Unbelief Isn’t Historically Conditioned – Carl F.H. Henry [An Excerpt]

henry[The following is an excerpt from Carl F.H. Henry’s brilliant God, Revelation, and AuthorityVol. 1.]

…the popular notion is preposterous that television or radio can mesh anyone directly and at once to the objective course and meaning of the external world of events. While viewers may indeed feel that they have a ringside seat on all facts and events, the camera severely limits the viewers’ field of vision; viewers are actually restricted, in fact, to what producers schedule and depict, and what program monitors select. What’s more, viewers do not even actually see what commentators and cameramen see, since each person’s sense impressions are of necessity his and his alone.

Liberty in reporting, in selecting and interpreting media content, varies widely from culture to culture. How totalitarian tyrants exploit the power of the media to enslave the masses by seizing control of radio, television and the press is well known. In communist countries the party line dictates what the public has a right to hear and see; the media are a tool for extending Marxism. No less aware of the media’s pervasive influence are free world entrepreneurs who enlist Madison Avenue to promote products, personalities or principles of varying merit or demerit. According to Burt Zollo some seventeen hundred public relations agencies and sixty thousand promotion specialists are engaged to establish the public image of corporations and executives in the United States and to stimulate sales (The Dollars and Sense of Public Relations, p. 2).

Fantastic myth-making possibilities hover over this technocratic world of magic whose creative imagination and artful visualization seem able to shape a new reality almost at will. Periodic warnings suggest the awesome possibility of manipulating entire masses of people by careful contrivance. Certain countercultural radicals have charged, for example, that a military-industrial complex controls the American media even though, in fact, the media have often and boldly challenged the military by critical and even unsympathetic reporting. Black revolutionaries for their part assert that Euro-American white cultural values saturate the media. Others suggest that so-called Western-white values are often insinuated so overpoweringly that the intelligent viewer is frequently turned off to other alternatives.

The crisis of word and truth is not, however, in all respects peculiar to contemporary technocratic civilization. Its backdrop is not to be found in the mass media per se, as if these sophisticated mechanical instruments of modern communication were uniquely and inherently evil. Not even the French Revolution, which some historians now isolate as the development that placed human history under the shadow of continual revolution, can adequately explain the ongoing plunge of man’s existence into endless crisis. Why is it that the magnificent civilizations fashioned by human endeavor throughout history have tumbled and collapsed one after another with apocalyptic suddenness? Is it not because, ever since man’s original fall and onward to the present, sin has plummeted human existence into an unbroken crisis of word and truth? A cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, shadows the whole history of mankind. The Bible depicts it as a conflict between the authority of God and the claims of the Evil One. Measured by the yardstick of God’s holy purposes, all that man proudly designates as human culture is little but idolatry. God’s Word proffers no compliments whatever to man’s so-called historical progress; rather, it indicts man’s pseudoparadises as veritable towers of Babel that obscure and falsify God’s truth and Word.

We need therefore to abandon the notion that modern science and its discoveries are the major obstacles to a living faith in the God of revelation and redemption. In earlier prescientific times, men negotiated their spiritual revolt just as vigorously and did so without invoking science and technology as a pretext. Oscar Cullmann writes with discernment: “We must reject the false notion that our separation from the biblical witnesses has been caused by the progress of modern science, so that today we cannot believe in salvation history because our world-view has changed. We must see clearly … that the most recent discoveries … in no way make faith in salvation history more difficult than it was for men during the days of early Christianity. This faith was just as difficult for men at that time and for philosophers of that age as it is for us, even though their philosophy was different from that of our age” (Salvation in History, pp. 319 f.). In other words, the modern crisis of truth and word is not something historically or culturally unique.

-h.

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