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Volume 8, Issue 1: Ex Libris


Good News: Social Ethics and the Press
Clifford G. Christians, John P. Ferr, and P. Mark Fackler; New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993
Reviewed by Roy Alden Atwood

Good News is not about the gospel, but about "communitarianism," what the authors describe as "a distinctively new theoretical model" for media ethics. The mainstream media are morally and spiritually bankrupt, but communitarianism is hardly the good news they need.The authors of Good News frequently appeal to general Christian moral principles, but they use them merely as a starting point for finding a (supposedly) more basic, universally valid ground for ethics. Their goal is to develop an ethic on which both believers and nonbelievers can agree "irrespective of belief in God, position on justice, naturalistic fervor, or political power." They claim to have found in communitarianism that universal "ground for human responsibility" in "the preservation of life" (notably not in the Word of God).

Communitarianism owes its central premise that community precedes personhood to Reinhold Niebuhr, the late Union Seminary ethicist and philosopher of religion. The Good News authors admit their views were "shaped most decisively by the tradition of social ethics anchored in Reinhold Niebuhr." With Niebuhr, Good News claims that the supreme value of life is the normative foundation of social ethics and moral order. Good News also depends heavily on William Ernest Hocking, the Harvard professor of philosophy who prepared the Hutchins Commission's "Framework of Principle." He promoted a version of free expression inspired by the Socialist view of the press: that freedom is not just a "freedom of issuers" or a professional right, but a moral prerogative of the society-as-a-whole.
Following Hocking's "Framework," Good News argues that the goal of communitarian media is to "revitalize citizenship shaped by community norms." With its feet planted firmly in the Hutchins Commission and the philosophies of Niebuhr and Hocking, Good News offers an idealized journalism ethic that features "dialogue," "community commitment," "civic transformation" (i.e. the pursuit of social change and social justice), and "mutuality in organizational culture" (i.e., mutual respect and shared power within the workplace). Media shaped by communitarianism, the authors hope, will recover "normativity for professional ethics as a whole" and transform the ethics of news. But the communitarianism of Good News will have little influence on the world view and day-to-day practices of a rabidly secular and thoroughly skeptical press.
Journalists "often treat the Constitution as a suicide pact," James W. Carey has observed, "as if it were written on Masada and not in Philadelphia, as if the entire social world must hinge on the sanctity of professional privilege." Asking journalists to embrace a communitarian ethic begs them to commit professional suicide and to embrace a muddled fusion of secular individualism and collectivism. Good News calls for "Rethinking the Press's Mission." In 1932 William Ernest Hocking called his unbridled assault on orthodox world missions "Re-Thinking Missions." Hocking hoped to find a universal basis, irrespective of belief in God, by which peoples of all lands could "revitalize" mission activity. Machen called Hocking's work an "attack upon the historical Christian Faith." The sad thing, Machen wrote, was that Hocking and mission boards "considered such pitiful stuff to be the gospel." Rethinking the press's mission in communitarian terms searching for a universal basis for media ethics, irrespective of belief in God is pitiful stuff that should not be confused with the gospel.

Jus Divinum
Ministers of Sion College, London
Dallas, TX: Naphtali Press, 1995 [1646]

Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

Jus Divinum is just full of great stuff. Originally written at the time of the Westminster Assembly, the book was offered in defense of two central propositions. The first was that God has, in fact, revealed His will in Scripture concerning the government He intends for His church to have. Church government is not a subject where we are free to devise a system which we may think meets our needs. The title reflects the conviction of the writers that we are to govern our churches jure divino — according to the law of God.

The second proposition, and the one occupying the bulk of the book, is that presbyterian government is that revealed form of government. The authors show the biblical necessity of ruling elders, the biblical warrant for regional presbyteries, the scriptural need for provincial, national, and ecumenical synods, the separation of church and state, and the true nature of ecclesiastical government. These men were careful exegetes and theologians, and their work is a treasure.
Given the level of tension in England at that time, this work is remarkably irenic. The writers begin their work by saying, "Things are handled rather by way of Positive Assertion than Polemical Differentiation (which too commonly degenerates into verbal strifes, 1 Tim. 6:3-4, 2 Tim. 2:23, and vain-jangling, 1 Tim. 1:6); and where any dissenting opinions or Objections are repelled, we hope it is with that sobriety, meekness and moderation of spirit that any unprejudiced judgement may perceive we had rather gain than grieve those that dissent from us. We endeavor rather to heal up than to tear open the rent, and we contend more for Truth than for victory."
The style of writing may be initially difficult for the modern reader, but the gold which can be mined here is more than sufficient to reward perseverance in study.
This classic reprint was revised, edited, and introduced by David Hall. He deserves our thanks and gratitude for making such a valuable work available again. Making Shipwreck of the Faith
Kevin Reed
Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995

Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

"In 1994, a group of prominent evangelicals and Roman Catholics issued a statement of cooperation entitled 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together'" and a general evangelical hubbub followed. The document was applauded by numerous evangelicals and attacked by others. Unfortunately, some of the most ardent critics of ECT—men like Dave Hunt—are not nearly as Protestant as they think they are.

The premise of the ECT was that evangelicals and Catholics have quite a bit in common, and all to the good.
In this outstanding book, Kevin Reed shows that modern evangelicals and Catholics do have quite a bit in common, but it is a commonality which amounts to a joint rejection of classical Protestantism, which in turn is a corruption of the gospel. Reed in particular addresses the crucial issues of salvation and worship, carefully establishing a biblical foundation.
The book could be improved in some minor respects. Reed demonstrates in a footnote that he does not yet fully grasp the classical Protestant distinction between a corrupt church and an apostate church (p. 27). The duty of reform is necessary within the former, as well as the duty of separation from the latter. The Church was overwhelmingly corrupt from the Second Nicea on, but was not apostate until Trent. Modern evangelicalism is corrupt, but not yet apostate—and may God grant reformation. In that reformation, books like this one will play an important part.

The Seductive Image
K.L. Billingsley
Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1989

Reviewed by Nathan Wilson

The Seductive Image presents us with an atypical analysis of filmatypical, that is, when compared to average Christian movie reviewers, who usually fall into two camps. One is the reactionary declaring films to be anathema, and the other is the fawning indiscriminate approach. This procedure of Mr. Billingsley's, as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing. One does not like to be just one more among the whining pack, and Mr. Billingsley has done a great job of howling in an unexpected direction.

This book discusses film as a medium; it does not critique individual movies. Film, according to Mr. Billingsley, non est malum in se; it is a legitimate medium for Christians to tamper with and even use to fulfill some spiritual needs. At the same time, he does not think that the movie industry today has its act together and, given the testiness of his writing, would probably smack anyone upside the head who said that it did.
This is a pro-film book, built upon a solid biblical foundation. Those who want to know what that foundation is should get a copy of this book. It also has some fairly revealing little anecdotes. The writing quality is good. When an entire subject is controversial, it isn't always necessary to attempt to interest the reader, but Mr. Billingsley did us all a favor and made it interesting anyway. The world would be a better place if modern Christian teaching literature was a little less boring and a little more like this book.

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom
John Jefferson Davis
Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996

Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

If you make a practice of reviewing books published by your own outfit, the general public starts to roll its eyes heavenward, wondering if we don't think the world already has enough puff pieces. But, of course, this is an exception.

Canon Press has done the Christian reading public a great service (good job there, down the hall!) through getting this back into print. Originally published by Baker under the title Christ's Victorious Kingdom, this book was one of the few modern readable introductions to postmillennialism.
For the modern evangelical, postmillennialism is much like a good beer. It takes some getting used to, but once that happens, the world makes a lot more sense.
In this version, the book contains three main sections. The first recounts the Old Testament witness of a future glory. "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations" (Ps. 22:27-28). The second section deals with the same testimony given in the New Testament. And necessarily, the third main section faces, head on, the "contrary texts" of the New Testament. "Yeah, but if what you are saying is true, then why . . ."
My eschatological convictions began as a blurry form of dispensationalism, the kind of dispensationalism that "everybody knows." From there I came to a historic premill position with the help of Dr. Ladd. But I still couldn't get all the Bible to speak to all the questions on the subject, and so I abandoned, as best I knew, all my particular eschatological views. If someone had asked me during those years what I thought, I would have said that "Jesus is coming back someday, and don't ask me anything else."
When I was first groping my way out of that swamp, Davis provided a tremendous help to me in clarifying my thinking. I welcome his book back in print, and heartily recommend it to you. As the year 2000 approaches, we are going to see an absolute frenzy of embarrassing publications on the subject of eschatology—the next four years will see the enemies of Christ make merry over our stupidity. The publication of sober and biblical books like this one, written at a popular level, is consequently extremely important.

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