Christian, Secular, or Something In Between?

My Point of View

My biblical perspective on radio is something that I, personally, am still working through.  Recently it has been a struggle to decide what radio looks like for the Christian, what it ought to look like, and whether that is true for every Christian in radio and how that differentiates from person to person.  Are Christians called to be just in Christian radio in the traditional sense of the term? Or are they called to be Christians living God-glorifying lives in the real, secular world of radio?

The Question

This is a question that every Christian must struggle through: How does their specific gifts and talents interact with the world around them? Were they given these gifts and desires for the purpose of sharing them exclusively with the Body of Christ, or is there a much broader scale on which they are to be used?

This paper began as a defense of Christians working exclusively in the world of Christian radio and, specifically, missions radio.  However, as the semester has progressed, some of these views have been challenged, reformed, and even changed completely.

The Audience

Like all types of media, radio is primarily consumed in that the audience contributes very little to radio and takes as much as they can.  This adds to the importance of the role of radio in the lives of the listener.  Those who listen to the radio do so for a variety of different reasons, but, whatever those reasons may be, the radio is a place where people turn for companionship, advice, and security.  Radio needs to be able to supply those things to the listener in a way that encourages them to think about spiritual things and causes them to question life as they are currently living it.

The Medium

In order to be effective in reaching its audience, radio must be a combination of transparency, honesty, and truth while maintain an element of entertainment.  A Christian in the world of secular radio has unique opportunities to practice these principles because of the way that he has the chance to be an example of Christ and His love in a dark world. Good programming is effective as a medium because it gives the listener the feeling of those on the feeling of having a person conversation with the audience while still retaining a certain amount of anonymity. Radio also allows the listener to have as much or as littler personal interaction as they desire while fostering an environment of honesty and intimacy.  This is due to the ability for radio to reach into the places of everyday life.  As with all parts of the media, it is important that transparency is a key part of radio in order for the listener to be able to connect with the personality on air.  Each of these elements can be utilized in radio to reach those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as a way to share the Gospel either in a direct way through blatant radio evangelism or through the consistent witness that is a life lived to glorify God.


Radio and Identity Formation

Radio has remained a staple in communication media due to the way that it allows the audience to find their identity and because it helps the audience to feel significant. Every person has the inherent need to have a personal identity; to know who they are and how they fit into the world around them (Coser, Nock and Steffan 149).  Because of the way that God created man to have a relationship with Him, this is a very natural desire and one that ought to be fulfilled by a relationship with God.  When God created humans, He created us in His image, which was all the identity anyone would need. God looked at everything He had made, including mankind, and pronounced it good. He then began a deep, intimate relationship with His new creation to continue to foster His likeness in them (Genesis 1). However, like so many other things in life, man’s fall into sinful nature and the resulting separation from God has warped this desire and caused man to seek elsewhere for his identity.  Our identity should be in our relationship with Christ and our role as the Bride of Christ and a member of the Body of Christ, however, those without Christ in their lives must find that identity elsewhere.

People turn to many different places in order to form their identity, and one of the most popular places in our modern culture is the media, in this case specifically radio.  “…individuals actively and creatively sample available cultural symbols, myths, and rituals as they produce their identities. For teens, the mass media are central to this process because they are a convenient source of cultural options” (Hamley).  The radio presents a seemingly valid place for assistance in identity formation because of the type of medium it is. Because of the potential that radio has as a medium of influence in identity formation and therefore in the shaping of culture in general, it can be used either as a negative or a positive force in the lives of the listeners.  Radio can have a significant influence upon the lives of teenager because they are still so solidly within their formative years and are clearly searching for identity in life.  Adolescents build bits of their identity from many different places including the music they listen to and the media they consume.  Because of the fluidity and accessibility of radio, it has the capability to become a key factor in the identity formation of teenagers as well as those of other ages.

Radio has the ability to cross the boundaries of time and space in order to reach people where they are without them having to exert much effort themselves.  It has had this role in cultural and identity formation since it was first introduced into American culture.  One reason why radio has this unique place is because it allows the consumer to remain anonymous and therefore feel like they are connecting with others without undertaking the risk of self-disclosure themselves.  While allowing the listener to remain anonymous, radio is still able to be a friend to its listeners by providing a venue for discussions about real life situations in a seemingly safer and less confrontational environment. Radio has the ability to reach people because it can be wherever they are: in the home, in the car, even in the office, or on their smart phone.

Technological Advances

Although it was projected that radio would decrease as technology changed and progressed, radio had retained its relevance to everyday life by transforming itself periodically in order to fit with new technology while retaining the pure transparency that is its signature trait in media and communications.  In fact, listening has increased in the past several years (Statistics on Radio: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).  Radio has managed to change with cultural progressions so as to be accessible via the internet and smart phones so as to not lose touch in the ever-progressing world of technology.  An example of this technological progression is applications like the “I heart radio” app that allow smart phone users to save and listen to their favorite radio stations on their iphones.  Because radio has conformed to the increasingly mobile nature of our society, it has continues to remain popular in less traditional ways like Pandora radio, where a listener can choose a genre or band that they like and have a personalized radio station built to fit his likes and dislikes.  Each of these innovations in radio technology have caused radio to remain an important force in the world of media and therefore in identity formation.

Christian vs. Non-Christian

Radio is an incredibly effective medium and has remained that over the years, which has caused it to be utilized by Christians and non-Christians alike since its inception to spread their messages.  Missions radio stations like Trans World Radio or HCJB Global are an excellent examples of the way that Christians have channeled the powerful medium of radio to share the message of Christ.  It is effective because of its private and non-confrontational manner which allows it to reach into places where a missionary or pastor would be unable to physically go.  Various Christian radio stations give examples of how effective their radio station is in ministering to those who are without Christ and are in dire situations. Klove shares examples of the way they have changed lives on their website which serve to reinforce the effectiveness of radio as a medium in evangelism.

While it is important for Christians to take part in this type of ministry, Christians also are reminded to participate in the world around them and share the Gospel by exposing the lost to Jesus through the way they live their everyday lives. This is extremely difficult to do if they only spend their lives in ministry around other Christians and never leave the safe, comfortable world of Christianity to reach out to those living in the culture around them.  Pastor Frank Rasenberger addresses these concerns in this letter about a Christian radio station discussing why he believes that radio stations ought to play a combination of Christian and non-offensive, God-honoring secular music.

Pastor Rasenberger also brings up the fact that not every person producing “Christian” music is doing such with the intention to bring honor and glory to God, nor does every Christian need write only music with an explicitly Christian theme. This is also something that C.W. and Melissa address in their papers. Rasenberger makes the point “…how realistic is it to expect a Christian artist or band to mention ‘Jesus’ in every song they perform? It’s like expecting a Christian painter to always paint a portrait of Jesus and never veer from that. Surely Christian artists and musicians have the God-given freedom to paint and sing about all sorts of issues with a God-given discernment and perception.”  This video makes a humorous but legitimate point about what exactly “Christian” music is and what it ought to look like while this article discusses secular bands with Christian themes and  this one presents an argument about Christians listening to secular music. The same argument can be made that not every Christian ought to work in Christian radio; rather, there are those who are called to enter the secular workplace and bring glory to God by being a light in the dark world of secular radio.

According to one non-Christian blogger, Christian radio is often viewed in the secular world as a soapbox on which the ridiculously may stand and proclaim ill will and judgment upon those who have no yet conformed to the will of God and caused their lives to mirror the virtues described by the Bible.  While this is merely his opinion, it does further serves to argue the point that Christians ought to be more involved in the secular world than we generally are.  Nowhere in the Bible are we given an example of Jesus secluding Himself from the world; we actually see quite the opposite.  Throughout the Gospels Jesus is shown eating with the tax collectors and sinners and sharing in their lives without taking part in their sinful lifestyles.  The main figures portrayed as separating themselves completely from the world are the Pharisees and Jesus had a bevy of strong words to use about them and their lifestyles.  In the same way, a Christian ought to be involved in Christian radio to make God known in that area of the culture without himself becoming sullied by the often morally bankrupt world of secular media.

What Now?

If, as Christians, we are given the provision to be “in the world but not of it” then what does this look like in the realm of being involved in the media, specifically radio?

This is a question that must be answered individually by each Christian involved in the media.  Just as in the church some are gifted to minister to the brothers and sisters in Christ, and others to evangelize to the lost as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, in a similar way, each Christian in the field of radio is called to a different arena of service in the media.  The church does not expect Christian dentists to only provide dental work for other Christians, so it seems mildly ridiculous for a Christian involved in media to be expected to serve in only a traditionally Christian capacity in an overtly Christian radio station.

That being said, there is absolutely a place in the world of radio for programming that is created specifically for a Christian audience. We are commanded in Ephesians 4:12 to build up the Body of Christ through encouragement and the equipping of the saints, radio has the capability to be an excellent resource for every believer from those who are new to the Body of Christ to those who have served faithfully for upwards of 50 years.  There are many radio stations who do this very well, Moody Radio being one of them, and there is no reason to do anything but praise them and similar stations for the way that they have contributed to growth and maturity in the Body of Christ.  However, there is room for change for these stations as well.  Although they have been faithfully serving the Body of Christ for many years, there is a huge need in the evangelical Christian world in general, including the world of Christian radio, for more sincerity, honesty, and transparency in programming while avoiding the tendency to try to “fix” life with the usual pat answers from the Bible.

The Answer?

Clearly there is a balance that must be maintained when a Christian is working in the world of radio, either secular or Christian.  It is very important that, as in every area of his life, God is glorified by both words and actions as we are exhorted to in Colossians 3:23.  This means in both worlds of radio that levels of honesty, integrity, and transparency must be maintained and put as a top priority. It also implicates that, as with everything in the life of the Christian, it ought to be run through the standards mentioned in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  Provided that a Christian takes that into consideration in every element of his life including the work he does in the realm of radio or any other type of media, then he has the freedom in Christ to be involved in secular radio without compromising his witness and staying “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

If the Christian is doing what we are called to do and using every part of his life to bring honor to God, then there is no reason that he cannot make the choice to work in non-Christian radio in order to bring the light of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.  However, is it really that simple? Does it really always come down to something clearly being wrong or clearly right and so easy to put through the framework of Philippians 4:8? Of course not.  Radio exists in the real world and because of that, each Christian involved must decide for themselves what their role is and how that coincides with the work the Holy Spirit is doing in each of them.

I had the unique opportunity to interview Jon Hemmer, who works at both Moody Radio and wtmx 101.9fm, a secular station.  He shared with me how much he has not only enjoyed working in both areas of radio, but also the way that he has gained perspective from each end of radio that has enabled him to better serve each of the stations.  Another point that Jon made when I interviewed him that I have noticed in my own workplace is that, because the people he works with in secular radio know that he also works in Christian radio and is a Christian, he has become the person they run to when they need advice, a listening ear, or prayer simply because they see something different in him as a Christian.

Because of the way that radio fosters community and identity formation through transparency and honesty in entertainment, it has remained an important player in the world of the media throughout the years and has managed to not only adapt but to embrace the changes of culture and technology.  Christ followers involved in radio do not need to necessarily be involved in overtly Christian radio, instead they can be equally effective and, at times, more effective, in reaching the lost world by interacting in the world of secular radio.  Perhaps a better solution still though is that suggested by Pastor Rasenberger of finding a happy medium between explicit, offensive secular radio and Christian radio focusing solely on Christian messages, but rather a version of radio that brings glory to God by exposing those who are not Christians to Christ centered themes without forcing the Bible down their throats?

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