A Ray in the Darkness

"It’s a real irony that there’s this unparalleled explosion of communication, but there is this spirit of stifling certain viewpoints," notes Dr. Jerry Johnson, CEO of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

Dr. Jerry Johnson, President and CEO of the Natonal Religious Broadcasters

“WE ARE IN A DARK PLACE,” says Dr. Jerry Johnson in this conversation with Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) sees that darkness being penetrated as Christians rally at the gates.

War Cry: How are Christian media responding to cultural shifts in the United States?

Jerry: The best are responding ahead of the trends. When you look at the history of media, there are more paintings, more books, more movies, more songs about Jesus than any other person in the world. The first publication of the printing press was the Gutenberg Bible. Historically, the church has been at the forefront of arts, media and communication. We’ve got a group in Mexico that offers the Bible in a hundred languages, and through their phones people are accessing it around the world. That’s cutting-edge technology. 

War Cry: What are the challenges facing Christians now and in the future?

Jerry: We’ve got some incredible social, cultural and ethical challenges. We are in a dark place. There has been a decline in the notion of revelation or truth. People are asking, “What is truth? Is there such a thing as truth? Is everything relative?” The Christian doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is under attack. Among baby boomers, even if they rebelled against their parents’ religion and traditions, they still have in their memory ascertions about absolute truth and revelation in the Bible. Fast-forward to millennials or Generation Z. They don’t even have memory to refer to in these categories. That leads to confusion and darkness. 

The other category [to consider is the definition of] life. Paul Ramsey wrote a book called Fabricated Man. He predicted that the more we control fertility to make human life, the freer we feel to take it. He had a student named Oliver O’Donovan who wrote the book called Begotten or Made? He observed that in the Bible children are begotten, but in Western culture they’re made. Today, there are still around 3,000 abortions a day in America. That’s a very dark fact. 

We look back at the slavery period and say, “The Dred Scott decision was so wrong. How could people say that human beings were property?” We commend the abolitionists and Lincoln with the 13th Amendment as the antidote. We wonder, “Why were the Christians back then divided on it? How could anyone not see that was a fundamental issue of the day?” Yet we don’t see that now. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, 50-60 million lives have been extinguished.(https://nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf). It is a hopeful sign that the last couple of generations have been instinctively more pro-life. Because of the advances in genetics and the survival rate of premature children, there is this instinctive knowledge that this is human, that this is life. Clinics are closing across America. There’s a ray in the darkness. 

 [Then there is the issue of] liberty and freedom. 

The First Amendment guarantees freedoms of speech, of religion, of the press. The younger generations don’t understand that. There’s increasing numbers of “safe spaces” or “free speech zones,” which means that the rest of the areas are not free speech. If you have a free speech zone, it means there isn’t free speech. Think of the University of California at Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement in the ‘60s. They’re the most notorious now for cancelling conservative and Christian speakers.

National Religious Broadcasters has a project called Internet Freedom Watch. We celebrate the technology of Facebook, Google and Twitter. These are incredible tools for Christians to take advantage of, but we’re tracking censorship. Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube censor some Christian content. 

Twice in the book of Acts the disciples are told, “Don’t say the name of Jesus. You’ve been filling Jerusalem with your doctrine.” But they answered, “Were going to obey God, not man.” Because this is America and we’re citizens, we should say, “We don’t have to take it. We should have a better society, a better country, a better culture. We need to get back to the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech, of religion, of the press. The way out is freedom of expression.” The Gospel always does well in a free exchange of ideas. We’re not threatened by the opposition, but they are threatened by us. 

We are in an absolute communications revolution. On my phone I can watch Billy Graham right now. I can read the Gospel of Luke. I can do a word search. I’ve got an app called 1Cross that allows me to share the Gospel with people in just about any language. At the same time, it’s a real irony that there’s this unparalleled explosion of communication, but there is this spirit of stifling certain viewpoints.

War Cry: What would you say to the average Christian?

Jerry: Paul said, “Take heed to yourselves.” Put on [your] own oxygen mask first. If you’re a believer, you need to have Bible intake every day, studying, reading, listening. You can have devotionals on your phone or read the Bible anywhere.

Second, talk to God. You’ve got to pray. He talks to you through Scripture, and you talk to Him. The Scripture says, “Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.” The antidote to worry or anxiety is prayer and trusting the Lord. 

Third, witness. Share your faith. Try to move someone closer to the Lord.

War Cry: What will things look like in ten years?

Jerry: I remember Myspace and CompuServe, America Online dial-up. I have a family member who’s very involved in what’s happening online, and he says, “We’re still in the early morning of the revolution.” I don’t know that Facebook, Twitter and Google will actually be around in ten years. We’re in the beginning. 

War Cry: Do we have any way of gauging the impact of technology in places where religious freedom doesn’t exist?

Jerry: The church in mainland China has 200-300 million people—approaching the population of the United States. What if that trend continues in China? They could actually become a great center for Christianity. The church in Iran is growing in terms of size and influence. We can never get missionaries into some of these countries, but everybody’s got a cell phone. It’s hard to censor all technology. People gather around phones to listen, to sing. The audio movement is huge. There’s been an explosion of missionary activity around the world in cultures where no one reads. People have been able to get the story of Jesus, the miracles, the crucifixion and resurrection, match it with music so that it rings true. They’re starting little churches by listening to their phones.

War Cry: Should we be optimistic or concerned?

Jerry: Optimistic. Jesus said “The gates of hell will not prevail against [the church.]” The church is at the gates of hell, because it’s pressing against the darkness. It’s advancing. It’s punching into the darkness. The church is at the gates of hell fighting, striving, struggling, pushing, evangelizing, building churches, blessing people—like The Salvation Army. It’s a fight. We’re in a battle. 

If you look at the long sweep of church history, we’re in more countries than ever before. We’re the largest religion in the world, and it’s all about Jesus. There is no one that compares to Jesus and His influence. We cannot lose. We’re winning now, and we’re going to win in the end. 

NRB is an international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations reach millions of viewers, listeners and readers worldwide. Dr. Johnson previously served as President of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. He earned a B.A. degree in Biblical Studies from Criswell College, an M.A. in Historical and Theological Studies from Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

NRB is an international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations reach millions of viewers, listeners and readers worldwide. Dr. Johnson previously served as President of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. He earned a B.A. degree in Biblical Studies from Criswell College, an M.A. in Historical and Theological Studies from Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Subscribe

Thanks for reading the War Cry. If you share your email address with us, we’ll let you know when our next issue is published.

Already a subscriber? Login.
Would you like the War Cry delivered to your door?
Subscribe in print.