One of my favourite videos on YouTube features the great Welsh evangelical preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones in conversation with Joan Bakewell on Late Night Line-Up in 1970.
Over the course of 19 minutes, this genial man and the hostess with her cut-glass accent earnestly dialogue about the big questions in life: Man’s place in the cosmos, the nature of God, the reality of sin, and the truth claims of Christianity.
Perhaps what’s most striking about this interview is not the content itself so much as the container: a prime-time television show on the BBC, which would have had viewing figures of millions.
Can you imagine Jonathan Ross in conversation with Canon J. John today? Or Dick Lucas propping up the Good Morning Britain sofas? Where are the Martyn Lloyd-Joneses on Who Do You Think You Are?
A curiously British phenomenon
Despite valiant efforts from the delightful Sally Hitchener, Christians are largely erased from the gaze of mainstream British media - save for languid contributions to Thought For The Day and pantomime antagonists on The Big Questions.
This disappearance of Christians from the media sphere is a curiously British phenomenon. If you look stateside, you will see major news organisations such as The Wall Street Journal carrying essays from Eric Metaxas and TV debates on The Larry King Show in which Calvinist firebrand John MacArthur is a weekly feature.
The reason for this is twofold (in summary, we only have ourselves to blame):
Firstly, the erasure of Christians in the media reflects our own cultural and intellectual paucity. We are no longer generating public figures that are worthy of coverage; we are no longer a nation of spiritual giants. British Christendom is no longer producing winsome erudite intellectuals in the mold of CS Lewis who are capable of commanding several year stints on BBC radio.
Secondly, as the palatability of Christianity in the public sphere has diminished we’ve settled for an almost Benedictine position: segregating ourselves with our own ‘separate but equal’ Christian media institutions in television, radio, magazines and websites.
British Christendom is no longer producing winsome erudite intellectuals in the mould of CS Lewis
The effect has been a vibrant and spirited Christian culture and exchange of ideas that is sadly decoupled from the wider British public psyche. Although such media organisations are valuable structures for edifying the body of Christ, they rarely (if ever) reach into the mainstream. The danger is we end up talking to ourselves, rather than spreading the Good News.
Reversing the trend
There is little value in hand-wringing and trumpeting on about a perceived problem without proposing workable solutions. In light of this, I suggest that we can reverse the trend by:
- Supporting structures such as themedianet that support Christians working in the media
- Encouraging (pressuring?) the British media to get better at understanding and reporting on faith (see GetReligion.org and Lapidomedia.com)
- Challenging ourselves and those around us with the talents to become a generation of C.S. Lewis’ - creatively and winsomely contending for the faith in the public sphere
- Praying that the Lord will raise up articulate voices that can take on the mantle of being a public face for Christianity in the British media
As Christians, we have the most important, life-changing, joyous message to tell the British public - and our media organisations are the chief way with which to do this at scale. How tragic, then, if this Good News were not get a look-in because of another re-run of Mrs Brown’s Boys.