News Articles

Land: Magazine articles on Christ’s birth reflect cultural divide

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Beyond the increasing number of Christmas-season controversies over school board edicts banning students, teachers and chorale leaders from any mention of Christmas, this year’s headlines have included Federated Department Stores substituting the generic “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” and Target Corporation’s booting of Salvation Army bell-ringers from their storefronts.

However, the nation’s two major weekly newsmagazines chose to focus on the birth of Christ in recent cover stories.

Not surprisingly, the magazines fell far short of embracing the biblical account of Christ’s birth.

While TIME magazine gives a nod to faith on the cover, the article, “Secrets of the Nativity,” barely addresses the concept of faith.

The Newsweek article opens positively enough, citing a survey that reveals 67 percent of Americans believe the Christmas story is “historically accurate,” 84 percent of respondents said they were Christians and 82 percent consider Jesus as God or the Son of God.

These are statistics that Richard Land says are “yet one more sign that there is an increasingly significant portion of the American population that takes religion very seriously.”

But the reader must be careful to not misinterpret the survey’s findings, Land said.

“Does that mean that 82 percent are Christians because they see Jesus as God or as the Son of God? No,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There is a huge difference between accepting Jesus as the Son of God and accepting Jesus as your Savior,” Land continued, saying it is a matter of a “personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord.”

Land cautioned readers not to take the newsmagazines’ perspective on the Christmas narrative at face value either.

While the Newsweek editors may have been stunned when the results of the survey were announced, Land speculated that they quickly recovered and proceeded to make the historicity of Christ’s birth the magazine’s cover story in a thinly veiled attempt “to debunk the historical accuracy of the Gospel narratives.”

The Newsweek article asserts that the biblical accounts of Christ “owe as much to the pagan culture of the Roman Empire as they do to apostolic revelation” and that such scriptural reports as Bethlehem being the birthplace of Jesus and Jesus’ family’s flight to Egypt were contrived for the sake of “theological necessity.”

Commentary from conservative biblical scholars is “virtually nonexistent” in the article, Land said. Rather, the article presents “a parade of people who are the far left fringe and then the far left of biblical scholarship.”

The Newsweek article gives more than a tip of the hat to the Jesus Seminar, described by the magazine as a “group of scholars devoted to recovering the Jesus of history” who are a “battalion in this long-running culture war.” As described by Land, the Jesus Seminar is a group of academics considered “radical even among very liberal Christians.”

The Newsweek article alleges that neither Mary nor Joseph appears to have been a direct source for the Gospel narrative concerning the birth of Jesus, Land said. “And who decided that?” he asked. “The Gospel accounts are clear. Luke was a physician, and his account of the birth of Jesus came from his personal interviews of Mary. No one but Mary knew some of what is included in the Gospel….

“The idea that Mary and Joseph were not direct sources is just nonsense. Such a belief bears the fingerprints of the far-left Form-Critical radical approach,” Land explained. The Form-Critical method of Scripture analysis, popular among German theologians and others in the 20th century, holds that sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels or the framework of the narrative itself was more a product of revisions or additions to the text by the early church and less the words of Jesus Himself or the original situation in which Jesus spoke.

While the Newsweek article reports as fact that “almost nothing in Luke’s story stands up to close historical scrutiny,” Land said there are “legions of conservative biblical scholars who would say that it is an extremely prejudicial and inaccurate statement.”

The Christmas story articles in Newsweek and TIME are not written from objective or neutral positions, Land noted, a fact that is indicative of the tenor of the two major magazines’ editorial boards.

It is clear, Land continued, that in the Newsweek author’s view of the New Testament someone had to sit down and contrive a mythological narrative to conform to the Old Testament prophesies.

“This is a modern, rationalist, naturalist attempt to explain the miraculous,” he said. “It is not objective; it is subjective to the core.

“In spite of all the rationalists and hostile critics who have been attempting to debunk both the Old Testament and the New Testament for the last 2,000 years, the Bible is still standing,” Land said. “It is amazing how often archeology proves the historicity of Scripture as opposed to the supposed experts who are using other sources and who assume the Bible is simply religious myth,” he added.

All of this portends gaps in belief and behavior in American culture, Land said, noting that many were revealed in the presidential election just concluded. He cited a religious services attendance gap, a marriage gap and a birthrate gap.

“America, in spite of the fondest hopes of the radical secularists and the ’60s counterculture, is getting more religious, not less religious,” he said. “It showed up in the election this year. It doesn’t mean that people who are liberal don’t have moral values. It means they do not have traditional, conservative moral values, which in this country are often traditional, conservative, Christian values.

“Attendance at religious services more than once a week is not an inherent sign of personal piety, but it is a pretty reliable sign that one takes one’s faith seriously,” Land said, noting a gap between Americans who are faithful attendees and those who rarely darken the door of their local house of worship. George W. Bush captured the majority of those who go to religious services, while those who don’t attend leaned toward John Kerry on Election Day.

Land also said married people with children opted for Bush over Kerry by 19 percentage points, while single women favored Kerry by 29 points. And the well-known “red state/blue state” debate is further clarified by the fact that Bush won the 19 states with the highest white fertility rate, Land continued, citing a column by David Brooks, “The New Red-Diaper Babies,” in the Dec. 7 New York Times.

Families with multiple children are overrepresented in the red states and the red counties, Land noted. “People who hold traditional religious values tend to get married and have children. They consider parenting a noble calling and a privilege, not a burden,” he said, suggesting the vast majority of those Americans would agree with him that the “most fulfilling, meaningful and rewarding thing I have done in my entire life is be a father.”

“This group believes in the virgin birth, in the historicity of the Gospel accounts and that Jesus Christ is the unique only begotten Son of God,” he stated.

“There is a chasm running through American society. It is a chasm that doesn’t run between denominations; it runs through them. It doesn’t run between communities; it runs through them,” Land said.

“Those on one side of that chasm are people who believe in traditional cultural and conservative religious values. Their worldview maintains right and wrong exist and there is a good and an evil,” he continued.

On the other side of that divide, Land said, are individuals such as Susan Thistlewaite of Chicago Theological Seminary with whom he shared the stage during a March 2004 ABC News’ “NightLine” town hall meeting. “She said she was uncomfortable talking about issues in terms of good and evil. It is a sad and tragic mockery of the Christian faith when a supposed ‘ministerette’ of the Gospel has trouble talking about issues in terms of good and evil.

“So whether a person is a Catholic or a Baptist or Presbyterian is less important to how they voted and to which side of this culture divide they are on than where they stand on the worldview issues,” Land said.

Of those in the major media, such as Newsweek, Land predicted that their perspective ultimately will not prevail. Land recalled his wife’s uncle describing some “liberal critics” of the late W. A. Criswell as “just a bunch of Pekingese nipping at the heels of a Great Dane.”

Likewise, Land said, “all of these hyper-liberal critics of the Gospel narratives are a bunch of surly Pekingese, many of them neutered, yapping at the heels of the eternal, divine, timeless and victorious Son of God. They can just yap away.”

The American people increasingly notice the difference between the two, Land said confidently, recalling Spurgeon’s words: “Let the Bible loose and like a lion, it will defend itself.”
Karen Cole contributed to this article.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings