If a good title captures a potential reader’s eye, then a good subtitle should capture the writer’s heart. The result can be a blend of salty and sweet that combines like the contrasting parts of a perfect PBJ.
Unfortunately, in the world of journalism this has typically led to hubris, like the television news program promise: “You give us 22 minutes, we give you the world.” Newspaper mastheads and mottoes have tended towards self-importance, too. Take The New York Times: “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” or The Chicago Tribune: “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”
Some have shown a little style: the one-time Atlanta Journal “Covers Dixie Like The Dew,” while The Blackshear Times in Pierce County, Ga, is “Liked by Many, Cussed by Some, Read by Them All.” My personal favorite, however, is from the Idyllwild Town Crier in California, which modestly promises, “Almost all the News—Part of the Time.”
But what about when it comes to Christian media? What is a fitting descriptor for “Jesus journalism?” My suggestion would be Acts 15:31: “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”
However, this doesn’t mean encouragement in the sense (and if it isn’t then you must be doing something wrong, because God is good and everything in the world is fine). Where all the emphasis is on the success stories, with the failures conveniently ignored.
This is marketing, not journalism.
The readers referred to in the verse from Acts 15 were members of the early church in Antioch, unsettled by visitors who told them that the Gentile converts among them had to be circumcised like the Jews if they were truly to be saved. Indeed the discord within the Antioch church was so great that Paul and Barnabas were sent to the mother church in Jerusalem, to get a ruling.
The writers of the “encouraging message” were the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, who had to deal with an issue that could have derailed the fledgling church. They didn’t just tell everyone to be sincere, agree to disagree, and try to get along. They weren’t afraid to face controversy and speak plainly, setting out what requirements the non-Jewish believers should meet.
This “encouraging” publication—the letter from the Jerusalem Council—was not just a fluffy greeting card. It:
- acknowledged controversy
- addressed the issue
- required change
It wasn’t encouragement as a pat on the back and a warm feeling, but encouragement as a slap on the wrist and a call to action. True encouragement is firm, not fluffy. True en-courage-ment calls us to face fear and step out. Those kind of messages are not always comfortable, for the bearer or the hearer.