In 1963, Time magazine published a short article about the retirement of the theologian and professor Karl Barth. In the article, Barth reflects on the role of journalism, and notes that decades before, he had advised young preachers to “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”
Karl Barth is also credited with the semi-legendary (and more pithy) statement that preachers must always preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. In the history of newspapers—for that matter, in the history of history—there has never been a time when what was happening in the world was not related to the faith lives of God’s people. Some points in history bring this truth into sharp focus.
This is one of those weeks.
How can we read the newspaper (or watch the video clips online, or read the social media posts and—ugh—the comments sections) about the events taking place in the land where Moses and Jesus walked, and not hold the awful reality of these events alongside the teachings of Moses and of Jesus? For people of faith, how do we gauge the demands of world politics, national histories, and deep personal feelings alongside the teachings of God that we claim to follow? And how do we engage in the important conversations, sustain the necessary relationships, and commit to the way of peace, with the Bible in one hand and our e-news sources and social media apps (and—ugh—those comments sections) in the other?
This week’s Scripture texts should need no blogger commentary. When we hold in one hand the most horrific, frightening news of the day, this is what we hold tightly in the other: God’s clear instructions for the people to act justly, to treat all people fairly no matter if they’re rich or poor, not to slander, not to “stand idly by when the blood of your neighbor is at stake” (Lev 19:16), not to hate anyone in your heart, but to hold your neighbor accountable, but not to hold grudges. Bottom line: to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). Jesus gets right to the heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).
Holding the Bible and the newspaper together—and even, as Barth would have us do, interpreting the newspaper by way of the Bible—may seem simple, but it will never provide easy answers. These “great commandments” will never let us loosen our hold on the world’s hurts and headlines. This is our balancing act, our reality check, and maybe the humbling rebuke we need most.
- What do you think it means for Christians (not just preachers!) to “hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other”? Do you think it is appropriate to interpret current events through the Bible? How do you know which Scripture passages to turn to in order to help you reflect on what is happening in the world today?
- Do you have a practice of praying about current events?
- Jesus says this “greatest commandment” and the one that is “like it” are the ones that all “the Law and the Prophets” (basically, every other biblical teaching) hang upon. When you read the rest of the Bible, do you always read it through the lens of these commandments? When you read the newspaper, do you read it through this lens? How might doing so change your approach to Scripture study and faith practice? How might it change the way you read the news or engage in current-events conversations in your life (and online)?
“Barth in Retirement,” Time, May 13, 1963, https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,896838,00.html
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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