Trusting the Good News in the Age of Fake News

The result of Truth Decay is suspicion, general uncertainty, and disengagement and alienation from one another and institutions.

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.

 

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.[1]

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).

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