Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the role of Christian journalism and its place at TGC. Click here to read part one.
In the summer after my high school graduation, I moved to Missouri to live with my uncle and to work in a factory making automobile parts. I considered myself something of a go-getter and prided myself on never uttering the phrase, “That’s not my job.” If work needed to be done, I was willing to do it.
But during the first few days on the factory floor the union representative repeatedly pulled me aside to tell me, “Don’t do that. That’s not your job.”
I was offended, and assumed I was being hindered by silly “make-work” union rules. But over time, as I came to understand the functions of my co-laborers, I saw how I was merely getting in the way. I hadn’t recognized that in almost any job—even unskilled manual labor—there can be specialization of knowledge, codes of ethics, and ways of performing task that distinguish and separate work that appears similar.
Today, 30 years later, I’m involved in what might be called “full-time ministry.” But I’m not a pastor; I’m a journalist. When people ask why my work for various ministries isn’t the same as what a pastor would do, I know enough now about both roles to say, “Because that’s not my job.” While the objectives are similar, the roles are different.
Six Types of God’s Work
In his book Faith Goes to Work: Reflections from the Marketplace, Roberts Banks describes the various sorts of work God does, and how through our own vocations we can imitate God’s work. Banks outlines six broad categories of Christian work: redemptive work (God’s saving and reconciling actions), creative work (God’s fashioning of the physical and human world), providential work (God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation), justice work (God’s maintenance of justice), compassionate work (God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding), and revelatory work (God’s work to enlighten with truth). (For more on these roles, see this article.)
In many vocations there is some overlap between these categories. But if we look at a job’s primary mission we’ll often find it closely aligns with one of these six categories. For example, while pastors and evangelists do revelatory and compassionate work, their primary task is redemptive work. In comparison, teachers, scholars, and journalists primarily do revelatory work, even if their work is sometimes compassionate or redemptive work.
(Adding to the confusion is the fact pastors sometimes do the work of journalists, and a Christian journalist may also be an elder or pastor in his local church. When there is overlap between the roles of pastor/ministers, the person should ask which is the primary way in which they serve their neighbors. The answer will help guide them in avoiding conflicts between the two roles. For instance, a journalist who writes about politics may be able to preach on occasion, but a pastor who preaches regularly probably needs to avoid writing too often about political issues.)
The functions of the gospel-oriented journalist are therefore different from the gospel-oriented pastor.
The Gospel and the Journalist
As Tim Keller has said, “there must be one gospel, yet there are clearly different forms in which that one gospel can be expressed. This is the Bible’s own way of speaking of the gospel, and we should stick with it.” The pastor is called to proclaim the full gospel, but especially the three-point outline, which Keller defines as, “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”
“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out,” Keller says, “Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters. Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”
This eschatological element motivates and frames the calling of the gospel-oriented journalist. The Christian journalist must constantly ask how, in the light of the gospel, we are to do God’s work of enlightening our neighbors with truth. Sometimes this means the work will have a definite and obvious gospel outcome (i.e., the article is explicitly biblical in the “Christian” genre). Other times it may mean that while the final product is indistinguishable from “secular” work (in the “common grace” sense), the journalistic process (the choosing of sources, the purpose for the writing, and so on) was guided by a commitment to the gospel.
These other times tend to cause the most controversy. Sometimes it’s because the work of the journalist is not truly shaped by gospel imperatives. But often it’s because the Christian community still has an underdeveloped understanding of the connection between faith and work. Christian journalists, like Christian artists and musicians, are frequently criticized for not being biblically explicit in their work (e.g., “You didn’t even include any Bible verses in your article.”). This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. But since my colleagues who focus on faith and work have frequently written about that problem I’ll move on to discussing how Christian journalism fits into the broader mission of TGC.
The Role of Journalism at TGC
There are three ways to explain why TGC publishes works of Christian journalism.
The first, and simplest, answer is because it’s a natural fit. As the preamble to our foundational documents notes, we are engaged in an “effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age.” The three main forms of journalism we use at TGC (opinion and advocacy journalism; reporting and narrative journalism; explanatory journalism) are all used to help the church think more clearly about the gospel and how it leads us to interact with the world.
The second answer is that journalism is a tool that serves two of TGC’s editorial goals: (1) to help spread revival through telling stories of God's work, and (2) to shape that revival in a biblical manner by highlighting fruitful examples of God's work and exposing counterfeits.
These purposes are intended to extend into the internet era a long, though all but forgotten, tradition of Christian journalism. As TGC’s editorial director Collin Hansen observes in his study of the first religious periodical in America, The Christian History had “unabashedly apologetic aims.”
In the 1740s, Thomas Prince, a Boston pastor and editor of The Christian History, set out to document the development of the Puritan cause with a special focus on the ongoing revival known as the Great Awakening. As Hansen notes, in the first issue of his publication Prince listed his guidelines for submission:
He pledged to publish “Authentick Accounts from Ministers and other creditable Persons.” On the very next page, Prince issued his invitation for ministers and other reputable sources to submit their accounts to him. Yet he also issued further detailed instructions for how ministers should organize their accounts. They should avoid personal reflections; [Jonathan] Edwards was apparently excepted from this clause. They should likewise avoid “angry Controversy.” But mostly, they must include their names. “Since to a nameless Relation of Matters of Fact, no wise Man can give any Credit; as he knows not but the Writer may be one of the least creditable Persons on Earth, and wou’d be known to be so, were his Name divulged.” Because the revival was a public affair, these ministers staked their reputations on defending it as valid. Critics could challenge their discernment as faulty, but they could not successfully prove that the events described in The Christian History were fabricated.
Like Prince, TGC intends to use journalism to document and promote authentic accounts of God’s blessing of revival, in the hopes that it might spread.
The third answer is because TGC’s commitment to doing revelatory work (i.e., God’s work to enlighten with truth) through Christian journalism is connected to the first item in our Theological Vision of Ministry: I. How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth? (The epistemological issue).
In addressing this “epistemological issue,” we primarily focus at TGC on special revelation (i.e., the Bible) and how “Scripture’s truths correspond to reality.” A lesser, secondary focus is on issues of general revelation and finding ways to “affirm that truth is correspondence to reality” in all aspects of our lives.
The truths of special revelation are almost always more important than the truths of general revelation. But we at TGC are committed to the notion, as John Calvin said, that, “All truth is from God.” Calvin also says, “If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears.”
At TGC we are committed to discovering and sharing truth wherever it may be found and in whatever ways might be useful for the contemporary church. We are therefore committed to Christian journalism because we’re committed to carrying out God’s work of enlightening the church with truth “wherever it appears.”