JACKSON, Tenn. – Jan. 12, 2006 – In the fast-paced world of flashy journalism, thoughtful fans of the television program “Nightline” found themselves frustrated when Ted Koppel announced his departure from ABC last fall.
Immediately, many wondered if some coffee-drinking comedian would end up laying claim to the spot which this veteran correspondent had so thoughtfully and astutely held for 25 years. In fact, during Koppel’s farewell, the audience was encouraged to give successors Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran a fair chance.
“If you don’t,” Koppel said, “I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you’ll be sorry.”
Speaking to The Associated Press and summing up what Koppel considered to be the program’s legacy, he stated his confidence that “a serious news broadcast can be successful on all counts, without catering to anyone’s baser instincts. “Nightline” has made a lot of money. It has been successful in terms of viewership, awards and accolades. But most important to me, it’s been successful in not having to lower its standards.”
James Goldston, the producer of Koppel’s replacement show, expressed confidence that ABC would be “extremely conscious” of the “Nightline” audience (the nightly average of 3.6 million viewers was down from 5.5 million a decade before) but that a more “vibrant” broadcast would be appearing.
Koppel, 65, has now signed a three-year contract to produce programs for the Discovery cable channel. Speaking of his decision to go to Discovery rather than a news channel, Koppel stated that his decision was motivated by an understanding that news channels often tend to focus more on what is “recent rather than what is important.”
A typically Koppel-esque statement, it is one that should cause Christians everywhere to consider their own approach to news. More importantly, it is a statement that should cause Christians to reflect on the faith — their commitment to it and their expressions of it.
With all of history in the past, modern American Evangelicals are often tempted to be overly preoccupied with what is simply recent rather than what is essentially important. Often, church folks are distracted by the siren sounds of the latest religious whiz-bang novelty while failing to keep the essential and foundational elements of the faith in their right place.
“Out with the old and in with the new” seems to be the theme of many who are ditching their hymnals, setting up coffee shops in their church foyers, feasting on topical sermons, eschewing doctrine and basking in the dim lights of their most recent technological worship aid — all to the glory of God, of course.
The obsession with the recent rather than the important has many church leaders thinking strategically and planning carefully concerning what people want to experience when they come to church. However, a better question to ask is “What will those who come to church this Sunday take home with them?”
In his excellent work “Between Two Worlds,” John R.W. Stott adopts the metaphor of a bridge and calls for the Christian preacher to span the chasm between the biblical world and the contemporary world for his congregation by grounding the Bible message’s modern significance in the historical, grammatical and literary context of the text — thus the title of the book.
If the bridge is planted firmly in the biblical world but fails to reach and make appropriate contact with the modern world, the bridge falls. If it is rooted in the modern world, but remains disconnected from the biblical world, the bridge also collapses. Therefore, it is essential that that the preacher work hard to be both biblically grounded and culturally relevant.
Stott’s bridge metaphor can be extended to all ministers and can serve to underscore the reality that decisions in church leadership related to “recent” and “important” are not “either/or” decisions. Instead they are “both/and.”
Koppel’s desire for a focus on the important combined with Goldston’s commitment to more vibrant programming might be the right recipe. With this in mind, as church leaders seek to “direct the affairs of the church” (2 Timothy 5:17), the worthy objective is a church that is committed to being vibrantly important.
By Todd E. Brady, Minister to the University