Our engagement with the news has evolved rapidly as we have access like never before.
Since we need to engage the world for Christ, we can’t totally check out of the news, but we can’t blindly dive in head first either. We need to engage the news in a God-honoring way. This article1 won’t tell you what to think (I am often not sure how to best do that), but it should help you know how to think through the news through a gospel lens.
Engaging the news, like everything else we do, should be done in faith. My hope is that these eight questions transform the news from being a faith-draining exercise to a faith-building, kingdom-advancing, God-glorifying exercise.
1. Is every news story worthy of your attention?
Every news story in the entire world just a click away. Do you need to know every detail of every story? How long lasting of an impact will this story have? What stories help you live out your Christian calling in our sinful world? How many news stories from ten years ago have any bearing on your life?
Consuming a lot of content doesn’t mean you think through issues carefully. So much news coverage lacks depth. Consider this evaluation: “Read three books on a topic and you know more about it than 99% of the world. Watch news all day for years and you have a distant, water-cooler-level awareness of thousands of stories, at least for the few weeks each is popular.”
God doesn’t want us to fritter away our time on unimportant things (Ephesians 5:16). Engage the news accordingly.
This first question ties closely with the next.
2. How much news is enough?
According to a recent Pew study, 68% of Americans feel worn out by the amount of news there is today.
For what you deem a worthy news story, is reading a short article enough, or would scanning headlines suffice? Is watching a ten-minute news clip enough? Or is diving deep into the 24-hour cable news cycle better?
The answer? It depends. We normally should be more engaged with major stories like wars, elections, natural disasters, or when something hits close to home. Many broadcasts need to fill an hour time slot whether there is news or not. Without a major story, we can follow the news more casually. Most of us won’t reach heaven wishing we paid more attention to the news.
3. Are you filtering the news through a Christian worldview?
If you are surprised when the news is filled with trouble of many kinds, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, racial tensions, men and women spouting hatred at each other, and image-bearers rejecting truth and worshipping created things, then you’ve forgotten Scripture promises all of this in a fallen world. (Check out John 16:33; Matthew 24:6–14; Romans 1:18–32.)
“Given the enormous array of media sources aimed at us…it’s very easy for Americans to believe that we are pretty much on top of the news. Indeed, there’s the argument that there’s no excuse for not being up on the news. But Christians must understand, and we must constantly remind ourselves, that our responsibility is not merely to skim along the surface, nor even to listen merely to the level of debate that is now sustained in our nation and in the media. Our responsibility is to look deeper at a far more foundational and fundamental level–at the level we commonly refer to as worldview. This is the level of first principles, the level that’s pre-political, even pre-sociological. This is the level that requires us to ask the most basic questions. It’s the level that requires us to ask questions that others do not ask.”
Here are a few questions that others do not ask:
- How might a person or story show the goodness of God’s creation and ingenuity and value of His image-bearers?
- How has sin affected people, institutions, and the creation itself?
- What truths from Scripture apply to this situation?
- How do we see God’s common grace at work in the world? His saving grace?
- What worldview drives a particular story or political narrative?
4. Is the source trustworthy?
Bias, usually political, is hard to avoid. Mainstream news (especially cable news) often feels like popular distillations of political talking points instead of objective analyses of current events.
Ask yourself: what viewpoint drives this reporter or network? How objective are they in this story? How much time have they had to think through an issue? Cable news pundits often need an opinion by showtime whether or not useful information exists on a certain story—they are paid to have an opinion and appear smart regardless. This doesn’t mean their opinions are well thought out or grounded in fact.
I turn again to Albert Mohler, who exposes what drives cable news (and other news outlets as well), “The profit in cable news is not made in explaining carefully. The profit is made in generalizations and accusations, it is made in criticism and condemnation, it is made in division, not in understanding.”
More proof that the love of money corrupts everything it touches (1 Timothy 6:10). We can’t avoid this, but we can be aware.
News distorted by biases and unhealthy desires to inflate ratings or get clicks is a reality. So is fake news (and false accusations of fake news). A wise believer keeps these things in mind.
Here are a few news outlets I recommend for Christians: The Briefing with Albert Mohler (a daily podcast), Christian Daily Reporter, and World Magazine (website, podcast, and GlobeTrot email list with international headlines).
5. Do you try to understand both sides of a controversial issue?
Here’s a novel idea in an age of partisan echo chambers: try to understand the other side’s point of view. No, I’m not saying change your convictions. I am saying try to think through issues through the lens of the other viewpoint. What are the good intentions of the other side? What is the concern of the other group? What can you learn from the other group to sharpen your own position and avoid using bad arguments?
Putting yourself in the shoes of your opponent reminds you of their humanity and will help you empathize with them, even if you still think they are dead wrong. Practically, you may consider watching or reading news of a different viewpoint. You may be more intentional seeking out conversations with friends or coworkers with the aim of understanding, not convincing. (I recommend Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions for a helpful paradigm of the foundational visions many conservatives and liberals espouse.)
6. How does the news make you feel?
If engaging the news leads you to anger, hopelessness, or indifference to the joys of sorrows of living in a fallen world, I would encourage you to take a step back from the news and remember the hope of the gospel. Read Psalm 46 which talks of God as our refuge and strength. When we enter the refuge of Christ, we don’t have to fear earth-shaking events. We can trust God is with His children and rest in the knowledge of Him. We have unshakable promises from Scripture that mean we can worship, not worry when things don’t go our way.
7. Does engaging with the news drive you to prayer?
Watching the news may make us feel engaged on a certain issue or against a certain injustice, but knowledge of something alone doesn’t make the world a better place. Prayer can, and believers are called to intercede for this world (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Let the challenges of our day drive us to lives of intercession.
- When we see ugly acts of violence, pray for the suffering to find relief and find Christ.
- When we see people taken captive by lies of the sexual revolution, pray the truth of Christ to set captives free (John 8:31–32).
- Pray for rulers and authorities to be saved and govern in a way that punishes evil, rewards good, and allows us to live quiet and peaceful lives in a society where the gospel can advance freely (Romans 13:3–4; 1 Timothy 2:2). Also, pray for their salvation.
- Pray for Christ to continue to build and strengthen His church in every nation.
- Pray for God’s enemies to have their foolishness exposed and to come to saving faith.
- Pray for God to be glorified through everything.
- Use Operation World to help you pray for the nations or download a prayer guide on the PrayerMate app.
8. Do you realize the news doesn’t tell the whole story of what’s happening in the world?
So often the news only shares the lowest common denominator beliefs of society so no one is offended. Almost always the news fails to paint a picture of the spiritual good happening all over the planet.
On a recent ministry trip, I met Emil2 who told me his story. A couple of years ago, a car bomb exploded across the street from where he was living in a Middle Eastern Muslim country. Almost one hundred people died and the event made international headlines.
After Emil heard the blast, he saw his wounded neighbor run into her house. He ran to check on her and saw that she was dying of her injuries. Her final act before dying in Emil’s arms was to hold out a Bible soaked in blood to him. Emil opened it and saw Jesus’ words “Love your enemies” scribbled on a piece of paper. Those words shined the light of the gospel into his heart previously darkened by the hatred of his former religion. Emil now follows Jesus.
Even though headlines may discourage your soul, take heart Christ is building His church and the gates of hell won’t prevail. Take heart that as you read this article, God is doing an incredible work in the lives of people who once hated Him—although you won’t know that from major media outlets.
Believer, look forward to your future in Christ when every news story will be glorious and lead to praise. Until then, let’s engage the news in faith.
1 Because everything these days is political, this article deals considerably with politics, something I consider to be both a gift of God and a chief idol of our day.
2 To protect his identity, I changed his name and omitted details of his account.