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
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.
Ministers of Sion College, London
Dallas, TX: Naphtali Press, 1995 
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
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
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
The Seductive Image
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
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