Trusting the Good News in the Age of Fake News
Odds are, you're not willing to perform a trust fall into the arms of the American media.
In fact, there aren't a whole lot of trust falls happening anymore in our society, as the General Social Survey reports that only 30% of Americans agreed with the statement that "most people can be trusted." And while our trust in our neighbor is decreasing, and trust in the government is at historic lows, it is the news media which has taken the biggest hit. No one feels they can rely on the media anymore. Conservatives have zero trust in CNN or MSNBC, just as liberals have no trust in Fox News.
That's astounding when you think about it. Half of the country thinks the other half is producing and consuming news and information that is misinformed and unreliable, and vice versa.
Why do we have such a hard time trusting? Why do we lack confidence in others and in institutions? Why are we suspicious of intentions, motives, or outcomes? The key factor, say most Americans, is the fairly recent phenomenon (pandemic?) of so-called "fake news." According to a 2018 Gallup study, more than eight in 10 Americans "believe the news media have an important role to play in democracy," but at the same time nearly 75% agree that fake news is crippling the important role of the media--even though most Americans disagree on what constitutes fake news!
Thus our society has been said to be suffering from increasing "Truth Decay," defined by these four trends:
1. "...an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data;"
2. "...a blurring of the line between opinion and fact;"
3. "...an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact"
4. "...and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information."
The result of this Truth Decay is suspicion, general uncertainty, and disengagement and alienation from one another and institutions. When truth goes, trust goes.
A More Sure Word
Trust is a fundamental social capital, and as Christians we should lament its decline. But even as the integrity of our news outlets seems to erode before our very eyes--even as we are inundated with fake news--we must never let our faith waiver regarding what we know to be reliable, trustworthy, and true: The Gospel.
"Gospel" is literally "good news" (euaggelion). It's the message that the soldier brings from the front lines that the army has been victorious and war is over! Jesus Christ has come and conquered sin and death--the war is over, and we now have peace with God. We must receive this news with faith, which requires trust. It's not a blind faith--it's not a backwards trust fall into some uncertainty. Thus Reformed theology has traditionally used a threefold definition of faith as knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). There must be factual information known and assented to before there can be meaningful trust and faith. So what things must we know to increase our trust in the Good News in the age of fake news?
It's God's Gospel, Not Man's
We start with the simple but profound truth: This news comes from God. Everything else will be based upon this reality. The reason the Gospel is Good News worth believing is because it originates from God, and is not the invention of men. You'll remember this is Paul's primary argument for why the Galatian church should believe the news that he announces to them:
"For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:11-12).
The Gospel originates in the eternal counsels of the Triune God, not in a morning briefing at a news organization. Because it comes from God, it is true. God deals with that which is fact, not that which is fake. As truth continues to decay in our society, let that never cause us to doubt the truthfulness of God. "Let God be true though everyone were a liar!" (Rom. 3:4). His truthfulness is "everlasting" (Psalm 117:2), and all He says is true (119:60). While everything else will fade and wither away, "the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8). When the Devil speaks, he reveals his deceitful character (John 8:44). When God speaks, however, He reveals His truthful character. And where there is truth, there can be trust.
To Inform, Not Inflame
The majority of fake news is produced just to stir up people's ire. The sole purpose seems to be to divide our society even more sharply. Sadly, there are those who find pleasure in stirring the pot, and sometimes we have (unwittingly) been stirred up with it. The result is disturbing. Rather than people being engaged with the world around them, they are instead enraged at it... and usually for misinformed reasons. Then, if people eventually realize they've been misinformed, their tendency is more anger and less trust in any information offered to them. We become more isolated and individualized, because we don't want to risk being burned again.
Not so with the Christian Gospel. Consider what the Apostle John writes near the conclusion of his account: "[This is] written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). God's Gospel declaration through His apostles, prophets, and preachers isn't to divide people down party lines. It isn't to stir the pot. It certainly isn't to mislead. God declares His Good News so that people would believe it, and in believing it receive eternal life. This news is uniquely informative: giving the world the facts necessary to live forever.
What information could be important than that? Remember that as we open up Scripture, God's desire is that we would be informed, that we would know, that we would learn, that we would trust. All of Scripture is given that we would believe the facts of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. As Paul says, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
The Gospel Is Not Commercial
The news media is first and foremost a commercial industry. The reason we went from monthly papers, to weekly papers, to daily papers, to a 24-hour news cycle is simple: Money. Fake news is no different. People will fabricate whatever they can if it means more eyes, higher ratings, and increased revenue. But the Gospel isn't trying to take our money. Its source isn't human greed, but divine generosity. In fact, the Good News is about how we have been "bought with a price," (1 Cor. 7:23) "not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19). We can trust the Good News, because although it cost Jesus everything, it is offered to us freely.
The Gospel Has a Blessed Bias
The suspicion most have in news outlets today stems from perceived (and real) bias. We have been fed false information in the past and led to believe a lie in order that someone else's agenda might be promoted. I won't deny that the Gospel has a particular agenda. But it's not the sinful agenda of power-hungry politicians, lobby groups, or media conglomerates. Rather, it's the agenda of a perfectly wise and loving God. That agenda is His glorification. The Gospel is "for the sake of His name" (Rom. 1:5), and God saves "in order to make known the riches of his glory" (Rom. 9:23), and one day all will cry, "Salvation and glory and power belong to our God" (Revelation 19:1).
How is God promoting the agenda of His glory any different than the power-hungry politician promoting theirs? The difference is that God's agenda is actually for our good. He is glorified by working all things for the good of those who believe in His Word (Rom. 8:28). In this way, we can say the Gospel has something of a blessed bias. It's the only news we can hear and know, without a doubt, is for us. It has a sanctified spin; it's for our benefit and for our blessing; it's news that delivers us from death and saves us from our sin.
A Trustworthy Saying
Even when we feel that truth and trust are in short supply in society, we can turn to God's Word which never fails. Even in an age of suspicion and doubt, this is something we can bank on. Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
The Gospel deserves our acceptance, is worthy of our trust. Why? Because it's true. And we should receive it with full-hearted faith.
And the beautiful thing--and the really important thing needed today--is that once we embrace this news in faith, we are equipped to confront a world of lies and deception with the truth of God. We can, and must, go out and share something stable and foundational to a people living precariously in a fragile world of mistrust and misinformation. They need it, and we can be the ones to give it to them.
May we never underestimate the joy of knowing something that is trustworthy and deserving of our acceptance.
 Jennifer Kavanagh & Michael D. Rich, Truth Decay (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018).
Jonathan Landry Cruse (MDiv, Westminster Seminary California) is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI. He is the author of The Christian's True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ (RHB, 2019), and has written articles for numerous publications (including Modern Reformation, Core Christianity, New Horizons, and The Outlook). Several of his contributions to modern hymnody have also been published, some of which are included in the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (GCP, 2018).
Only One Way, edited by Richard Phillips and Michael Johnson.
Is Jesus the Only Way? by Phillip Ryken
"Truth and Politics" by Donny Friederichsen
"Cultural Myths About Truth and Love" by Harry Reeder