CHRISTIAN LIVING: “Let Him Who Boasts Boast In This”—Knowing God, Studying God’s Word, Knowing God’s Truth, and Serving God’s People (Mohler, 060123)


Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24


The life of the preacher is a life of study, and it has been so from the very beginning. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to study so that he could present himself to God as an approved worker, “a worker who has no need to be ashamed” [2 Timothy 2:15]. This instruction came within the context of Timothy’s call as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word, and Paul’s instruction to Timothy is our Lord’s instruction to all who would preach and teach the Word of God.


A word of honesty is necessary at this point. Any honest assessment of the contemporary church would indicate that vast numbers of ministers serving Christ’s church are derelict in this duty. They are intellectually lazy, biblically illiterate, slothful in their study habits, and they often steal the learning of others in order to hide their own disobedience. This is a scandal that robs the congregation of the learned and faithful ministry the people of God so desperately need and deserve.


The preacher’s lifetime of study begins with the moment of his call and properly ends only when the preacher breathes his last breath. Between the call and the grave lies a long and rewarding journey of learning – learning that will be put at the disposal of the congregation until we see our Lord face to face. On that day, we dare not be ashamed of our lack of study.


Thomas Murphy, once of the great faithful pastors of the nineteenth century, described the minister’s calling of study with these words: “The pastor must study, study, study, or he will not grow, or even live, as a true workman for Christ.” The minister’s life is “one of incessant study,” Murphy explained, and “mere genius” will not suffice – this is a life of constant and rewarding study.


Knowing God


The preacher’s first task is to know God – personally. The Bible has no conception of an unconverted ministry. The preacher is first of all a man who has come to know God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who find his greatest fulfillment in knowing God personally and redemptively.


God told the prophet Jeremiah, “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me” [Jeremiah 9:24]. Our fundamental knowledge is a knowledge of God, and this is the central goal of all true theological education and ministry preparation. The preacher must be one who sets his sight on a vibrant personal knowledge of God. Otherwise, theological knowledge becomes a ground for personal pride and intellectual pretentiousness.


As J. I. Packer reminds us, “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”


Furthermore, Packer correctly reminds us that we are indeed to be urgently concerned for theological orthodoxy and biblical truth, but “not as ends in themselves, but as a means to the further ends of life and godliness.” In other words: “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”


This approach to the minister’s life of study brings a godly sense of balance. Our central aim is to know God, and the aim of our ministry is to lead our people to know God also. The other aspects of knowledge are useful only in so far as they lead us into a deeper knowledge of God. A healthy theological education inculcates a deeper love for God, even as the minister grows in the knowledge of God’s Word and the comprehensiveness of God’s truth.


Studying God’s Word


Paul’s instruction to Timothy was very clear. The young minister was to study in order that he would be found “rightly handling the word of truth” [2 Timothy 2:15]. A deep and growing knowledge of God’s Word is the indispensable ground of all other true knowledge.


Put simply, the preacher is to be a devoted and skillful student of the Scriptures. This is the most important field of knowledge for the preacher, for his primary task is to preach the Word “in season and out of season,” [2 Timothy 4:2] and to teach God’s people from God’s Word.


Clearly, this strategic call represents a stewardship of truth, of souls, and of calling. Failure in this task is beyond tragedy, and the consequences are eternal. God has given us his Word and has commanded that we preach the Bible with skill, even as Ezra was “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” [Ezra 7:6].


This requires skill in the tasks of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, exegesis, biblical languages, and the history of interpretation. This is a demanding calling, but nothing less than the most serious life of study will do. Those who can gain access to Bible colleges and theological seminaries that are biblically and theologically orthodox and faithful should take full advantage of these opportunities—knowing that this is a matter of faithfulness to our calling. At the same time, we must remember that many faithful preachers never had access to formal theological education. Yet, if they were faithful, they were no less studious or committed to a life of godly learning.


The centrality of the Bible is essential. As Charles Spurgeon encouraged his students: “Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all the helps that you can possibly obtain: remember that the appliances now within the reach of ordinary Christians are much more extensive than they were in our fathers’ days, and therefore you must be greater biblical scholars if you would keep in front of your hearers. Intermeddle with all knowledge, but above all things meditate day and night in the law of the Lord.”


If this was true in Spurgeon’s time, it is even more so in ours. The preacher must be more knowledgeable and more skilled than his congregation. Spurgeon’s other emphasis—that the knowledge of the Bible exceeds all other forms of knowledge in importance—also takes on a new urgency in our times. While there are many fields of knowledge and intellectual stimulation to which we could give our attention, we must keep ourselves first and foremost students of the Bible.


Learning God’s Truth


A true theological education stands on the unquestioned authority and truthfulness of the Bible and then moves to display that truth in all its comprehensiveness and to apply that truth to every dimension of life. Thus, the fields of systematic theology, historical theology, ethics, church history, and other theological disciplines all play their part in the preparation of the preacher.


A resistance to systematic theology reflects a lack of discipline or a lack of confidence in the consistency of God’s Word. We are to set out the great doctrines of the faith as revealed in the Bible—and do so in a way that helps to bring all of God’s truth into a comprehensive focus. The preacher must be ready to answer the great questions of his age from the authoritative treasury of God’s truth, and to teach, defend, and proclaim the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” [Jude 3].


Serving God’s People


Ultimately, the preacher’s calling is a call to serve the people of God. That’s why a consideration of the call should include a careful analysis of the man’s ability to preach, to teach, and to love the church for whom Christ died.


Once that is established, the preacher is set on a lifetime of studying in order to improve his preaching, to teach with even greater effectiveness, and to serve with even greater faithfulness.


This is no easy task. That’s surely why Paul used the metaphors of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer as he described this calling to Timothy [2 Timothy 2:3-7]. We are called to the obedience of the soldier, the discipline of the athlete, and the patient endurance of the farmer.


We should note carefully that Paul describes the ministry this way just before commanding Timothy to study in order to show himself faithful. May we, like Timothy, do our best to present ourselves to God as workers who have no need to be ashamed.




BIBLE: The Christian Counter-Revolution (Mohler, 031229)

[KH: exactly the title of John Stott’s book on the Sermon on the Mount]


Throughout the centuries, Christians have faced the vexing question: How are we to live as Christians in the midst of a secular culture? This question reaches to the heart of Christian discipleship and the meaning of the Gospel—and challenges the church of the twenty-first century no less than the earliest disciples.


Called out from the world as a “peculiar people” and charged to be salt and light in a dark and rebellious world, the church has perpetually struggled with the command to be “in the world but not of it.” Sadly, the world has often appeared to influence the church more than the church has influenced the world. Furthermore, the secular transformation of the society appears to have created a great chasm between the church and the world. How can Christians hope to transform a culture?


The reality of our calling and the revolutionary character of the Christian faith are nowhere more evident than in the Sermon on the Mount. Addressing his disciples, Jesus spoke with directness and candor and established the rule of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a rebellious and ungodly culture. This is a message directly addressed to the church, not to the world. The principles of the Sermon on the Mount are counter-intuitive, and make sense only when an affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ stands at the foundation.


Christians have struggled with the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount ever since those first disciples heard their Lord present these teachings on that pastoral hillside. The struggle basically comes down to this: Is there any way to escape the plain meaning of the sermon? Do those who lust in their hearts really commit adultery? Are we really to pluck out offending eyes and cut off sinful hands? Must we always turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile, love our enemies and bless those who curse us?


Jesus’ words cut like a surgeon’s scalpel into the soft underbelly of Christian discipleship. We have the live like this?


In all honesty, the church cannot relegate the Sermon on the Mount to some later age, limit its application to the first disciples, or evade its teachings by allegory and anxious explanation. Like frantic litigators looking for loopholes in a contract, some Christians have attempted to find a way to lessen the impact of the Sermon and establish a more comfortable mode of discipleship—”Christianity Lite.”


But twist as we may, there is no escaping the Sermon on the Mount, for we have but one Lord, and the Sermon is His manifesto for the church—His bride and body.


The Sermon must be taken as a whole, and its several sections must not be ripped from their context. Jesus begins with blessings—the Beatitudes—moves into moral imperatives, and then teaches us the Lord’s Prayer and aspects of discipleship in the church.


Jesus was not imparting a new legalism. Salvation is all of grace, and the Sermon on the Mount is not a catalogue of moral qualities to make one worthy of salvation. Jesus did not replace the legalism of the Pharisees with yet another. Rather, Jesus was establishing the rule of the Kingdom of God and making plain the transforming moral vision to be held by citizens of that realm of the redeemed.


He was not painting a vivid picture of a distant reality, however. Though the Kingdom is not yet here in fullness, it is here in part and in truth through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our fulfillment of the moral imperatives and lifestyle of the Sermon is, like salvation itself, a matter of grace, and not of human faithfulness. Yet we are called all the same, and given our marching orders. As R. T. France comments: “The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not to be admired but obeyed.”


The secular world sees the Sermon on the Mount as an ethereal vision of a utopian morality. Jesus is admired as a great moral teacher, but his precepts are taken as lofty goals for moral contemplation. The Sermon on the Mount is granted a token respect, but the secular world is not about to change its basic rules and commitments. Too much is at stake, after all.


On the other hand, the Church is God’s Christian counter-culture. The Sermon on the Mount is thus Christ’s call to a Christian counter-revolution. No force on earth can match the influence of Christian disciples bearing witness to salvation in Jesus Christ and exhibiting lifestyles which befit citizens of the Kingdom.


This is how Christians wage a culture war. Not with armaments and artillery, not with the sword but with the Spirit—not with worldly power but with the Gospel. Important battles must be fought in the courts, in the schools, and in the marketplace of ideas. But the Church must fight its battles with character and not with cowardice, and with truth rather than technique. God’s moral counter-revolutionaries bear the mark of the crucified and resurrected Christ and order their lives by the precepts of the eternal Kingdom. Christians cannot avoid political engagement, but the concern of the Church is never merely political.


The principles revealed in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be reduced to pithy precepts. Christians rightly struggle with how these teachings of the Savior are to be applied in our times. The church must give itself anew in every generation to the task of mature Christian reflection on the Sermon on the Mount and the totality of the biblical revelation. The Sermon on the Mount, like all biblical texts, must be interpreted in light of the total context of Scripture. This Sermon demands a lifetime of study and struggle.


One important factor in the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s amplification and internalization of the Law. In the famous but I say unto you passages, Jesus not only sustains the Law’s intention, He amplifies it. Avoidance of adultery is not enough—the Christian must avoid lust. Failure to murder is not enough—the Christian must not hate.


Never has the world stood in such need of the Christian counter-revolution. Living out the Sermon on the Mount, the church must show the world how to live a different way—a way for which the only explanation is the unconditional lordship of Jesus Christ. Standing in the narrow passage between the old year and the new, this is a good time to remember how a Christian counter-revolution would really look.




THEOLOGY: Bishop Spong Goes to Stetson (Mohler, 050202)


“Bishop Spong is the leading voice within modern progressive Christianity, attempting to make Christianity relevant to today’s world,” said Dixon Sutherland, director of Stetson University’s Institute for Christian Ethics. He went on to declare, “The exposure of students to probably the most formative leader of progressive thinking within Christianity today is an important part of our educational mission.” [KH: Spong is a heretic.]


That fascinating little piece of advertising is found at the website of Stetson University, a private university located in DeLand, Florida.


Of course, that introduction of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong is a bit understated, since the bishop is known throughout the world for having denied virtually every major doctrine of the Christian faith, and has become something of a parody of theological liberalism.


What makes the Stetson University announcement all the more interesting is the fact that Bishop Spong was invited to the university in order to deliver a lecture on human sexuality and then to serve as the major speaker for the university’s “Twentieth Annual Florida Winter Pastors’ School.” According to the on-line registration form for the conference, the event sold out.


The bishop’s visit to Florida caught the attention of the Orlando Sentinel. In an article written by reporter Loraine O’Connell, Spong is quoted as stating: “Sex without any sort of loving relationship is always wrong. It’s appropriate only inside commitment. What’s the level of commitment? For me, it’s marriage.” The reporter was fully aware that this might sound like Bishop Spong was abandoning his endorsement of pre-marital sex, so she quickly corrected any misunderstanding. “Spong’s fans needn’t fear that he’s backpedaling. Although marriage is his preferred level of commitment, he says, expecting young people to remain celibate until marriage isn’t realistic. Teaching them to treat sexuality with respect is.”


Over the last twenty years or so, the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong has served as a minstrel for postmodern Christianity. After serving from 1976 to 2000 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, Spong hit the lecture circuit and has become a media personality and provocateur. His books garner immediate media attention, though his methodology of theological sensationalism is running out of steam. Now that he has denied virtually every imaginable doctrine revealed in the Bible, there must be very little room for further denial.


In successive books, Spong has denied the incarnation, the miracles as recorded in Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, a salvific purpose for the crucifixion, the bodily resurrection, and an entire series of truths long cherished by the church. He sees the Bible as an essentially human book that is filled with foibles and faults, and thus argues that it is not to be taken seriously as God’s authoritative message to the church.


“The God I know is not concrete or specific,” Spong has written. “This God is rather shrouded in mystery, wonder, and awe. The deeper I journey into this divine presence, the less any literalized phrases, including the phrases of the Christian creed, seem relevant. The God I know can only be pointed to; this God can never be enclosed by propositional statements.”


Thus, Spong denies the authority and truthfulness of the historic Christian creeds and has been about the task of revising, remodeling, and transforming Christianity into an entirely new system of faith and meaning.


Biblical Christianity simply makes no sense to Bishop Spong. “The biblical account of Jesus’ return to heaven was based upon the ancient idea that the sky was the abode of God and that it was ‘up.’ A literal ascension makes no sense to those of us who live on this side of Copernicus, Galileo, and the space age. Indeed, the very word up is a meaningless concept in our time.”


In Spong’s view, God is largely a human construct. He has abandoned theism—the basic belief in a personal God—and has moved “beyond theism” to embrace “new God images.” In Why Christianity Must Change or Die, the bishop explained: “There is no God external to life. God, rather, is the inescapable depth and center of all that is. God is not a being superior to all other beings. God is the Ground of Being itself. And much flows from this starting place. The artifacts of the faith of the past must be understood in a new way if they are to accompany us beyond the exile, and those that cannot be understood differently will have to be laid aside. Time will inform us as to which is which.”


Just before the end of last year, I debated Bishop Spong on Lee Strobel’s program, “Faith Under Fire,” broadcast on PAX television. In that context, Bishop Spong presented his understanding clearly. “There is no human being that can know the reality of God. There is no inerrant Bible. There is no true Church. There is no corner on the market of salvation. There is no faith once delivered to the saints. Those are all human attempts to minister to the human security-need to believe that we possess the truth. It’s only those people who believe they possess the truth that want to have inquisitions or do heresy hunts or start religious wars or persecute people who disagree with them. I think that’s the dark and demonic side of religion, and I think we would do well to be rid of that.”


Most Americans are probably aware of Bishop Spong as an advocate for sexual revolution. His 1988 book, Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Sexuality, was a declaration of war upon the church’s historic understanding of human sexuality. Spong pulled no punches, rejecting the Bible as an adequate guide to human sexuality and insisting that the ancient Scriptures are simply too out of date to be relevant in today’s world. The bishop simply takes the sexual revolution as a fact and insists that Christianity must change its sexual ethic or be consigned to the dustbin of cultural history.


Furthermore, he insists that the church’s sole concern in this time of revolutionary sexuality is to “witness the expansion of that gray area bounded by promiscuity on the one side and sex only inside marriage on the other.” As he expanded, “Most people will live inside this area of relativity, of uncertainty, of various levels of commitment and various kinds of sexual practices. It will be in the gray area that new values will need to be formulated.”


Accordingly, the bishop argued for the full acceptance and normalization of homosexual behavior. “Contemporary research is today uncovering new facts that are producing a rising conviction that homosexuality, far from being a sickness, sin, perversion, or unnatural act, is a healthy, natural, and affirming form of human sexuality for some people.”


What about the Bible’s clear statements about the sinfulness of homosexuality? “Certainly there are biblical passages that seem quite specific in their condemnation of homosexual activity,” the bishop conceded. Nevertheless, he employed a postmodern relativizing of the text to get around that awkward reality. When Paul condemned homosexuality in Romans chapter one, “It was an unnatural act for a heterosexual person to engage in homosexual behavior, he [Paul] argued. He did not or perhaps could not imagine a life in which the affections of a male might be naturally directed to another male.”


Had the Apostle Paul been “enlightened” by modern notions of sexual orientation, Spong implies that he certainly would have changed his position. On the other hand, Spong elsewhere has argued that the Apostle Paul’s clear condemnation of homosexuality indicates that he may indeed have been a closeted homosexual himself.


Once Spong argued that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality could be overcome, it was a short jump to argue that homosexuals should be eagerly welcomed into the church and its ministry, and that liturgical rites for the blessing of same sex unions should be developed and embraced. “Once the naturalness of majority and minority orientations is established, and the expectation of celibacy for gay and lesbian people is removed, the question of the moment will then become,” Spong insists, “How does a gay or lesbian person lead a responsible sexual life?” Celibacy, he argues, is simply too much to ask.


Spong clearly revels in his role as provocateur and lightning rod for controversy. “I am not likely to be burned at the stake,” he has commented, insisting that he is confident the church will inevitably move in his direction.


Meanwhile, this directs even greater attention to the fact that Stetson University invited Spong to be a major speaker at an event that was presumably intended to equip and inspire Christian pastors. The school’s Continuing Education department acknowledged the fact that the bishop had both admirers and detractors. “His admirers acclaim his legacy as a teaching bishop who makes contemporary theology accessible to the ordinary layperson—he’s considered a champion of an inclusive faith by many both inside and outside the Christian church.” On the other hand, “His challenges to the church have also made Bishop Spong the most vilified of modern clergymen. The target of hostility, fear, and death threats, he has been called anti-Christ, hypocrite and the devil incarnate.”


Nevertheless, the university obviously thought that Bishop Spong would be an absolutely appropriate speaker for its Pastors’ School, along with Marcus J. Borg, a member of the infamous “Jesus Seminar,” who has denied the bodily resurrection, miracles, and the historicity of the New Testament.


According to the university’s website, “A bright mind is never happy on the sidelines. A bright mind is meant to be wide open to all the intellectual adventures and encounters.” Participants in Stetson University’s Pastors’ School are certain to encounter an intellectual adventure—but it will be an adventure in subverting and undermining the Christian faith.


The irony and tragedy in all this becomes apparent when it is realized that Stetson University was founded and nurtured by Baptists in the state of Florida, and championed at one time as “the state institution of the Florida Baptists.”


But, as they say, that was then and this is now. Now, Stetson is simply another private university that sells itself as “a comprehensive university committed to academic excellence and distinctive, values-centered programs.” Elsewhere at the same site, the school describes itself as “a non-sectarian, comprehensive, private university.”


That is light years away from the university’s motto, “Pro Deo et Veritate” [“For God and Truth”].


The bottom line in all this is that Stetson University—formerly related to the Florida Baptist Convention—has invited a retired Episcopal bishop—now known for his notorious denials of Christian truth—to be the speaker at an event intended to equip Christian pastors. This is all done in the name of academic inquiry, no doubt. But who speaks for orthodox Christianity?


Oddly enough, the best response to Bishop Spong’s visit came from a local Episcopal rector who declined to attend the lectures. Spong is “on the fringe of the tradition,” said the Reverend Don Lyon, rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in DeLand. “He’s basically an eastern mystical pantheist.”


As Lyon told the Orlando Sentinel, “I’ve been a parish priest for 25 years, and for 25 years he has sought to deconstruct the historic faith in ways that have been profoundly damaging to the church.”


Reverend Lyon is right, of course. The most tragic aspect of this entire episode is the damage that is done to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.


The state of liberal Protestantism, of Stetson University and similar institutions, and the world of increasingly post-Christian spirituality, is made readily apparent once we recognize what it means that Bishop Spong, rather than Reverend Lyon, was asked to address the attending pastors. But then, Bishop Spong must have offered the kind of “intellectual adventure” those pastors would prefer. Let’s just leave it at that.




SOCIETY: Arrogance in the Newsroom: Goldberg on Liberal Bias (Mohler, 040114)


Sometime ago, comedian Jay Leno made the following announcement to his audience: “A group of venture capitalists are in the process of developing their own liberal radio network to counter conservative shows like Rush Limbaugh. They feel the liberal viewpoint is not being heard—except on TV, in the movies, in music, by comedians, in magazines and newspapers. Other than that, it’s not getting out!” With his typical good timing, Leno delivered the joke masterfully and the audience responded with laughter. Of course, the laugh was at the expense of those who claim that the media shows no liberal bias.


Just over two years ago, Bernard Goldberg rocked the media world with the release of his book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Now, just two years later, Goldberg has released Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite. Together, these two books pack a powerful punch and make an eloquent argument. Goldberg puts to rest any claim that the elite media are politically unbiased.


After almost three decades of service as a CBS News correspondent, Goldberg is in a unique position to evaluate and explain the origin and impact of liberal bias in the newsroom. During his 28 years at CBS, Goldberg won 6 Emmy Awards and was one of the network’s most popular correspondents.


Nevertheless, once Bias was released, Goldberg found himself frozen out of newsrooms and shunned even by those who had been his friends. Goldberg broke one of the cardinal rules of the liberal media—never admit the existence of a liberal bias among those who write, produce, and report the news. Once that secret oath was broken, Goldberg became a pariah and the defense mechanisms of the elite media went into overdrive.


In his first book, Goldberg traced the development of liberal bias in the reporting and packaging of news. He traced the origin of liberal bias to the social context, educational experiences, and class consciousness of liberal journalists. As he made clear, many of these media personalities have convinced themselves that there is no liberal bias in themselves or their peers. They just consider their own worldview to be normative and anyone who disagrees with them to be lacking in either intelligence or sophistication. Lacking any better way of understanding this phenomenon, the trend-setters in the media just consider conservatives backward and obstructionist.


In Arrogance, Goldberg takes the next step, arguing for a 12-step recovery program that would force the liberal media to deal with their political bias. First, Goldberg puts the issue in perspective. The institutions of elite media deny liberal bias because they cannot afford such an admission. Their worldview leads them to see their own presuppositions as normal, and those who oppose them as backward. Therefore, they consider themselves to be doing a public service when they position conservatives as a radical fringe and establish liberal dogma as the norm.


Liberal reporters claim “objectivity” as their motto and standard. Goldberg pulls back the veil of misinformation concerning that claim. “By in large, these are people who see themselves as incredibly decent, even noble. They’re the good guys trying to make the world a better place. That’s why many of them went into journalism in the first place.” Therefore, Goldberg explains that bias “is something the bad guys are guilty of.” This leads journalists to take a defensive posture, denying the very possibility that they could be biased in their own perspective: “So rather than look honestly at themselves and their profession, they hang on for dear life to the ludicrous position, to the completely absurd notion, that they, among all human beings, are unique—that only they have the ability to set aside their personal feelings and their beliefs and report the news free of any biases, ‘because we’re professionals,’ they say.”


How can this be true? These are smart people who consider themselves quite qualified to spot bias in others. How do they miss such bias in themselves? Goldberg answers: “Well for starters, as I say, a lot of them truly don’t understand what the fuss is all about, since they honestly believe that their views on all sorts of divisive issues are not really controversial—or even liberal. After all, their liberal friends in Manhattan and Georgetown share those same views, which practically by definition make them moderate and mainstream.”


Thus, those who stand outside what passes as “mainstream” in the salons of Manhattan and the political parlors of Georgetown show up on the radar screen of the liberal media as cranks, kooks, and extremists.


The insularity of the liberal newsroom was perhaps most graphically displayed when film critic Pauline Kael of the New Yorker expressed shock at the landslide election of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in the 1972 Presidential race. “How can that be?,” she asked. “No one I know voted for Nixon.” That statement revealed that Pauline Kael was in no position to know anything about what mainstream America is like in the first place. Her friends and associates were the luminaries of the artsy New York scene, not the kind of people who sell insurance, manage grocery stores, change diapers and ferry the kids to Little League. George McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia—not even New York. Nevertheless, Pauline Kael lived in a world where George McGovern, not Richard Nixon, would have won in a landslide.


Because the media elite see themselves as fair and objective, they refuse to consider charges of liberal bias. “Better to cast conservatives as a bunch of loonies,” explains Goldberg, “who see conspiracies under every bed, around every corner, behind every tree, and, most important of all, in every newsroom.”


The rise of alternative media has transformed the equation to some extent. Fox News is now an alternative to the more liberal bent of CNN, even as conservative talk radio increasingly dominates the free-wheeling airwaves. This has put the elite media into a panic mode. Recent reports indicate that several liberal foundations and philanthropists are looking to set up an alternative system of liberal talk radio to compete with dominating conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Of course, liberals also have to explain why it is that their shows are failing while conservative programs continue to grow.


Goldberg has an explanation for this, too. “The Left, self-servingly, says it’s because conservatives (unlike civilized liberals, of course) are loud and angry and make complex political and social issues moronically simple for their moronically simple listeners, many of whom, of course, live in simple-minded Red State country.” Goldberg’s not buying it—”Here’s another theory: Maybe liberal talk shows keep failing because the American people don’t think they need yet one more media megaphone coming from left field.”


Goldberg offers a sophisticated analysis of this perplexing phenomenon. The very smart and very sophisticated leaders of the liberal media simply do not understand how distant they are from the lives of ordinary Americans. They consider themselves smarter, more informed, more analytical, and more broad-minded than the population at large.


Conservatives sometimes reduce this to a problem of partisan loyalties. While it is true that Democrats vastly out number Republicans in the media elite, the pattern of bias does not fall simply along party lines. To the contrary, the division is far more cultural and ideological than merely political.


Writing in the Wall Street Journal, David W. Brady and Jonathan Ma recently reported on their study of media bias that focused on the description of liberal and conservative members of the U.S. Senate. As Brady and Ma detail, the media are far more likely to describe a conservative in negative terms than a liberal under similar circumstances. Furthermore, the very word “liberal” is used far more sparingly than the label “conservative,” and the latter word is often joined by other negative terms. Reviewing coverage of the 102nd Congress, Brady and Ma describe a pattern in which Massachusetts Democrat Edward M. Kennedy is described as “a liberal spokesman” and “the party’s old-school liberal” in The New York Times. The same paper described North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms as “the most unyielding conservative,” “the unyielding conservative Republican,” “the contentious conservative,” and “the Republican arch-conservative.” Senator Tom Harkin was described as “a liberal intellectual,” while Senator Don Nickles was called “a fierce conservative.” And these people consider themselves free from bias!


Goldberg understands that this form of bias is deeply rooted in experience and perspective. “What media bias is mainly about are the fundamental assumptions and beliefs and values that are the stuff of everyday life. The reason why so many American’s who are pro-life or anti-affirmative action or who support gun rights detest the mainstream media is that day after day they fail to see in the media any respect for their views. What they see is a mainstream media seeming to legitimize one side (the one media elites agree with) as valid and moral, while seeking to cast the other side as narrow, small-minded, and bigoted.”


The twelve-step recovery program Goldberg suggests is not likely to gain traction in the liberal newsrooms anytime soon. Their denial of the problem is itself the problem. Until the media elite comes to terms with its own blinders and bias, it is sure to avoid dealing with this problem. Bernard Goldberg has performed an important public service in his new book. The mainstream media would perform an even more significant public service by taking it seriously.