Journalism & the Two Mandates
By Canon Dr. Vinay Samuel
The idea of vocation is particularly Christian.
In ancient Greece leisure was the only end of any work and so work itself was not seen as a vocation. All labour was seen as slavish. “To labour meant to be enslaved by necessity and this enslavement was inherent in the conditions of human life.” (9. Lasch.C., Minimal Self p.38)
In Hindu religious culture, the focus is on fulfilling one duty. Work was a part of such duty. Work itself was not a vocation. The Christian reformers of the 16th century Europe developed an understanding that equated vocation with work. “Through work we continue and take forward the process of creation begun by God”. Karl Barth stressed that the Christian fulfills his or her vocation within the job. Through his vocation, a Christian brings transformation into a fallen world. In contrast Jacques Ellul sees the modern technological system as so corrupt that a Christian’s vocation brings judgement on society.
Miroslav Volf identifies the modern tendency to divinize work as the Saviour of the human race. Carlyle wrote that work enables people to find their true selves and elevates them from the low places of this earth into divine Heavens. Volf summarizes that the Biblical tradition affirms work as a fundamental dimension of human existence while acknowledging the drudgery and futility that accompany much of human work in a fallen world.
In the locus classicus of Christian Anthropology, Genesis chapters 1 to 3, the substance of the identity of the first human pair is integrally related to their vocation to till the garden and keep it (Gen. 2:15). God created human beings in his image to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26) reflecting God’s dominion over his creation.
CHRISTIAN VOCATION IN CREATION
Christian vocation in creation is encapsulated in Gen. 1:28; God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Stewardship and rule
D. W. Hall in his excellent study on stewardship identified the substance of the image and likeness of God in humans as the vocation to steward the earth. Humanity’s rule over the earth (Psalm 9:5-8) is delegated sovereignty acting on behalf of the absentee ruler. As God’s steward humanity is sent to care for the earth with a blessing. God’s blessing endows humans in their stewardly responsibility with the calling, skills and ‘enablings’ (charisms) to care for the earth and make it fruitful. Stewardship defines the nature of human’s relation to earth. It is one of care, fruitfulness and enjoyment for both God and humanity.
Human exercise of dominion or rule over all earthly creatures and the earth is the instrument of stewardship. The goals of stewardship shape the nature of human rule over the earth. Such dominion will not waste or corrupt God’s creation. The language of rule or dominion refers to humanity’s work in and with the earth rather than with human beings’ power over it. Gen. 2:5 states that there was no man to ‘work’ the ground and in 2:7 God formed man and in verse 15 put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And in 3:23, the first pair are sent out from the garden but charged to continue to work the earth from which they were taken.
The Genesis narrative shows how human work which reflected the joy, contentment and fulfilment of the vocation of stewardship became a drudgery and frustrating toil. The fall makes work exhausting, threatened by failure and in danger of meager results. Work itself is not cursed, but the spoiling of creation by the fall unleashes forces in creation which frustrate the fruitfulness that God intended.
While man’s dominion over the earth is expressed in his work, it cannot be reduced to physical and material dimensions. At its core, dominion is a spiritual concept shaped by the understanding of ‘rule’ that Christ demonstrated. “He has dominion over wind and waves” said the disciples in awe, Mark 4:3941 (e.g. Psalm 65:7, 107:25-30, Pro. 30:4). The presence of Christ itself is power over all of creation. It denotes power. The O T recounts the mighty acts of God in creation (Psalm 74:12-17, 89:9-12, Isaiah 27:1, 40:6-14, 21-31, 51:9-11) and notes that “because of his great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). What God creates he does not lose. The same power is offered to those who hope in him (Isaiah 40:31). God’s rule over creation ensures that it will not be allowed to waste away or be destroyed. The dominant usage of God’s relation to creation in the Old Testament is God as external will whose presence in and rule over creation will ensure that his will is done earth as in heaven.
In the incarnation we see another image of God’s relationship to creation. It is primarily a relationship of love - “God so loved the world, that he gave his son ….” John 3:16a. The spoiled creation groans with longing to be united with the Son and experience its renewal and consummation (Rom. 8:19-22). Christ as the first born of all creation, by whom all things were created draws all creation to share in him and the love he incarnates “reconciling to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). The love which reconciles creation is the love which embraced weakness and suffering and shed blood on the cross (Col. 1:20).
The focus of human stewardship is not just subduing of unruly nature for human use. The Genesis narrative includes the enjoyment of the garden, delight in teaching it and the appreciation of the relationship between Adam and Eve and between the first pair and God. Human culture, enjoyment of nature, health, human communities are all areas of human vocation to stewardship that we noted earlier. As we noted earlier the European philosophical traditions rooted man’s humanness in his work.
The key to human nature was the nature of work undertaken by humans. Biblical teaching roots humanness in human relation to God and neighbour. In relating to God in worship and serving one’s neighbour in community humans find their true identity as stewards. The Holy Spirit empowers each individual with gifts to fulfill their calling as God’s stewards in his creation. The building of human communities and renewing the humanness of individuals is part of the vocation of stewardship along with the subduing of the earth. Dominium Terrae includes the conquest of nature and technological development. But it must be integrally related to and subservient to the building up of communities of persons where humanity is being renewed in a right relation to nature, neighbour and God. The presence of the Spirit of God giving life to human beings and all other living creatures (Job 34:14) underlines the integral relation between nature and human communities.
Paul asserts in Romans 8 that nature not only suffers from the consequence of human sin but is also heir to the final glory. Nature’s share in the eschatological consummation enables us to see that the creation mandate of dominium terrae of Genesis 1 focuses on the blessing that humans bring to nature - caring for it, nurturing it, sustaining it, rather than ravishing and spoiling it. This stewardship of nature is essential as the site of our humanity is nature. Our humanness in its final renewed form will inhabit a New heaven and a New earth. The care of nature is not an end in itself. It is the site of a new humanity renewed in the image of first born of all creation - Jesus Christ.
Miroslav Volf addresses the question of the work of those who do not acknowledge Christ’s Lordship in the stewardship of the Earth. He writes, “if the world will be transformed, then the work of non-Christians has in principle the same ultimate significance as the work of Christians, in so far as the results of non-Christians’ work pass through the purifying judgement of God, they too will contribute to the future new creation.” Human cultures are not just the product of Christians. God’s spirit is active in the world of culture, animating, judging, correcting, destroying and creating. Human communities need culture for their survival, sustenance and growth.
The Christian is expected to be consciously open to the Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit to use him/her in the world of culture. The receptivity of non-Christian cannot be assessed only negatively as the Spirit moves and works in freedom where it wills. Such a view encourages Christians to be conscious ani open about the role of the Spirit in their work of cultural criticism and transformation. It also encourages working together with non-Christian where one can discern the work of the Spirit.
The vocation to stewardship includes the building up of human community. The Genesis narrative stresses that the image of God is in both the male and the female human. The representation of God in Adam and Eve together reflects the Trinitarian view of God as family. The falls begins the breakdown of that family. Mutual exploitation exists alongside mutual support. Violence and alienation spoil family solidarity. In the calling of Abraham God enters a covenant to rebuild human community through a family which will bless all families on earth. God gives the covenant as the framework for the building of human communities. “The covenant is an experience of a vocation to realize value, to mediate the divine life in one’s own society.” It is in a covenant framework that human societies can appropriate Biblical values of compassion justice, freedom, individual responsibility, love of neighbour etc. Christian vocation of stewardship means that Christians promote a vision of community based on Biblical covenant values.
Knowledge and Freedom
The mandate to rule as steward in Gen. 1:28 is balanced by Gen. 2:17, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The struggle to acquire the knowledge of good and evil is at the centre of the Genesis creation narrative. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Ethics made an intriguing assertion. “The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.”
It is clear that at the heart of the creative narrative is the question of ethics. God apparently forbids the first pair from acquiring an ethical framework: the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge represents both the source and standpoint of ethical autonomy. Human desire to possess knowledge to discern good and evil for oneself i.e. ethics as autonomous personal possession, a personal autonomous quality is fundamentally flawed. Humans cannot stand autonomously in relation to creation and make ethical judgements for themselves and for others. God is not withholding an ethical framework to the first pair. He expects them to see ethics as a function of the relationship between God and them. The creator’s dependence on the creator, the daily fellowship are the only basis for ethical decisions. Creaturely independence from the creator results in an ethical framework that leads to the fall and death. During the European Renaissance and the Enlightment, the figure of Adam was interpreted by the Greek myth of Prometheus to define humans as Homoautonomous - independent, self-reliant, self-centering, self-integrating rational subjects. The image of the heroic individual dominated society. It was an age of the imperial ego - the acquisitive conqueror and pioneer. The archetypal figure was Columbus - one born to conquer.
The Biblical narrative of Genesis 3 shows that the first pair chose the way of Prometheus seeking autonomy from God. This was not just an individual act. In Genesis 11, human’s collectively choose the same path in building the tower of Babel.
The disillusion with the imperial ego of the modern human has led to the postmodern decentred self. Kenneth Gergen writes, “With post-modern consciousness begins the erasure of the category of the self. We realize increasingly that who and what we are is not so much the result of our personal essence but how we are constructed in social groups. The initial stages of this consciousness results in a sense of self as a social con artist manipulating images to achieve ends. As the category of the real self continues to recede from view, one acquires a pastiche like personality.”
The road from the plucking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge leads not to a self-reliant rational subject in possession of knowledge which liberates and transforms but to a de-centered self where no knowledge can take lodging. Images replace substance; signs replace knowledge.
The Genesis narrative underlines strongly that true ethical knowledge is only possible in an obedient relationship of the creature to the creator. Without a prior commitment to obey God, no true knowledge is possible.
Several Biblical narratives pulsate with the tension between the sovereignty of God the creator and the freedom of the creature. The prophets highlight this particularly, “As I have planned so shall it be” says God, Isaiah 14:24. Isaiah 96 records “yet, they have rebelled against me” (1:2, 3:9). The creator permits freedom but does not leave the situation open-ended. He offers promises and ensures their fulfilment. The freedom given to the creature is in a context where the creator is already moving history towards his final purpose. Freedom is not outside of time. It is within time which itself is moving to a consummation.
The Biblical view of freedom locates it in the individual’s free response to God’s actions in history past, present and future. It is to freely choose the future God has promised and act in the present in the light of that future. In contrast to the Biblical view of individual freedom is the understanding of freedom that sees individual autonomy as an absolute right. Such an autonomy is best preserved when all negative constraints to individual freedom are minimized. The biblical emphasis is not an individual autonomy which is an expression of the fall but on the individual as a person. The model of personhood is Jesus Christ. The content of his personhood is his clear sense of his identity as the Son, his integral relationship to the Father and the Spirit i.e. his personhood in the community of persons and the strong sense of his role as the Messiah. Likewise our human personhood must combine the dimensions of individual identity, our relationships to others in community and our specific calling in the world.
In contemporary post-modern culture, the artist epitomizes the highest view of freedom. Aesthetics has replaced ethics; style replaces principle; there are no norms, choice is everything. Freedom is not framed with any purpose beyond the immediate gratification of desire. In contrast the Christian paradigm is the freedom exhibited by Christ in his life on earth. He chose freely to do the works his father has set, accepts the cross, experiences the resurrection and ensures redemption and a kingdom. As Christopher Lasch writes, choice must carry with it “the possibility of making a difference, of changing the course of events otherwise it negates the freedom it claims to hold.” Christian freedom makes choices in the direction of the kingdom individually and corporately.
The vocation of reclaiming creation for God
The fall did not lead to withdrawal of gifts, qualities and skills to steward the world. It only led to their spoiling, cutting loose rule over the earth from a relation-ship with the creator God, human knowledge from God’s wisdom and God’s future from human self-assertion. The journalist’s vocation is to address the world as to reclaim it for God.
The Christian journalist approaches the power interests and power plays that rule human society and nature from the perspective of Christ’s Lordship already at work in the world. The Holy Spirit moves the world to its fulfilment in God’s purposes for it. Such a view relativizes all human power interests and identifies the power that brings lasting transformation.
The Christian journalist sites human society in a moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good and bad, about what is worth doing and what is not, what has meaning and importance and what is trivial and secondary. The Christian journalist must identify believing Christian communities where such a moral framework operates and highlight their experience and testimony.
The Christian journalist recognizes that God shapes his world primarily by love. This love refuses to lose what is created and deals with society in both judgement and grace.
CHRISTIAN VOCATION IN MISSION
The resurrected Jesus announced to his disciples “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations - teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you ” Matt. 28:18-20. The mandate to share the goodness of Christ and make disciples of all people is predicated on the authority invested in Jesus as the Son who suffered, died and rose again to life. The promise of God that he will create a new heavens and a new earth and that the earth will be filled with His glory is guaranteed fulfilment as the Son is empowered in heaven and earth to move them towards their destined consummation. The authority of Christ, not only as the first born through which creation came into being but also as the Agent of the new creation reconciling all creation in himself (Col. 1:20) is shared with Christ’s disciples. The disciples are in turn empowered to be stewards of God’s purposes to draw all peoples into discipleship and obedience. The disciples are stewards of the good news as much as stewards of the earth. Both are aspects of their identity as God’s children bearing God’s image.
God’s actions in the world of promise and fulfilment, of judgement and grace; the presence and work of his Son; the continuing work of his Spirit, convincing, convicting the world and moving it to its destiny place a demand on his disciples to recognize their obligation to accept God’s mission as their mission and live accordingly. The calling of every Christian to be a witness is strongly underlined by Luke and John. You are witnesses Lk. 24:48, you will witness Acts 1:8, and you must testify for you have been with me - John 15:17. Witness is a public act. It is going public with a personal experience of Christ. Most cultures expect personal experiences especially intense ones to be kept private. Jesus calls on his disciples to go public with their very intense personal experience of him. A testimony and a witness is a public act. Each Christian is called to public acts of witness. He/she is empowered for such acts but as the Christians in the early church knew well, any public testimony to Christ is costly.
What is the nature of such public witness for Christians in journalism?
“We have heard, seen and touched.”
The first Epistle of John begins with a ringing testimony and witness. ‘That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life’ (vs 1). The contemporary idiom “been there, done that” pales against the depth of the testimony of those who paid for it by their lives. The Word which they found in the text of the gospel and in the person of Christ brought them life of a quality which nothing on earth could destroy.
The contemporary post-modern context of radical relativism, instability of language, plasticity of text and the death of the author makes it very difficult to privilege the biblical narrative as the Word of God. The early Christians demonstrated that the biblical world was not a world of words freed from empirical correspondence. It was a world which they saw, touched, felt and handled. It was world that mediated life to them. In a world where all texts are treated with suspicion as embedded with self-interest and oppression of others, it is essential that Christians in journalism assist in the recovery of the biblical text for contemporary societies. A community of obedience to the text which demonstrates its givenness through the life it enables as believers enter that textual world is the key to the recovery of the biblical text. It is also the key to the recovery of transcendence for our contemporary cultures.
Naming the name
Public witness is ineffective if it is vague.
The heart of Christian public witness is naming Jesus as the one who connects our lives with God’s purpose for us. It is again Jesus who connects creation with God and ensures that God’s design for it is fulfilled. Asian religions and philosophical traditions deny that we can know God in himself. We can know God only in his manifestations to humans. The Christian Fathers (in the East) asserted that Jesus is not only the God we can know, but God as he is in himself, the true God. Contemporary principled pluralism relativizes Jesus. Jesus is not a vague cosmic idea inclusive of the best we can know about God, but God in fulness revealing himself in human history. Jesus’ incarnation enfleshes God in history and his humanity confirms that God in himself is knowable to us as humans.
The Jesus we name is not just a teacher of ideas and truth. He is the centre of a community of people in history who grasp his life in their community as his body and express that life in acts of compassion and witness. This Jesus is translated into each culture and context in which his community exists and in the sharing of all global communities, the Jesus who unites all of creation becomes visible.
Anticipating the Kingdom of God
Another dimension of our public witness is the way we anticipate the Kingdom of God. As Christians we are part of God’s Kingdom. We are called to announce it and anticipate it. As we anticipate the kingdom, we reject earthly utopias and warn human society about all such utopic ventures. We also reject the notion of any end of history. History as we know it now will only end when the kingdom is consummated. History still moves in anticipation of the King’s return.
Anticipating the kingdom involves vigorously offering to all human societies the values of the kingdom. Compassion, justice, responsibility, stewardship, fruitfulness, servanthood, reconciliation, holiness of life, faithfulness in relationships are all values of the kingdom by which all human societies will be evaluated. These values are offered as proleptic possibilities leading to their fulfilment in the future.
Anticipating the kingdom includes identifying the forces of darkness which seek to overwhelm the length of God’s truth and close off human societies from moving towards their destiny in the kingdom: a fierce commitment to protect and defend God’s truth, to keep the lamp of the gospel of truth shining and support all who pay a high price in keeping it from being put out.
The kingdom is a community of the king but is constituted by individual persons who have personally acknowledged the king and accepted his Lordship. They recognize their integral relationship with others in the community but recognize that the image of God in humans is as profoundly personal as it is corporate. Anticipating the kingdom requires the promotion of individual responsibility and choice not to achieve individual autonomy but to ensure freedom in choosing to love and serve God and neighbour.
The two mandates of creation and mission are two sides of the one calling to stewardship. As humans made in God’s image we are empowered with stewardly responsibility for the earth and for the gospel of the kingdom. It is in the exercise of that stewardship we affirm our identity as God’s children and also fulfill our humanity.
- Arendt, H., “Vita activa” p78. quoted in Wolf. M. Work in the Spirit, Oxford OUP 1991 p127 Article in Vocation in New Directory of Christian Studies and Pastoral Theology. Leicester I U P 1985 p882
- Volf M, OPCL p.123
- Volf op.c.t p118
- Ward.K., Religion and Creation, Oxford Clarendon 1996. p36
- Bonhoeffer.D., Ethics, London SCM 1955 p142
- Gergen K., Saturated Self p170
- Lasch.C., Minimal Self p38