Prodigal Press

One of Jesus' best-known parables is the Prodigal Son: the story of a young man who leaves his father's home only to end up wallowing in the mud with the pigs. Figuratively speaking, we could say that one of the prodigal sons of Christianity is the American press. Hard as it is to believe, through most of our nation's history American journalism was Christian journalism. But today it has left its father's home to wallow in the mud of humanism and secularism. The transformation is recounted in a book by Marvin Olasky, which he calls, appropriately enough, Prodigal Press. Though you'd never learn it from journalism textbooks, Olasky says, most newspapers and magazines up through the mid-nineteenth century were written from a Christian perspective. In the first half of the nineteenth century more than 100 cities and towns had explicitly Christian newspapers. New York City alone boasted 52 magazines and newspapers that called themselves Christian. The largest circulation weekly paper in the country was the New York Christian Advocate. Perhaps the most famous Christian newspaper in that period was the New York Times. Yes, the same New York Times that we read today. It was founded by a Bible-believing Presbyterian and soon acquired a reputation for accurate reporting and for exposes [add accent] of crime and corruption. Some of the paper's best work dealt with abortion. Abortion was illegal at the time but was nevertheless rampant in places like New York. The Times was a fervent foe of abortion and sent one of its reporters to investigate the underground abortion business. The investigation resulted in a series of stories describing the grisly details of what the Times bluntly called "infant murder." Several abortionists were convicted. But more important, the articles changed the way people thought and helped make abortion socially unacceptable. What a difference from today, when the same New York Times editorializes so fervently in favor of abortion. Why such a drastic change? Why did the press go prodigal? The answer is a spiritual one. As leading intellectuals began to attack the Christian faith (Darwin, Marx, Freud), Christians turned away from the intellectual realm. They retreated into their churches and Christian schools, turning their backs on the world. In this spirit, some argued that Christian publications should cover only religious topics. Existing Christian newspapers lost support. Christian journalists were harshly accused of being "worldly." And as Christians abandoned the field of journalism, they left it wide open to the secularists. Today the chickens have come home to roost. Christians who turned their backs on journalism can hardly find any newspapers today that interpret events from a biblical perspective. But this is not the end of the story. The prodigal son in Jesus' parable finally came home. And there may be ways for God's people to call the prodigal press home as well. Tune in again tomorrow. [Part 3 in a series on Prodigal Press, by Marvin Olasky.]


Chuck Colson


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