The Dangers of a 'Headlines' Faith
When the News Drives Us More than the Good News
In our culture, the inescapable influence of media is no secret. Whether it's social media with its 'news feed', or traditional media with its various news outlets, this glut of voices and screens can dominate our thinking and shape our hearts in ways we often don't recognize. We are called to care about causes and be concerned with crises that have no (or almost no) connection with our everyday lives. Though a story, article, post, meme, or comment may be accurate, every kind of media tends toward the sensational. Its aim is our attention. Thus, media regularly seeks to persuade us that this or that is what matters most. But tellingly, what mattered most a few years ago, a few months ago, or even a few weeks ago is often pushed to the sidelines by a newer 'crisis', a newer 'threat', a newer 'battle' you should fight if you really care about justice, or if you're a real patriot, or if you want to save Western civilization.
Though being in the belly of this media 'machine' can be exhausting, even followers of Jesus can find themselves seeking daily guidance from their preferred media sources. We may tell ourselves, “I just want to stay informed,” but what we're really asking is, “What matters most today?” When this happens, current events and culture wars can easily push faith concerns to the side. But equally dangerous is when the media's “what matters most” begins to shape our faith instead of sidelining it. Our prayers, our conversations with other believers, even our time in God's word can be dominated by such issues. Some may ask, “So what? Is this really wrong?” Not always. It certainly isn't wrong to pray in light of current events or bring 'trending' issues to God's word in order to find guidance. But when we allow media, and not God, to tell us what matters most, we are not in a good place.
This kind of 'headlines' faith can be so destructive, not because it's focused on things that are unimportant (they often are important), but because it takes our attention from what matters even more. When God's word and the gospel of Jesus dominate our thinking instead of media, our central focus is shifted to things like...
God's global headship (instead of the latest global headline). The Scriptures remind us that the most important feature of our globalized reality today is that “God reigns over the nations” (Psalm 47:8). Political upheaval and foreign threats can never change the fact “that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32) Because God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), we can rest assured that his 'what matters most' will be successful. What is God's global agenda? To have “a great multitude... from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before [His] throne” (Revelation 7:9). This is why we “pray... that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (II Thessalonians 3:1).
Our actual neighbors (instead of celebrities, pundits, or segments of the electorate). Sadly, Christians today can become more concerned about names in the news than even knowing the names of the people who live on their street or in the apartment next door. We're often more interested in hearing from a media personality than the coworker who wants to strike up a conversation. Even in the church, some believers pray more for far-flung churches in crisis than they do for their own church community (and the challenges it faces). As you're “going down that road” (Luke 10:31) of your everyday life, who do you encounter? And how does God want to use you to be an instrument of his love (Luke 10:33-37)? This shouldn't exclude those we meet in the media, but it should shape our priorities.
Our own hearts (instead of political foes and societal evils). Jesus had no problem referencing 'headline' events. But he did so in order to direct his listeners back to their own hearts and the evil at work there (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Talking about the corruption of our culture is easy. Wrestling with the corruption of your own heart is not. Posting about the 'bad guys' is easy. Acknowledging that, apart from God's grace, your ultimately no better is not. Our screens are filled with people who want to convince you that this or that is our biggest threat. But God's word reminds us that the very face reflected by/in your screen is, in fact, your biggest threat (cf. I Timothy 1:15). And so what matters most is “lay[ing] aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and [running] with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
When our prayers, our conversations, our commitments, our time in the word, etc., are shaped less by the news and more by the Good News (i.e., the gospel), less by what's trending and more by what God has revealed, then, and only then, will we find ourselves in a healthy position to think about, speak about, and attempt to help with the unhealthiness of our modern world. Devotion to Christ does not mean being uninformed and/or disengaged. But it does mean careful consideration of what matters most, in light of God's amazing grace and unrivaled glory.