I’m a retired journalist. Back in my day, news was still printed on newspapers – real, paper newsprint. I know, crazy, huh? They were really good for cleaning glass surfaces.
Australian newspapers received thousands of letters to the editor daily. Very few were published. Space was limited. The selection criteria was robust.
And among the first letters to get ‘binned’ were those that began with words like: “God tells us in Romans 1 that…”
Trashing the letter was not necessarily an anti-Christian sentiment or decision.
In an eye-watering pile of letters, deadline-driven editors were looking for relevance, originality, humour and brevity.
We’ve now got used to the fact that Western society is post-Christian. But actually, the shift happened way back in the 1970s and 80s. Back then, too many well-meaning Christian letter writers assumed – incorrectly – that their potential audience shared their worldview, therefore understood the language and Christian idioms they were using. What they said wasn’t wrong – far from it, it was thoroughly Biblical. So thoroughly Biblical, the letters editor didn’t know what they were talking about. Or found it boring and irrelevant. And binned it.
In the 21st century, the Christian worldview is on the margins or just plain off the page. Quoting Bible chapters and verses may be second nature to Christians, but it’s more like Greek to most English-speaking Australians.
David Balzer, the pastor at my church, Ashfield Presbyterian, recently challenged us to engage with our city the same way the Apostle Paul engaged with Athens. He said:
“Australia used to be a Christian country – at least in the sense that it was informed and influenced by Christianity. Then it moved to post Christian, where people reacted against our Christian background. But now it’s more likely that we live in a post-post Christian world where (most) people aren’t even aware of Christian ideas, worldview or foundations. It’s up to us to build the bridge to them.”
“if you want to say something as a Christian to a non-Christian world, a good place to start is where ‘they’ are instead of where ‘we’ are. Because if you start where we are they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. … As far as their mindset, their worldview, their language … [Christians] are not even using the same words half the time.”
The Apostle Paul knew his audience. He knew their philosophies. He used their ‘language’. He didn’t water-down the gospel to make it attractive. He knew the crowd well enough to communicate the gospel in ways that they would understand. They understood him well enough that some of them mocked, but others wanted to know more – see Acts 17:32. And a few eventually become Christian – Dionysius, Damaris, and some others (Acts 17:34).
To communicate with a post-post-Christian culture, we need to read, listen and observe. Paul did all three.
He must have read the Greek philosophers.
He must have listened to the speakers in the public square.
He obviously observed the city – the temples and statues were everywhere.
I urge you to get familiar enough with non-Christian beliefs to be able to interact with them. You can know about something without believing it. In fact, if you know your Bible well, have a lively faith in Jesus, and are faithful at church, you will easily see how today’s secularised views of life are really tragic and destructive. But also, expect the love of Christ to propel you to respond to this tragic destruction, not with arrogance or condemnation, but with deep compassion. Like Jesus in Luke 19:41-44: when he saw Jerusalem, he wept over it.
The media is a simple channel to understand our world. Yes, it’s challenging for Christians to consume secular media in an uncritical manner. We need to engage with discernment. But we need to engage. The Gospel, Society and Culture committee has published a 4-part series to help you understand the media world.
The writer, Peter Christopher, was a journalist for 40 years. He is retired and serves as an elder at Ashfield Presbyterian Church in Sydney and is a member of the G,S&C committee. This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the committee or its members.