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Magazine, Past Issue

Nov/Dec 2019 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: Why dystopian fiction is worth reading / That morning I listened to Kanye West / 8 free films for your study group / Santa Claus at Nicea / A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing / Tearing down tyranny one joke at a time / Why haven't we heard from ET? / The pros and cons of online dating / What is conversion therapy and why does it matter? / Whose am I? / The boy that drove the plow / and much more...

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF

Assorted

On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.”

Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days!

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call!

Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend!

Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r.

To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore!

My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were:

God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king!

The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes:

"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness.

Parenting

Gentleness: a gift to your family

Do you want your children to see you as someone they can trust? Do you want your spouse to take comfort in just being with you? Are you easy to talk to? Is your family hesitant to talk to you when they are hurting? If someone in your family messes up or is in trouble are you the person that helps him feel secure and safe, the person that she knows will help make things right? You want to be able to answer yes to these questions. In fact, you sometimes get angry and hurt when those close to you don’t seek your help. Ironic, isn’t it? Here is a biblical quality that can help you become the go-to person for those whom you love. That quality is gentleness. Gentleness requires great courage. It is not for the faint of heart. Gentleness is the opposite of weakness. Gentleness is part of the Spirit’s fruit. Gentleness is the exercise of the Spirit’s power. Your anger is the exercise of your own self-centeredness. Gentleness defined: Gentleness uses only the strength or force that is necessary for any given situation. Gentleness is showing Christ to those you love. God wants you to associate gentleness with power not weakness. Why? Because Christ is gentle. If you want to be Christ-like ask him for the strength to follow his example. Christ does not treat you as your sins deserve. Ask him for the power to love your family as he loves you. Ask him to help you say and mean these words:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

What would your family think if you said these words to them? Give your family the Spirit’s powerful gift of gentleness.

Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.

Daily devotional

January 31 – Proverbs on the home

“The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just.”  Scripture reading: Proverbs 17:1-6 A home is not a house. A home is a place where a family lives. A Christian home is where a Christian family lives in unity, preparing for and doing the work of the Lord. In a Christian home there is peace even if there is not a lot of food. We know that “Better is a dry morsel with quietness than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1). A Christian home is a place where brothers and sisters help and protect each other. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). A Christian home is a place of safety. You don’t have to wonder if you are welcomed. What happens if there is no peace in the home? One wants to run away from it. Proverbs 21:9 says it is, “Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Yes, a house without peace (Peace only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ) is a place of misery. Proverbs 15:25 warns, “The LORD will destroy the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Sin is a menace to any home. Proverbs 15:27 notes, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.” What is the remedy for a corrupt house? Know God’s Word, believe in Jesus and hold on to Him for dear life. Suggestions for prayer Pray that God will preserve peace and unity in the home, unity based on Jesus and that you will not ignore the mutual duties in the home.

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Mitchell Persaud is pastor of New Horizon URC in Scarborough, ON, a mission church under the oversight of Cornerstone URC in London, ON. He was born in Guyana, South America, into a Hindu home, baptized Roman Catholic, raised Pentecostal and then became Reformed.


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Internet, Media bias

Wikipedia: reader beware

I recently assigned a group of Grade 7-10 church history students a research project. I observed them as they began their work on their personal computers and for many their first stop was Wikipedia. On an average day, I would probably check something on Wikipedia myself at least two or three times. But who can guarantee that all the information on Wikipedia is accurate and unbiased? As it turns out, bias is also a problem on this website. And that’s particularly evident in the realm of controversial subjects like creationism and Intelligent Design (ID). A recent example involved Dr. Günter Bechly, a paleontologist and entomologist affiliated with the Discovery Institute, an organization promoting ID. He is notable for his groundbreaking research on fossil insects. Wikipedia used to include an article about Dr. Bechly. However, it was deleted after prejudiced pro-Darwin editors decided he was not notable enough to be included anymore. Wikipedia is unreliable in terms of what it withholds from the public eye. It’s also unreliable in terms of how it presents the material that it does include on ID. For example, the main article on ID (as of Nov. 13) asserts in the opening paragraph that ID is a “pseudoscience” and “a religious argument for the existence of God.” So Wikipedia prejudicially discounts any scientific basis for ID. Though pro-ID contributors have tried to edit the article (as anyone can normally do), the volunteer Wiki editors always switch it back or lock the article down. Wikipedia can be helpful for checking basic facts like dates. But once one gets into areas of controversy or opinion, its usefulness and objectivity begin to diminish. The problem is that human beings edit it. And human beings all have that heart condition: notoriously prone to deceive and be deceived. While editors of the print encyclopedias of the past were not immune to this condition, because there was a monetary incentive involved there were more checks and balances. Today, more than ever, we have to do our own checking. Apply the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Just because you read it on Wikipedia doesn’t make it true! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqiXgtDdEwM Dr. Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Launceston, Tasmania, and he blogs at Yinkahdinay....

News

Media bias and Australia's marriage debate

This month and next Australians are being given the opportunity to have their say on same-sex “marriage.” The Liberal-National (LNP) coalition ran their election campaign last year with a promise to hold a plebiscite on the issue. Like regular elections, this plebiscite would have been compulsory, with every eligible voter required to cast a ballot. However, the LNP does not have a majority in the Senate, and that resulted in the legislation for the plebiscite being blocked (twice) by the other parties. Finally, the LNP decided to undertake a voluntary postal survey – no one is required to vote – and the results are not binding on the government. Ballots have been mailed out with one question: "“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? Yes or No." Results are expected to be announced on November 15. The campaigns for both “Yes” and “No” are now fully underway. Much of the Australian news media is unabashedly promoting the “Yes” campaign. Not only are there the usual editorials and opinion pieces, but much of the news reported on the postal survey is slanted towards influencing the “Yes” vote. However, some news outlets have gone further. Following a post on social media of an offensive poster against SSM, some Australian news outlets were reporting that this poster had been "plastered" all over Melbourne. Broadcaster Channel 10 went out in search of the alleged poster, but came up empty. However, they needed a visual for their news story. So they got creative. They took a stock news photo of a European bus shelter and photo-shopped the poster in (see original, and as doctored for Channel 10, in the picture to the right). After being exposed, Channel 10 released a statement in which they stated, “This was not a deliberate attempt to mislead our audience, but a creative error which we regret.” This was followed by less than truthful reporting on a “No” campaign meeting at a Roman Catholic Church in Brisbane. “Yes” campaigners gathered outside the church and succeeded in preventing the meeting from even happening. As a few of the “No” crowd drove away in their vehicles, the “Yes” side tried to block them. Some news reports spoke of a rowdy clash between the sides. Other news reports mentioned a vehicle driving “at nearly full-speed” into the protestors. Queensland Police later confirmed that these reports were completely false. This debate reflects not just differing views on marriage, but a clash between utterly opposite worldviews. In one worldview, truth is something that exists outside of ourselves as public, objective reality. In the other worldview, truth is a subjective thing which can and must be manipulated for your own agenda. The latter is fantasy, the former fact. Christians should be encouraged: the former that will ultimately prevail, no matter the outcome of the postal vote. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay and Creation Without Compromise. BOLT: If there's one thing that could make Australians vote against same-sex marriage, it is the bullying. Live now on @SkyNewsAust pic.twitter.com/D4CwkTryu0 — The Bolt Report (@theboltreport) August 28, 2017 ...

Media bias

FAKE NEWS: Media gets it wrong about the Bible getting it wrong

This past week, newspapers and other media outlets published articles about how a recent find had disproven the Bible. The Telegraph, The Independent, Express, and the Daily Mail and others told readers: Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people The story even made it to at least one Chinese website under the headline: Is the Bible wrong? Gene evidence that the blood of Canaanites is still flowing in the Lebanese So what was it that the Bible was supposed to have gotten wrong? The articles reported on the work of Chris Tyler-Smith and an international team of geneticists and archeologists who had dug up bones from five ancient Canaanite bodies, estimated to be more than 3,600 years old. The bones contained enough DNA for them to make comparisons to the genomes of 99 living Lebanese. They found that the modern-day Lebanese shared about 93 per cent of their ancestry with these ancient Canaanites. In other words, the ancient Canaanites live on in the Lebanese. But, according to the researchers that contradicted God’s order to Israel (Deut 20:17) to completely wipe out the Canaanites. As the researchers wrote: The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations… How could there be modern day Canaanites, if God ordered them all killed? After all, if God told Israel to do something, they always did it. Right? The media wanted to expose the Bible’s inaccuracies, but only exposed their own biblical illiteracy. Yes, Israel was ordered to wipe out the Canaanites but they disobeyed again and again. One example occurs in Judges 1:21 where we read: But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. The rest of the chapter is an account of Israel’s disobedience, and how the Canaanites lived on. So these new findings don’t disprove the Bible, but even compliment it. A day or two after it was first published The Telegraph article was corrected. And The Daily Mail piece, despite a headline that claimed, “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim,” acknowledged near the end that it did no such thing. But who reads more than the headlines these days? And who re-reads an article days after it first hits the web? This devilish attack has already done its damage. So what can we do to counter this type of attack? We need to expose the media’s biblical illiteracy and their journalistic incompetence by sharing rebuttals like this one (or a more in depth one like Gary DeMar’s here). There is an old journalism saying that "if it bleeds it leads." News stories like this one show that, whether they say it out loud or not, there is another credo many reporters live by: "If it is a Bible attack, we won't worry if it's fact."...

Media bias

Don’t watch the news, read it!

This first appeared in Reformed Perspective in 2000, and yet the thesis of this article is just as relevant for today's Internet Age, as entertainment is an even bigger part of the news now. ***** Entertainment is the news. When the hit television series Seinfeld went off the air in 1998, all the major networks ran lengthy stories. The Hollywood press conference that announces the nominees for the Academy Awards receives coverage comparable to the president’s “State of the Union” address. And the box office tallies of the sequels to Jurassic Park and Star Wars become major network news stories. In this day and age of giant conglomerates, a number of networks are now owned and operated by film studios, but there is no grand media conspiracy. There are plenty of independent news sources that provide competition. So who is responsible for the triumph of “infotainment” over information? It is us, the consumers of news. We allow television to be our main source of news, and this leads to three critical distortions in our lives. 1. Self-pity Television news encourages self-pity. TV spokesmen talk a lot about the importance of the “news business,” but what they really mean is the “bad news business.” Except in small doses, good news simply doesn’t make for good television. The tube inevitably emphasizes violence, mayhem, death, destruction – it doesn’t matter if we are talking about battles, riots, train wrecks, or hurricanes – as long as it is visual, dramatic, and compelling. That is why news producers love wars and natural disasters. Bad news is not only the lifeblood of the major networks but also the local news stations across the nation. A USA Today survey indicates that 73 per cent of the lead stories they air are devoted to coverage of some kind of natural disaster or violence. Bad news literally drives out good news. To understand why this happens, try putting yourself in the position of a television news director. How do you make your show gripping? Do you show a computerized graph on the declining national crime rate or live footage of an elementary school shooting? Do you interview a small business owner who has created 100 new jobs in the plumbing industry or an environmental activist who claims to have proof of a deadly new toxic threat? Do you run a lead story about a Detroit janitor who moonlights as a cabdriver so he can send his five children to a Christian school? Do you tell your cameramen to zoom in when he arrives home late at night, kisses his sons and daughters as they lie sleeping, and asks God’s blessing on them? It happens every night in Detroit, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, and New York. But is it news? Never! What if the same janitor arrives home and something snaps? He gets a pistol from the closet shoots his children, and then shoots himself. You don’t have to think about whether to run this story. Your decision is automatic: “If it bleeds, it leads.” 2. Shortened attention span Television news encourages a short attention span and a lack of perspective. Forget about nuclear wars and germ warfare. The most destructive invention of the 20th century is the remote control. Channels magazine notes that the average adult male (who wins the gender and age battle over possession of the remote in most American households) changes stations every 19 minutes. If this keeps up, “channel surfing” will soon be an Olympic sport. Imagine once again that you are a news director. You know that most guys are incapable of watching a half-hour program. How do you respond? By changing the entire nature of television in a desperate bid to keep viewers riveted. In the 1950s a typical camera shot lasted 35-50 seconds. In the 1990s it lasts 5 seconds. Commercials are even more frenetic, often switching images after only one second. Television sound bites have also been reduced to the point of absurdity. Forget about the interview subject who tells you what he thinks about the state of the economy of the defense budget in 25 words of less – you have to find someone who can do it in three words – and they better be pretty titillating, or they won’t make it onto the evening news. Titillation is the new and ultimate entitlement of television viewers. We want to be excited by what we watch. It doesn’t matter if topics are presented in a thoughtful and thorough manner, just as long as we aren’t bored. Who among us would tune into a broadcast of the Lincoln-Douglas debates today? We ought to remember what life was like before television. In 1858, 20,000 residents of Freeport, Illinois, heard presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas speak for four hours without microphones, teleprompters or commercial breaks. In city after city, Lincoln and Douglas grappled with consequential issues, and they attracted huge audiences of ordinary citizens – farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, housewives, and even school children. Today, they would be hard-pressed to get an hour of airtime on PBS and even if they did their Nielsen ratings would be abysmal. 3. Superficiality and subjectivity Our love affair with television has led to an obsession with appearance. Look at the current crop of anchormen and anchorwomen. Do you think they were chosen to read the news because they were at the top of their class in journalism school? Everything on television, even the “truth,” is subordinate to appearance. Television is all about surface impressions and this means that intentions, feelings and desires take precedence over logic, substance and reality. Worse yet, television news infects viewers with what I call the “do-something disease.” It presents alarming stories about every imaginable tragedy – famine, cancer, illiteracy, pollution, you name it – and encourages viewers to feel that they should do something right away. It doesn’t matter if they can’t solve these problems. What does matter is they will feel a whole lot better. Stop watching and start reading Self-pity, lack of focus, superficiality, subjectivity – how do we deal with these? Do we try to improve the quality of television news, to make the medium work for us instead of against us? Certainly that is an important and worthwhile effort. It isn’t the ultimate solution, however, because the fundamental problem isn’t a lack of quality programming. We now sit in front of the “boob tube,” 28 hours a week. We spend more time watching television than we do pursuing our careers, since we don’t retire, or take vacations, sick days, or weekends off from our favorite programs. We also spend more time watching television than we do reading to ourselves or to our children. Best-selling novelist Larry Wolwode is right. Television is the “Cyclops who eats books.” When it comes to the news, this one-eyed monster also has an insatiable appetite for newspapers and magazines. But Cyclops in not all-powerful. We can defeat him Unlike the Greeks, we don’t need clever tricks or deception. Armed only with our remote controls, we can turn off this giant glowing eye. Nearly all Americans say they want to cut down on TV viewing. Where is the best place to begin? By eliminating the time you spend on television news. Most material on the tube doesn’t pretend to reflect reality, but news broadcasts do, so they are particularly, potently poisonous. The hour you spend each night watching local and network news could easily be redirected to reviewing not one but two newspapers in their entirety. Sure, print journalism has its own biases, but because of the way we read and comprehend it, we are more capable of compensating. Reinvesting your time in this way may not instantly change the world, but it can change your world and the way you respond to reality. And like and wisely planned reasoned investment it can pay long-term dividends. Reprinted by permission, from IMPRIMIS the monthly journal of Hillsdale College. Be sure to check out the "sequel" to this piece, Don't read the news, read a book....

Media bias

Don’t read the news, read a book!

No, you’re not paranoid, the media really is out to get Christians. In his book How the News Makes Us Dumb, C. John Sommerville argues that news by its very nature is incapable of portraying Christians (or any conservatives) positively. He also insists that reading the daily news is bad for our brains, and that news media is beyond repair. Instead of reading the news, Sommerville wants people to stay informed by reading books. Fluff, fluff and more fluff But how could following the news make us dumb? The news is filled with important events from around the world. Shouldn’t we know stuff like that? There are a few reasons to think, no, it isn't important at all. As Sommerville notes, “Important people don’t like to be in the news.” The people out there actually getting things done don’t have time to deal with the press. Celebrities on the other hand, love to be covered, and so they are. Instead of leaders of industry we hear all about TV and movie stars. We might watch the news to keep abreast of important issues, but all too often we hear celebrity gossip instead. Our brains grow fat and flabby hearing about President Trump's latest tweet or Beyonce's latest publicity stunt. Our daily dose of news is also time consuming. Many of us feel compelled to read or watch the news daily but we don’t feel the same compulsion for daily study in other fields like science, history, or sometimes even the Bible! How many people spend as much time on their Bible study as their news intake? The daily nature of news also undermines its importance. News doesn’t occur regularly; it occurs in erratic spurts. However, reporters have to provide news on a daily or even hourly basis, even if nothing is happening. Busy news day or not, a newspaper will still have to be delivered the next day, and the evening news will still have to last a full hour. So a story that was too insignificant to broadcast one day can suddenly become the lead story on a slow day. It wasn't important 24-hours ago, but now it's trumpeted as something we absolutely need to know. You’ll also never hear life’s big questions, the really important ones, answered on the news. Why are we all here? What does it all mean? The important questions in life are simply beyond 20-second sound bites, and 400-word articles. Novelty-focus is inherently anti-Christian Of course, if the media ever did answer the big questions they would put themselves out of work. Why would anyone tune in the next day? And so instead of focussing on important matters, the media focuses on change. It’s this focus on change that makes the media unavoidably anti-Christian. Churches that have held steadfastly to the word of God, and haven’t changed, don’t appear anywhere in our news. The churches making radical changes – ordaining homosexual priests, or denying the existence of God, or endorsing transsexuality – these churches can even make the headlines. Of course, this bias isn’t aimed specifically at the churches. It is actually a broader anti-conservative bias. Conservatives, by their very nature want to conserve, and preserve things the way they are. Conservatives don’t like change. By focusing on change the media has turned itself into an anti-conservative organization. This is one of the reasons why Sommerville thinks the media is beyond repair. Entertainment, not information Many news broadcasts end with a feel-good story about some lost puppy finding their way home, or maybe a story about a panda birth at the zoo. We all recognize the entertainment nature of this type of new s, but do we recognize that even hard news has the same entertainment focus? Just think about how the media reports scandals. Day after day we hear just a little bit more, but we never hear it all. Sommerville calls it news as a “striptease.” He notes that, “the last thing news people want to do is end a good story….The longer it takes the more news gets sold.” And when there is nothing new to report, the investigation itself often becomes the story. Sommerville blames us for this type of feeding frenzy mentality. He says if we really just wanted the truth we would wait for the investigation to conclude and then read a book about it. Why a book? Because a book has the space to provide the depth that the news media misses. The daily nature of media means they can’t offer real analysis because they don’t have the time. Sommerville offers a number of contrasting headlines throughout his book to make this point (these are old examples, but familiar newspapers): "Prosperity Eludes Grenada 5 Years After Invasion” – Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1988 “5 Years Later, Grenada Is Tranquil and Thriving” – New York Times, same day “In Autos, U.S., Makes Strides” – New York Times, March 24, 1989 “U.S. Vehicle Sales Are Sluggish” – same paper, same day “Scores on College Entrance Tests Fall” – Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 1989 “SAT Scores End ‘80s Up” – USA Today same day “Minority Students Gain on College Entrance Tests” – New York Times, same day “SAT Scores Take Dip for Women, Minorities” – Westchester-Rockland Daily News, same day Which of these media outlets got it right? If you’re relying on them to keep you informed – if you’re relying on their analysis – then you’re obviously in trouble. Instant analysis is going to be hit and miss The emphasis on immediacy and up-to-the-minute reports guarantees that news will be over-hyped. Remember the Ebola outbreak in 2014? It was constant coverage for months as the media explored what might happen if Ebola broke out in North America. In total, two people on this continent died. But the constant and terrifying coverage kept people tuned into their news feeds. The need for speed also leads to the use of shorter words in headlines. Sommerville uses the example of the word “cut” (as in “Budget Cut”) in his book. It’s a short word, and it gets the reader’s attention but it doesn’t always mean what the reader thinks. Some cuts are merely lower than average increases! When we consider how many people now get their news just from reading headlines, the ambiguity these short words add to headlines really “cuts” into the actual information we receive. The harm done All these problems undermine the informative nature of news, but can watching or reading the news actually harm us? Well, we’ve already seen how the media’s focus on change promotes anti-Christian ideals. The same holds true when the media pretends to be unbiased. All these panel discussions with one person "for" and another person there to represent the "against." There can be a benefit to having two people on opposites sides debate an issue (Prov. 18:17).  Just imagine what would result if we had a pro-choice and pro-life representative really debate the issue of abortion. Lies could be exposed, the truth could be presented – wouldn't that be wonderful! But the segments we see on the nightly news don't allow the time for any sort of fruitful discussion. What we see is simply quarreling – fighting for fighting's sake (or, rather, for entertainment's sake) – which God warns us against (2 Tim 2:23-24, Prov. 20:3). This is a reason why reading books is a better idea. In a book we have the space to really explore an issue, and have the truth come out. If the media was truly unbiased it would seek the truth; instead it seeks disagreement. And in doing so, in pitting two sides against one, giving them equal time, they leave the impression that the two viewpoints are both valid, and that there is no absolute truth. This again is in direct opposition to our Christian worldview. The news media also hurt our governments. While the media likes to promote itself as a watchdog carefully monitoring the government for us, the truth is quite different. An effective government that goes about its business and doesn’t change too much, and doesn’t hand out much money will never make the news…until they mess up something. Then they’ll make the news but for all the wrong reasons. Voters will hear about the scandal, but they won’t know anything about all the quiet good the government has done in the past. To counter this negative publicity the government will become more inclined to change things and start handing out money. And if they hand out enough money, and pass enough laws, maybe the public will forget about the scandal. And so the media, by their very nature, encourage big interfering governments. Conclusion When I started reading Sommerville’s How the News Makes Us Dumb, I was also reading four newspapers a day. That didn’t leave me with much time to read anything else so it took me almost three weeks to read the first half of the book. At the halfway mark I cut down to only one paper a day and managed to finish the book in another couple of days. I’m still a news addict, so I still check out the news online every day, but by cutting down my news intake I have found more time to read better material. Sommerville also forced me to evaluate the news I do read in a much more critical light. I would recommend his book as a must read for anyone addicted to their daily dose of news. A version of this article was first published in 2000, under the headline, "Don't read a newspaper, read a book." And yes, the author does realize the irony of writing an article that encourages readers to read less articles. This is a follow-up to Michael Medved's article Don't watch the news, read it!...

Media bias

Lies, Mistakes and Half-truths – 3 types of media bias

“People like you don’t deserve fair treatment!” This wasn’t the sort of statement I expected from our local station’s 11 o’clock news anchor; on camera he seemed like such a nice man. But now that I had him on the phone he was using an obscenity every second word. I phoned him to correct a notable but seemingly accidental mistake in the station’s political coverage. It turned out, though, that no correction would be made because, as this news anchor explained it to me, he had a gay sister, and he didn’t like my political party’s stance against entrenching homosexuality in Canada's Charter of Rights. So he intentionally lied about us on air. 1. Blatant/Intentional lies This type of blatant media bias used to be the rarest kind. Yes, there were always members of the media, like this evening news anchor, who would lie boldly and baldly. But as recently as ten years ago, this type of media bias was relatively rare. Today, though, there are plenty of "fake news" sites that just don't care about the truth. Their goal is to draw in readers any way they can. Since very few of us are going to click on headlines about aliens or Elvis sightings, these sites craft headlines that are outrageous yet plausible. They give us stories like "Justin Trudeau Sets Legal Age for Smoking Marijuana to 24 Years Old" and "Fireman Suspended & Jailed by Atheist Mayor for Praying at Scene." Neither is hard to believe. But neither has actually happened. To make it even more confusing, some of these fake news outlets mimic real news sites. A careful reader at ABCNews.com.co will be able to tell it is a parody site, but their domain name is meant to deceive the less discerning into thinking this is the mainstream media outlet ABC News (whose website is ABCNews.com). So if you're reading an article from a news site that doesn't seem quite right, or the site is one you've never heard of before, you have every reason to be cautious, and even suspicious. Do a google search or check it out on Snopes.com (though they have their own bias); find out of they are real or fake before passing anything on. While fake news abounds, among the established media – news outlets that have been around for at least a few years  – most reporters do care about the facts. They have to, because they'll only have readers and viewers so long as they are credible. That's why even the media outlets that have the strongest anti-Christian bias can still – for the most part – be trusted on what facts they present. They might be highly selective about what facts they share, but they almost never just make stuff up. 2. Half-truths And that brings us to a more common sort of bias, where the media lets their worldview dictate what facts they pass along. "Worldview bias" can be intentional, or entirely inadvertent, and it is everywhere. All reporters have their biases, so even when they are trying to be fair and balanced their biases still come out. In fact, as conservative news icon Ted Byfield once noted, it is impossible to cover all sides of a news event because there simply isn’t enough ink in the world. Reporters by necessity must pick and choose the facts they report and their worldview may cause them not to pursue, or even consider, some critical facts that may put an entirely different slant on a story. Let me illustrate by way of a fictitious example. Below are two very different accounts that could have been written about the very same event. Reverse Discrimination Alleged Allegations of reverse discrimination are being leveled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Acme Company store in Fort Keg River. Chris Hamson, a mine worker, claims that Brooner grants almost every native a store credit card but refuses more than half the whites who apply. “I got refused about a month ago,” Hamson told the Gazette, “and then I found out a couple of my buddies at the mine were refused too. Then we started asking around and it turned out that while all the native guys had one, only a few of the white guys at the site had gotten a card. There’s only one explanation, that Brooner guy is racist.” Racism Alleged Allegations of racism are being leveled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Acme Company store in Fort Keg River. A lawyer for the Entartee Band says Brooner regularly grants much higher credit limits to whites who apply for a store credit card than Natives applying for the same card. “Some of the band members complained to the chief about this a few months back,” said band lawyer Joe YellowHorse, “so he asked me to look into it. I’ve been asking around and it’s true. This guy starts us at $500 or maybe $1000 credit limits, but every white guy who gets a card starts with at least a $2000 limit. Brooner is clearly racist.” In both articles the facts seem to show that Jim Brooner is a racist, but in the first article he comes off as an anti-white racist and in the second he comes off as an anti-native racist. In both cases the reporters got their facts right. Everything stated is true - but neither reporter managed to get the whole story. Jim Brooner isn’t racist – not at all. The store he worked at was located next to a northern native reserve. The whites in this part of the world were all imported from further south where most already had a credit history established. So when these whites applied for credit, if they had a good credit history, they were started off at a high limit, but those with bad credit didn’t get a card at all. The natives, for the most part, didn’t have any credit history yet, so almost all of them got a card, but with a lower limit, as you would expect for someone just building up their credit. There was clear bias in these two stories, though both contained only the facts…just not all the facts. Media outlets are going to be most attuned to, and more interested in, the facts that fit their own worldview, which means a CBC reporter would be more likely to come out with the second story, and a more conservative outlet, like maybe The Rebel Media, would be more likely to uncover the first. That's why, to get the full story, we need to read it from more than one perspective. As God tells us in Proverbs 18:17: The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Conservative media are friendlier to our side – they feature many more Christian, pro-life, and pro-family stories – but that doesn't mean they aren't biased. Everyone is. That's why, while I'm not a big fan of The Globe and Mail, if I read about something absolutely outrageous on, say LifeSiteNews.com, I might check the Globe to see how their take matches up. Anything on Fox News, or The Blaze, or the National Post, could be compared with the same story on MSNBC or The New York Times or Macleans. It would be too time consuming to do this with every news story, but on the important ones - a story big enough that you're thinking about passing it along via your social media feed - take the extra time to read about the event from a completely different perspective. Make sure you're sharing the truth - not a half-truth. 3. Systemic bias The final type of bias is systemic – it is unavoidable bias that is part of the news business by its very nature. And this type of bias runs directly counter to the Christian worldview. How so? News by its very nature has to be something unusual. So, for example, “Dog bites man” isn't newsworthy, while “Man bites dog” might make the front page. That’s why attacks on Christianity makes the news:  “Atheist wants to be minister” is quirky and interesting, while the faithful work of your local pastor is too ordinary to ever get coverage. This systemic bias in the media also works to normalize perversion – journalists can’t report on normal ordinary things (who would want to read about stuff like that?) so instead they cover the strange and bizarre. But by covering it they start to make it less strange, and less unusual. Just think of homosexuality – 30 years ago it was shocking; today, after years of continual exposure, it is just another lifestyle. More recently we've seen euthanasia and transsexuality go from fringe ideas to rights, due in large part to ongoing coverage by the media. The daily deadline pressure of the news business leads to another type of systemic bias. Reporters might be expected to write up to five stories a day on a range of topics they may know little or nothing about, so they have neither the time to dig for all the facts, nor the expertise to know what to look for. What they do instead is “attribution.” So when some scientists make a claim that global warming could be lethal the reporter doesn’t have to find out if these scientists are correct – he merely has to attribute the claim to them. If the claim turns out to be untrue the scientists will be wrong, but the journalist will still have reported only the facts - that some scientists had made a particular claim. This “attribution” technique allows reporters to always tell the truth, even when they are passing on misleading or even deceptive information. Conclusion Many Christians base their political, cultural and economic opinions on the news they read while forgetting what the Bible tells us about how deceptive the Evil One can be. Reporters rarely lie outright, but many of these same reporters deny the truth of the Bible. Why should we expect the truth and nothing but the truth from reporters who can’t recognize the reality, accuracy and validity of the Bible? They may try their best to be fair, but even fairness only has meaning when it is rooted in God’s standards. They may claim to be unbiased, but God tells us there is no impartiality – you are either for Him or against Him. Understanding the nature of media bias is more important today than it has ever been because with today's social media, all of us have become media outlets. Every one of us have dozens and even hundreds or thousands of readers, and each day we "publish" content for them. So what sort of media outlet are you? Are you a trustworthy one? If you are to be a light to the dark world – if you are going to be an ambassadors for Christ – then in all that you share you need to be sure that you maintain your credibility. Christians need to known as truth tellers, and not rumor mongers. We need to sure that what we share is the whole truth and nothing but it. So be skeptical, be discerning, and be willing to check a story from multiple news sources, because bias is a part of every article you read. A version of this article first appeared in the April 2005 issue of Reformed Perspective....