What Is “News” and How to Think about It (Postman/Powers)

 I’m one of the few people who mostly avoid the news, whether online, in print, or on TV.  I’ll skim the headlines of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sundays and Thursdays and I do see a few headlines online every now and then.  And of course, my friends mention current events.  But for the most part, I’ve avoided news media for the last 10 years or so.  To be honest, the only “before” and “after” difference is that now I have far less stress, anxiety, and frustration in life.  And I could be wrong, but I haven’t noticed any negative consequences of me mostly avoiding the news.

One book that I found helpful on this topic is Neil Postman and Steve Powers’ How to Watch TV News.  This book gave me discernment when it comes to thinking about the news and it has helped me not get freaked out about what the newspeople are constantly talking about.  This book is about TV news, of course, but it for sure applies in many ways to online news and print news as well (whether conservative, liberal or somewhere in between).  Here are some quotes worth reading:

“While public service does play a role in deciding what news programs get on the air, the main factor is profit.  …Many decisions about the form and content of news programs are made on the basis of information about the viewer, the purpose of which is to keep viewers watching so that they will be exposed to commercials.”

“…An event becomes news.  And it becomes news because it is selected for notice out of the buzzing, booming confusion around us.  …In fact, the news is more often made than gathered.  And it is made on the basis of what the journalist thinks important or what the journalist thinks the audience things is important or interesting.”

“Studies conducted by Professor George Gerbner and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that people who are heavy television viewers, including viewers of television news shows, believe their communities are much more dangerous than do light television viewers.  Television news, in other words, tends to frighten people. The question is, ought they to be frightened? which begs the question, Is the news an accurate portrayal of where we are as a society?  Which leads to another question: Is it possible for daily news to give such a picture?”

“Whether you know it or not, we are programmed to watch the news, by programmers.”

“A good anchor is a good actor, and with the lift of an eyebrow or with studied seriousness of visage, he or she can convince you that you are seeing the real thing; that is, a concerned, solid journalist.”

“The competitive drive to get the story on the air quickly, and the technological ability to do so, obviously reduces the ability of journalists to check facts and other information.”

I appreciate this book because it is level-headed.  It’s not a conspiracy theory rant, and it does go on to give good advice on how to watch or take in news with discretion.  It’s not a Christian book, but it is what we might call “common grace” wisdom.  I very much recommend it.  This insight into the news is much needed today in the context of quarantines, the Coronavirus, and online media.  It’s crazy how much people believe that is patently false.  It’s amazing how fear is bred by the news – news that is spun, inaccurate, sensationalized, and dripping with agenda.  As Christians, we’re called to be discerning, to not live in fear, and to redeem the time in a God-glorifying way.  For me, an overload of news was a hindrance to my Christian walk.

In light of this topic, here’s a Proverb to meditate on (14:15 NET):

“A naive person believes everything, but the shrewd person discerns his steps.”

The above quotes are from Neil Postman and Steve Powers, How to Watch TV News, Penguin: New York, 2008).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Aim of God’s Wisdom (VanMastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God Paul’s well-known doxology in Romans 11 mentions the deep (βάθος) wisdom of God (σοφίας…θεοῦ).  In his excellent discussion of God’s wisdom, Peter Van Mastricht (d. 1706) listed eight “aims” of God’s wisdom that Scripture teaches.

Van Mastricth wrote that the wisdom of God is chiefly occupied and concerned…

  1. With the counsels, decrees, predestination, election, and reprobation of God, to which points the text’s exclamation, ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom…!”
  2. With the works of creation, conservation, and governance, concerning which the psalmist says, “In wisdom you made them all” (Ps. 104:24; 136:5.
  3. Especially with the formation of man, the microcosm [little cosmos] (Ps. 139:14-15).
  4. With the uniting and ordering of creatures so different from each other, because of which he is called the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), who does all things in their own time and measure (Ecc. 3:11).
  5. Especially in the marvelous work of redemption through the Son and Holy Spirit, because of which the Savior is not only named the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:24), but also called the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) into which even angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).
  6. In the mysteries of the Christian faith, which the apostle calls the wisdom of God, distinguished from the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 2:6).
  7. In the gathering and defending of his church against the most cunning attacks of so many and such great enemies, whom by his wisdom he time and again catches in their own scheming (Ps. 59:12; 10:2).
  8. In his most wise direction and governance particular to individual believers.

In other words, God’s wisdom is not an impractical dogma for us to dissect.  Wisdom is an attribute of God that has to do with his decree(s).  Furthermore, God’s wisdom is also evident in creation, providence, salvation, and our own preservation.  And this all brings him glory.  Therefore, when we think about the depth of God’s wisdom, it makes us praise and adore him!

The above very slightly edited quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 262-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002


Knowledge, Love, and Wisdom (Huss)

  John Huss (b. 1369) was one of the forerunners of the Reformation.  Well before Luther’s day Huss called out many of the abuses and errors in the church: hypocrisy, corruption, the sale of indulgences, and so forth.  Huss was a very powerful preacher and a bright student of the Word, but he wasn’t the leading scholar of his day.  I appreciate his view on knowledge and the Christian faith:

First of all must we learn that which is most necessary to salvation, that which stimulates us to love; for we should learn not for vainglory or curiosity, but to the edification of ourselves and our neighbor, and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are some who wish to know in order that they may be known of men, and that is degrading vanity; there are others who wish to know for the sake of knowing, and that is curiosity; and there are still others who wish to know in order to sell their knowledge for wealth and honor, and that is ignoble desire for gain. But there are likewise some who desire to know in order to edify, and that is love; and still others who desire to know in order to be edified themselves, and that is wisdom.”

 Kuhns, O. (1907). John Huss: The Witness (pp. 41–42). Cincinnati; New York: Jennings and Graham; Eaton and Mains.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Wisdom and Worldview (Goldsworthy)

Here’s a nice section from Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel and Wisdom:

“The Christian rejects this [naturalistic] assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible.  He accepts rather that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control.  While the atheist view of reality is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.  We need the revelation of God in order to know that the universe is in fact like this.  We do not know all the answers yet.  We never will know all the answers because some can be known by God alone. Because God has revealed that the ultimate meaning of reality lies beyond the ability of man to discover for himself, we know that empirical knowledge is always in that sense defective.  What man discovers by himself, and what he reasons from it, will never bring him to understand God and to know him.  Thus, we have returned to Paul’s assertion that worldly wisdom cannot know God (1 Cor. 1:21, compare 2:12).

The Bible characteristically looks at reality in terms of relationships.  Because God is the creator of all things, these relationships must begin with God.  To understand what it means to be human we must know man as image of God.  The non-Christian can describe many things about man in a way that is useful within a restricted framework.  But while we can look at man purely in terms of structure, chemistry, anatomy and so on, none of these approaches can show us the real nature of man.  They do not provide a satisfactory explanation of the uniqueness of man in the purposes of God.  They can never discover and pin-point the exclusive trait of humanity created in the image of God.  From a biblical point of view, then, the definition of man is primarily a definition of his relationship to God….”

This quote is taken from The Goldsworthy Trilogy, pages 367-8.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Danger of Biblicism

Biblicism is a problem in the conservative Christian church today.  By “biblicism” I mean an over-rigid adherence to certain Bible texts or teachings at the expense of context and other biblical teachings.  Biblicism is a cousin of legalism since both are often quite rigid, demanding, and unforgiving.  Some examples of biblicism would be an inflexible adherence to things like courting, abstinence from all alcohol, and insistence on a certain way to run a home (to name just a few).  Biblicism often doubts the value of general revelation and sometimes views the Bible as a science textbook.  I’ve also noticed that many biblicists are self-taught and sometimes do not like creeds and confessions.  Biblicism can lead to many problems in a church’s life and in a Christian’s life.

Terry Johnson has a helpful section on biblicism in his book on the five solas called The Case for Traditional Protestantism.  Here’s part of it:

“Believers must not fall into an unwarranted biblicism which, in the name of biblical authority, narrows the scope of its application to only that which the Bible explicitly states and not to that which it implies as well.  This is a danger when the nature of Scripture is not understood.  There is not a verse for every occasion.  The Bible is not a book of detailed causistry providing answers for every imaginable ethical question.  No doubt some have wished that the Bible were such a book….  Yet it still applies to every occasion.  How so?  It reveals general principles which, to be grasped, must be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and, to be applied concretely in life, must be joined with reason and wisdom.  The need of wisdom can be illustrated by this fact – almost all of life is lived between the lines of explicit biblical commands.”

“We can summarize our point in this way: The Scriptures are sufficient to reveal to us the truth and will of God when read in conjunction with biblical wisdom.  Biblical wisdom can be defined as understanding the nature of things.  To do so I must know the ‘sacred writings,’ ‘which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15).

Johnson later notes how a person may know what the Bible says but not really understand the nature of things and therefore misapply the Bible’s teaching.  The farmer doesn’t plant in the spring because the Bible commands it.  “He does so because he correctly percieves the nature of things and acts in harmony with it.”  The wise Christian understands general revelation and special revelation, and conforms his life “to the reality that both books (nature and the Bible) reveal.”

Yes, the Bible is the Christian’s highest authority in all of life, and yes, Scripture is sufficient for doctrine and life.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore general revelation.  It doesn’t mean that there’s a Bible verse for everything.  It doesn’t mean we can ignore context and flatten out the Bible.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have to use wisdom in all areas of life.  Biblicism sometimes sounds good because it uses Scripture so much, but we have to remember there is a wrong way to use it!  And typically, as Augustine said, the person who has himself as a teacher has a fool for a student (cf. Prov. 1:7, 12:15, and 28:24). So we need to humbly listen to wise counsel and fervently pray for wisdom ourselves, which – thankfully! – God gives to those who ask in faith (James 1:5-6).

The above quotes are found in chapter two of The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Critical and Opinionated Christians (Manton)

Sadly, some Christians are super critical and overly opinionated.  They constantly criticize others and go around boldly stating their opinion (as if they’re always right).  This is a sign of pride.  Of course, no Christian is perfect – we all struggle with various sins, passions, and evil pleasures.  But it is important for those who follow Christ to be humble, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, and so forth (cf. Gal. 5:22).  We should fight against being critical and overly opinionated.  Thomas Manton does a nice job explaining moderation and Christian wisdom in his commentary on James 3:17.  He said, “A truly wise Christian is moderate:”

1) In his criticism.  He is not always making the worst of matters but judges charitably and favorably where things are capable of being interpreted without censure.  People who examine everything by very strict rules and use harder terms than the nature of human actions requires may seem to be more wise and perceptive than others, but they show lack of this true wisdom that the apostle commends. Austerity [a severe manner] is the sign of folly.  Wise Christians, in weighing actions, always allow for human frailty.

2) In his opinions.  He does not urge his own opinions too much or wrest those of his adversaries beyond what they intended to odious consequences that they disclaim – a fault that has much disturbed the peace of Christendom.  Charity should consider not what follows of itself from any other opinion, but what follows in the conscience of those who hold it.  A person may err in logic without erring in faith; and though you may show him the consequences of his opinion, you must not make him responsible for them.  To make anyone worse than he is, is the way to disgrace an adversary not reclaim him.

These are good reminders!  Rather than always criticising and voicing our opinion, we should seek the wisdom from above, Christ-like wisdom, wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17, NIV).

The above quotes are found in Thomas Manton’s (abridged) commentary on James, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015



Digital Media, Screen Time, and the Christian Home

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG I have to admit that I often wish my wife and I were raising our children before the digital age – before there were 6+ screens in each home, before people spent 7+ hours in front of a screen each day, before people’s conversations always got interrupted by the cell phone.  I’m not at all against digital media, and I realize there have always been difficult areas of parenting, but digital media sure makes parenting tough (especially when “everyone else’s” kids have the best tablet, IPhone, or gaming system)!

On this topic, I’ve mentioned The Digital Invasion before here on the blog.  This is an excellent resource for those of us trying to handle digital media in a wise, Christian way.  Here’s one helpful section on how to keep a home from being consumed by digital media; in other words, here are some tips on helping avoid screen addiction in the home (I’ve edited them for length and added a few lines of personal observation/notes):

1) Be alert.  Watch, listen, learn, and engage with your kids.  When your kids are playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in some other digital activity, use these times as teachable moments.  Don’t assume your kids are always going to make the right choices when using technology.  Be aware of what your kids are doing in front of the screen.  Also be alert to signs of too much media use – sleepiness, weight gain, sore necks/backs/wrists, irritability when asked about online habits, etc.

2) Create a safe home environment that makes it easy for your kids to share their concerns, fears, temptations, and experiences in their areas of technological use, even their mistakes.  They must know it’s safe to discuss these things with you, and do it regularly.

3) Establish good media habits.  Lead the way.  Model a Christian perspective and attitude towards media in front of your kids.  Don’t be a screen junkie yourself!  Media should be a privilege instead of a constant activity that is simply taken for granted.  Have your kids get into the habit of asking to use a screen (like they would ask to use matches, dad’s tools, or anything else that might be dangerous or that needs supervision).  Take screen time away or limit it when disciplining kids.  Contrary to popular beliefs, your 11-year-old is not legally entitled to own a digital device and use it for hours each day!

4) Attach all media to a system of accountability.  Location is everything.  Keep a common area.  Never allow a computer or television in your child’s room.  Have good filters, and require your children to share their passwords.  You have the authority to look at their screens/tablets/phones, so do that to make sure your child isn’t using the device in a sinful way.  Consider times during the week to have a “screen off” period.  Also remember to use rating systems on apps, safe search options on YouTube and Google, and IMDB or pluggedin.com for movie reviews.

5) Determine a media diet and stick to it.  Discuss this with the entire family, and hold one another accountable.  Don’t be afraid to have time limits, and use blocks on devices so during certain times, they cannot use all the functions of the device (e.g. our devices use the Ubehind app which makes it so certain apps are blocked for a certain time).

6) Give your children alternative entertainment activities.  Sports, hobbies, board games, and books are just a few of the myriad of nondigital activities that are very healthy for kids (mentally, socially, and physically!).  In my family (SL), rather than purchasing an extra laptop, cellphone, or tablet, we used that money to get a small fishing boat, kayak equipment, some camping gear, and sports equipment so the kids had more options of things to do outside.) (see pages 183-184)

These are some helpful ways to keep our Christian homes from overuse, misuse, and unwise use of digital media.  If you’re a parent who is growing more and more lenient about your children and their screen time, remember your God-given role and authority, and prayerfully and lovingly begin to “reign in” digital media in your home.  It might be a tough job, but it will be good for you and your kids in the long run – spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.

Here’s the book to help you: The Digital Invasion by A. Hart and S. Hart-Frejd.

shane lems
hammond, wi