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How to Read the News to Redeem the Culture

Jim Denison

Workers were digging a well in a man’s backyard when they came upon a 2.5 million-carat sapphire cluster.

The cluster, now named the “Serendipity Sapphire,” is thirty-nine inches long and twenty-eight inches wide. It was found in Ratnapura, a city in Sri Lanka known as the “city of gems.” Ironically, it was discovered in the yard of a gem trader in the city. Experts have valued it at close to $100 million.

In other news, archaeologists working in northern Saudi Arabia have discovered a 2,550-year-old carving of the last king of Babylon. The inscription depicts the sixth-century BC ruler Nabonidus with a scepter in his hand. He ruled Babylonia from 556 to 539 BC, when his kingdom fell to Cyrus of Persia.

Historians are unsure why he left Babylon, but his self-imposed exile may have been the result of a coup. Or it may be that he was captured by one of Cyrus’ generals and exiled.

“If it bleeds, it leads”

You may have noticed that I have not yet discussed a contested or controversial subject in today’s news. This is not for lack of opportunity, from mask mandates and vaccination requirements to infrastructure bills and abortion debates.

Rather, I thought we would take a day off to discuss the news itself. I have heard from more people than ever before that they are tired of the news, tired of conflicts in and over the news, and tired of the partisanship with which the news seems to be covered.

In fact, some tell me that they have stopped watching or listening to the news altogether except for what affects their local community.

I understand this sentiment completely. It has long been a maxim in the media that “if it bleeds, it leads,” which means that negative news gets more coverage than positive news. Our hyperpartisan era is clearly reflected in media as well, with less distinction than ever between opinion and reporting. Some outlets obviously seem to have recast their mission as promoting particular political parties, candidates, and agendas.

It’s hard to know what to trust or why to trust it.

Do not be anxious about anything

I want to take today’s Daily Article to respond in two ways.

First, I wanted you to know that I and our Denison Forum team are redoubling our work to help you curate the news. Previously, we worked primarily to help you interpret cultural news and issues biblically and respond redemptively. Now we are adding a first “layer”—helping you know what news and issues we think you need to know as a follower of Jesus.

To this end, I am responding to breaking news through the workday on my Twitter account and encourage you to follow me here. I am looking for stories you may not have seen as well as highlighting those you need to know, linking to sites I consider trustworthy on the subject at hand, and offering brief biblical and practical responses.

I and our team are also writing more website content than ever. I have been writing an additional article or two for the last several weeks; others on our team are writing new articles as well. I will link to these through the Daily Article where possible, but I also encourage you to check our website (www.denisonforum.org) throughout the day. As with everything we do, we will endeavor to respond biblically and redemptively to these stories and issues.

Second, I want to encourage you to pray not only about how to respond to the day’s news but even your choice of the news you consume.

God’s word instructs us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). The “everything” about which we are to pray includes the news we consume and how we respond to it, especially if it makes us “anxious” as a result.

“Faithful to the Word, indifferent to victory”

Jeffrey Bilbro is a college English professor. In Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News, he notes: “There is a profound, insidious kind of formation that happens when the first thing we do in the morning is to reach for a smartphone to find out what new thing occurred while we were sleeping. Such habits form the horizon of meaning by which we judge the significance of our daily life and actions. Structuring our days and weeks instead around Christ orients us to his story and equips us to fit the news of our day into the redemptive pattern of his life and work.”

Bilbro is right: “Modern news organizations double as lifestyle brands; where we get our news signals and shapes our identity.” He adds perceptively, “Instead of looking to the news to create better communities, we should be looking to strengthen communities so that they can create better news.”

We “strengthen communities” by loving our Lord and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). We do this best by being led and empowered each day by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and then responding to problems with intercession and to opportunities with service.

When we do, we can know that God is using us not just to follow the news but to make it, not just to react to culture but to shape it. Bilbro advises, “Christians should be wary of being caught up in the trivia of the day and should be devoted to eternal truths. This is the posture of the martyrs—faithful to the Word, indifferent to victory.”

Nabonidus was ruler of Babylon in his day but a footnote to history in ours. The “Serendipity Sapphire” was being formed in the earth long before it was discovered and valued by humans.

What matters today is not always what will matter tomorrow, much less in eternity. By contrast, we cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.

Will you be “devoted to eternal truths” today?

Image credit: ©Unsplash / Roman Kraft

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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