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Philosophical doubleheader

Philosophical doubleheader

First, the battle for the Bible; now, the battle for biblical journalism

I wish I were Ernie Banks. The hall of fame shortstop of the Chicago Cubs was famous for enjoying a tense, hard-fought major league game so much that when it was over, he could heartily look forward to the second game of a doubleheader. "Let's play two," he liked to say.

Here at WORLD we fought from March through May the battle for the Bible, which began when we exposed quiet plans to turn the much-used NIV translation into a gender-neutral version that would misquote God. The work was hard, but with great work by Focus on the Family leaders, Southern Baptist seminary presidents, key theologians from other denominations, and an aroused Christian public, the battle for the Bible ended in a Memorial Day victory.

When those in charge of the NIV promised to maintain the existing version, cease efforts to neuter it, and revise an already published easy-reading edition that had strayed into unisex territory, we thought the struggle was over. Now, though, we find ourselves forced to play two. Just before Independence Day a battle for biblical journalism began, as some of those who lost the first battle decided not to make peace, and therefore brought to the fore basic questions of Christian journalistic practice and ethics.

Battle for biblical journalism? Ethics? What? Let me try to make sense out of a confusing situation.

World operates under three principles for biblically directed reporting.

I've explained these in books and articles; there's nothing stealthy about our operation. The three principles are biblical objectivity, biblical sensationalism, and biblical confession of error.

Biblical objectivity means that the Bible is the only book that presents an accurate, objective view of the world, and that the goal of Christian journalists should be to follow the Bible and present the God's-eye view of the world as best we can. This means that we do not treat as morally equal the positions of those who uphold the Bible as it is written and those who purposely change God's Word to conform to current political and social trends.

Biblical sensationalism means that we are ready to report sensational facts-as the Bible does repeatedly-in a provocative and evocative way, even when such reporting may hurt cozy relationships or offend some people. Our prose is often understated, never hysterical, but even so our style goes against the tendency of some evangelicals to reduce God's teaching to one sandbox phrase: "Be nice."

Biblical confession means that we admit wrong when we make mistakes. There's no shame in doing that: WORLD is a weekly magazine, and we often have to make decisions in a hurry. Readers familiar with our Mailbag page have seen our occasional corrections, and our frequent printing of letters that take us to task, rightly or wrongly. But biblical confession also means that when we go back over a series of stories, as we have done on the Stealth Bible series, and find that they scrupulously told the truth, we will not pretend otherwise.

Our three principles are not new. They go back to the Bible, and more recently to Christian journalism from the 1600s through the early 1800s.

Those principles led to a journalistic reformation in that era, and could do the same now. But they are antithetical to some prevalent notions of neutrality, blandness, and harmony (defined not as reconciliation through mutual obedience to God, but reconciliation by meeting others halfway in error, and then sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya").

Are the three principles of biblically directed reporting always easy to apply? No. We are fallen sinners, redeemed by Christ so no longer blind, but with 20/50 vision at best. Veteran WORLD readers may remember the analogy I've made to navigating whitewater rapids, which range in difficulty of navigation from class one (easy enough for a novice like me) to class six (death with a roar).

A class-one rapids issue is one (adultery, for example) concerning which the Bible is explicit. We see no need to balance specific detail that shows the sad consequences of adultery with detail that makes fornication seem desirable. Clarity decreases progressively with other rapids classes, all the way to a class-six issue on which there is no clear biblical position.

Biblical objectivity means taking a strong biblical stand on a class-one issue and a "balanced" position on a class six. The Battle for the Bible was clearly a class-one rapids: Don't misquote God.

I hope that by our next issue, peace has broken out. If not, we'll have to look at what happens when some people treat the question of quotation as a class-six, and consider unethical those who see it as a one.