The media dominate our lives. They influence our politics; they shape our buying habits; they direct our leisure. It almost goes without saying that there is little authentic Christian presence in the media landscape. Christians are frequently portrayed negatively in the media—either as the bad guy at the end of the story, the punch line at the end of the joke, or simply as being “crazy.”
For many years, the Christian community’s response has been to create an evangelical media subculture—Christian music, Christian movies, Christian coffeehouses. Such an approach to culture helped create solidarity among evangelical youth, but it also had an unexpected outcome—by disengaging from mainstream culture, we undercut our own efforts to influence culture. Because we avoided mainstream media, we couldn’t influence culture. The reason Christians continue to lack a modern media presence is due mostly to the fact that we never learned the language.
As director of Arizona Christian University’s new Communication major, I want students to understand culture so they can better engage culture. Transforming culture with truth is the foundational element of the major. I want students to learn how to tell stories in engaging ways. We have the greatest story of all—one of redemption and grace—and we should be able to tell that story in a way that everyone will want to hear, again and again.
Our new major allows students to emphasize broadcasting, journalism, or film—three areas where Christians can have tremendous influence in society. Students will not only study theories and concepts related to communication as a whole, but they will gain practical experience and develop skills in their chosen field. One of our immediate goals is to create modern multi-media/editing suites where students can create news stories, short films, or podcasts.
This attitude of cultural engagement is starting to show some rewards. Films like October Baby and Blue Like Jazz are getting national attention—not because they are “Christian” films, but because they are good stories. Blogs like Get Religion reveal the relationship between faith and quality journalism. My hope is that ACU Communication graduates will impact our culture and our world in remarkable ways like these—maybe even in ways we can’t even imagine yet. If you are on campus, come on by and we can talk more. If I’m not in, I’m probably in line to see Blue Like Jazz.