot see the pattern of abuse because it is too painful. Whole people groups can be virtually invisible within a culture, such as women in Afghanistan or Indians in America. I see this every year in the productions of our communications students’ videos. Whether Asian, black, islander or white, they fill their pieces with their own kind. No matter what the dominant race on location, they film those who are like them because that is whom they see.
This difference of perspective is so predictable in human society, that if two or three witnesses in court testify that they have seen exactly the same things, the testimony is thrown out. It is assumed by the court that they have collaborated on their testimony. We have such a powerful sovereign will that we are literally able to rule over the messages we are willing to receive and reject.
Today’s World View
Today, the view amongst most non-Christians and Christians alike is the opposite of what God stresses in His Word. We claim that culture, family, individuals are being destroyed by television, movies, music, and mass media. But God says in His Word that He has placed authority with the individual; He has given His human creation the power to choose.
If communication media were powerful in and of themselves, evangelism of the world would be simple and cheap; we could just broadcast God’s Word from every street corner in the world. The power of the media would overwhelm people and they would be converted. Or we could use television or radio. But as soon as converts were exposed to a different message they would be unconverted. If they watched Christian T.V., they would convert, but if they switched the channel and watched an atheist program they would unconvert. Of course, this is ridiculous and I am being facetious, but that is a fair conclusion to this exaggerated sense of media power. The media are not powerful in and of themselves. They are an influence that we, the audience, choose to empower or not. God clearly conveys in His word that power on earth rests with the individual. Why? Because that is the way God made us.
Does that mean content doesn’t matter? No, not at all. There is good content and bad content, good quality and poor quality. But at the end of the day, people have watched and listened to what they want to be influenced by. The popularity of a given message is a reflection of the audience, not the power of the message itself. The power belongs to the individual and when we embrace this as the way God created us to function, we embrace our role as communi- cators who offer people a choice.
Jesus Did Not Silence Anyone
If we are to think like God, we must be more concerned with what is not being conveyed through the media than what is. We get so busy trying to silence those who disagree with us that we fail to notice that the truth is not being conveyed. We worry that the Internet is proliferating pornography and forget the printing press did the same thing. The Gutenberg press that helped create a revolution in printing the Bible also created a revolution of smut. Technology is neutral. It multiplies the message, good or bad. So for what “good” are we to use the Internet? What alternative are we giving those who are surfing the web? The problem with the media since the invention of the television is what is missing rather than what is there. Are there choices? Can the truth be found? That is our responsibility as God’s people. We can see this in the life of Jesus.
If you study the New Testament carefully, you will find no documentation of Jesus silencing anyone…except demons, and they were all speaking the truth.1 Jesus made no attempt to stifle the voice of the Romans, the Greeks, the Zealots, the Pharisees, or any of the hundreds of messages flooding His region of the world that He did not agree with. All were given free reign to continue disseminating any message they believed in. Jesus did, on the other hand, safeguard His right to continue freely bringing His message until He knew it was time for his arrest.
The absence of righteousness and truth in others’ messages was not a concern to Him. He focused on the freedom to bring His message into that open forum. God was giving people a choice, not demanding control of what they were hearing. Truth, in a free forum, speaks for itself. God is not interested in hiding evil. God is interested in us comparing light to darkness and making a choice between the two. Truth in the midst of a free forum is self-evident. The absence of righteousness means people have no choice. Rather than focusing on what is in the public forum, our concern as the people of God should be what is missing. Rather than spending all our energy on silencing those we disagree with, we should spend time making our message available. Scripture indicates that the light actually has more impact in darkness.
Developed Vs. Undeveloped
These principles of communication, applied to communities and nations, produce interesting evidence. Not one developed country today is without a free press. Perhaps more importantly, not one undeveloped country has a free press. It would seem that the freedom of expression of ideas is tied directly to people feeling responsible for their societies. It is true, with a free press, lies can be told and the freedom abused, but with a free press, the truth can be told and people can make a choice.
Christians who believed in the right to communicate began the first newspaper in the United States. The masthead of that paper read, “To Cure The Spirit Of Lying.” The only thing needed to bring salt and light to a free nation with a free communication system is someone willing to tell the truth. If we want to secure the right to a free forum for our own message, we must defend others’ right to speak.
Words have power, but they are not the power of control; they are the power of influence. God does not seek to take control of us; He seeks to offer choices and, by seeing the worth of His truth, win us to Himself. He has made us sovereign over our own mind and soul, over our destiny. His desire is that we use our eyes to see the difference between deception and reality, our ears to hear the difference between lies and truth. God does not want to hide evil, He wants us to be able to see it for what it is and make a choice. We have embraced non-biblical thinking when we make the message more powerful than the person.
The Medium Is Not The Message
Christians were ecstatic when Gutenberg first invented movable type. Printing could now put inexpensive Bibles in the hands of believers. The use of this technological innovation by the church was such a revolution that Christian publishing still outnumbers all other uses in the industry. As newspapers evolved, Christians were in the forefront. The Salvation Army produced the first feature-length movie. Christian communicators have such passion for the use of radio that Christians today own more radio licenses worldwide than any other single group.
With the emergence of television, computers, and the Internet, however, the Christian thinking on media changed dramatically. Rather than seeing new technology as an opportunity for making the truth known in new ways, it was seen as a threat and, perhaps, evil in and of itself because of its potential to carry destructive messages. This shift in the view of communication has resulted in an absence of any significant contribution to these media. The early leaders in the film industry were self-governing, and religious leaders were automatically included in review boards. The Christian leaders pulled out of this “secular” arena, rather than being asked to leave by the film industry. As God gives us the greatest communication technologies in the history of man, there is little vision or passion for the use of these new media.
Of course, this view of technology is not biblical. All scientific discovery is morally neutral. Only the use of it could be classified as good or evil. If we do not repent of our wrong thinking in this area, the “age of communication” may be known in history as the darkest age of all.
The Importance Of Words
Throughout the Old Testament and into the New the importance of our words is dramatically emphasized. Whether in relationship to keeping promises and vows, testimony and bearing witness, treaties or agreements with other nations, or our accountability before God for every
word, the importance is weighty. The Jewish community still understands these communication principles and is committed to the communication industry, making their story known, and retaining respect for the verbal contract.
There could be no more dramatic difference between the Jews and their Arab cousins than this view of words. We are flabbergasted as we watch leaders from another region of the world on television swear that there is no invading army, even as tanks roll in behind him. At first glance, we think that is just arrogance or stupidity, but it is far more important than that. Their ability to say something completely unrelated to apparent facts is tied to two beliefs: one, there are no objective facts – truth is whatever God wants to be true; and, two, words mean nothing. In a world-view where God is the only reality, where there are no checks and balances to that reality, words mean little because no reality can be communicated. We mean nothing and our words mean nothing. This is very close to the post-modern idea of “reality is anything I believe it to be.”
It is impossible to overstate the Judaic/Christian influence of reality and truth of communication on the development of justice, science, economics, and general quality of life in the West. Our entire concept of contracts, testimony, agreements, and relationships are built on the importance and the reality of words. Much of our frustration in dealing with the East, the Middle East and beyond is that we fail to realize this view of communication has not been part of the building blocks of these cultures. Part of “teaching the nations” is laying a biblical foundation of communication.
Themes to consider when studying and coloring the subject of communication in scripture: the use of the book, poetry, historical, speeches, scribes, messengers, the tongue, words, scrolls, tablets, monuments, writing, signs, storytelling.
The domain of communication reveals: The Living Word
The primary attribute of God revealed in communication: Sovereignty
God governs this domain through: The laws of human nature
The color I used: Red
WORKING VOCATIONAL MISSION STATEMENT:
To provide truthful, objective information of importance to the community-at-large so that citizens can make informed decisions.
A NOTE TO ALL BELIEVERS:
I always get quite an audience reaction with this teaching on communication. Parents argue that they don’t want their children exposed to everything that is out there; others ask if I am defending everything that is on T.V. and in movies. I get questions about record-burning and library standards for the community. Much of this is put forth with a great deal of emotion.
As parents or responsible adults caring for young children, we have to set a standard for what is good and what we approve of, and what is “premature” for a child to be exposed to. We have the right and the responsibility to do this. However, we must also prepare the child for young adulthood where he will no longer be protected by others and may be exposed, in a fallen world, to almost anything. If the result of our discipleship is confidence and discernment in the young adult then, like Daniel’s parents, we have done a good job. If the result in the young adult is fear and the need to live an insular life then we have produced a cripple and a Christian who must live in a cave. Rather than knowing how to be in the world and not of it, we have produced a religious hermit who cannot be in the world at all. We clearly cannot be salt and light in hiding.
What this means, then, is that we must teach our charges the standards to use in discerning the communication that will come across their path. We must teach them to interpret the message, discern the thinking behind it. What is biblical and what is not? There is danger in how truth is communicated as well. Would we be able to discern that it was demons who cried out, “This is the Christ… this is the One who is coming”? Jesus could. This is the discernment we want to multiply.
Our freedom as Christians to communicate our message is tied to our defense of others’ right to do the same. In our zeal to see a better web, movie, T.V. and general communication industry and environment, we must not deny so many rights that we lose our right to speak through the same media. I think it is at least fair to ask the question, “Would Jesus have been allowed to preach at all in a Jerusalem controlled by orthodox pharisaism?” Did the paganism of the Romans actually contribute to a freer environment for the preaching of the Gospel? We want to be very careful about supporting any movement that seeks to drastically limit a free forum of communication within a nation.
A NOTE TO COMMUNICATION PROFESSIONALS:
I led a public relations work in Washington D.C. in the 80’s and my media friends estimated at the time that of approximately 7,000 journalists working there, perhaps 20 or less were Christian. In some ways it was more popular among evangelicals to be a prostitute than a journalist. At least prostitutes were candidates for salvation; journalists were perceived as the “enemy.” Things have improved, but this is still a ripe field ready for salt and light.
I have worked with thousands of young people over the last three decades who want to become communication professionals. Because of the environment they have grown up in, they tend to define Christian media work as preaching on T.V. or radio. It is as though we are unable to think of a purpose in media beyond evangelization and church. This is the by-product of split thinking. I often ask people what a Christian wheel would look like. What would a Christian or biblical pilot do? Of course they have a hard time defining a “good” wheel or a “good” pilot because the very thing that makes a good pilot “good” is already a biblical view whether we realize it or not. If we take it a step further to news, entertainment, documentary, or any other area of communication…what does the “Christian” version look like? Are you part of a generation to find out?
1. Mark 3:12