Writing for Jesus in the New York Times
The opportunity and challenge for Christians writing in secular spaces
There has been some discussion on Twitter and in a few columns about evangelical Christians who have opportunities to write for prestigious outlets like the New York Times or The Atlantic, The Washington Post and other places. I think much of it was sparked by this much-discussed piece by former CT editor Mark Galli on the temptations of elitism, a piece I responded to here. The gist of my thoughts are contained in this paragraph:
It’s important to note that elitism is not the same as being good at what you do, or holding a position of authority, or having a platform of some kind. In my view, elitism is a kind of disdain for the ordinary folks in your movement, who pay your salary, and for whom you want to distance yourself in order to be seen as acceptable by another set of people. It’s a kind of “green room” mentality, where you constantly seek approval from your peers and often at the expense of those you are called to lead.
In other words, elitism is more of a posture than a position. This tendency shows up in a variety of ways and tempts people across the political spectrum.
Elitism is thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It’s a lack of even-handedness.
We should also acknowledge that charges of elitism are often used as lazy rhetorical weapons anytime someone makes an argument we might disagree with. So it should be stressed again that pride is a posture, not a position. There is a way to hold positions of power and prominence in key institutions with humility and a heart of service.
But I want to expand on these thoughts and think about the specific challenge and opportunity of writing for elite publications. Some charge that in order to be seen as acceptable by the editors of these places, one must be willing to soften controversial aspects of Christian orthodoxy or, at the very least, be willing to use those pages to dump on our fellow Christians. To be sure, there are Christians to do just that, whose ticket to a byline is to throw the tribe under the bus. But I think this charge is often unfair and really fails to consider what many are doing.
Take, for instance, Tim Keller. This past Easter, Tim Keller, wrote a powerful and personal narrative on his renewed belief in the resurrection of Christ in the midst of his cancer treatments. Here, the pages of a prestigious publication were used to share the gospel with an audience filled with quite a few folks who don’t share his Christian faith. This was evangelistic and I’m grateful for this witness. Another example is Tish Warren, whose newsletters every week in the New York Times are not filled with rants against evangelicals, but are deep biblical reflections we should be grateful the New York Times publishes.
And I can point to my own experience, much less eloquent or prominent, in writing pieces for USA Today. My editors have been so gracious to allow me the last few Christmas and Easter holidays, to write about how the Christian story helps us make sense of a broken world.
Of course, there is a constant temptation to be seen by the world as “not that kind of evangelical” and to use the media to broadcast it. And there are some outlets who only seem interested in anti-evangelical rants. But this doesn’t mean it is always this way, it doesn’t mean that every Christian who writes for New York Times or Atlantic or USA Today or Washington Post is compromising their beliefs or betraying their spiritual family. This is certainly not what I’m trying to do. Even when I’m advocating for evangelicals to take a particular position, I try my best to ground it in what we already believe about God, about the world, about the Bible and try to appeal to our best instincts. Sometimes I’ve even defended evangelicals in places like USA Today. I don’t always do this well, but my prayer, every time I go on Morning Joe or every time I’m writing a piece for publication is to bring the gospel to bear in that space and to perhaps give that audience some insight into a world they may not understand.
Elitism is a real temptation we must fight, but let’s not throw this charge at every brother or sister who has a byline in a prestigious publication. Instead, we might rejoice and pray when someone gets an opportunity to bring their faith to bear in a more secular space. Let’s cheer them on! We should pray that when given the opportunity, any of us would choose our words carefully and that someone on the other side of our work might see their soul freshly awakened by the Spirit of God toward faith in Jesus.