And If Not…

It's one of the most dramatic episodes of World War II. Hitler has just blitzkrieged his way across France. Now the entire British Expeditionary Force is huddled on the Dunkirk beaches, ducking bullets and waiting to be rescued. As they wait, the soldiers broadcast a message across the Channel. It says, "And if not..." Just 3 words: "And if not..." The phrase comes from the Bible, from the words spoken by Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego just before Nebuchadnezzar throws them into the fiery furnace. "Our God is able to save us, and He will save us," the young men boldly proclaim. "And if not," they add, "we intend to remain faithful to Him anyway." By picking up the same words, the soldiers at Dunkirk are sending a similar message to their countrymen. "We trust you to come in time to save us from Hitler's army," the message implies. "And if not...we will stand strong anyway." The astonishing thing is that the British people who hear the radio broadcast understand it immediately. No explanation needed. The biblical words bring to mind a story nearly all Britons know; it's part of their cultural heritage. Just 3 words convey it all. Now let's jump ahead to a more recent scene. The year is 1984, in the heat of a presidential campaign. Democratic candidate Walter Mondale is worried. His campaign is being run off the road by an upstart candidate named Gary Hart. Mondale thinks Hart's ideas lack substance. But how to get that across to the voters? Suddenly, Mondale's staff has an idea. The next day, Mondale looks straight into the cameras and says, "Gary--Where's the beef?" The astonishing thing is that millions of Americans who hear the phrase know exactly what Mondale means. They recognize it--from a television commercial. A cranky old lady at a fast-food counter looks down at her hamburger bun with its skimpy piece of meat and bellows, "Where's the beef?" The 3 words come to stand for lack of substance, empty promises. It catches on immediately. Within days, Mondale's campaign is back in full gear. And so it has come to this: 40 years ago, words from the Bible had the power to convey a message to an entire nation. Today it is words from advertising slogans. TV communication has replaced the Bible as the common language that binds us together. A Washington Post editor goes so far as to say that television is our nation's leading religion. And he has a point. The word religion comes from a Latin root meaning "to bind together." Television does bind Americans together, giving them a common set of ideas and experiences. Ask any group of school children to name the first 4 presidents and see how far you get. But ask them to name the 4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles....well, you get my point. America faces a choice: Either we surrender to the electronic tube as the instrument of social cohesion, or we take seriously the task of moral education. Around our dinner tables, in our Sunday School classes, on our jobs, with our children??the task is to communicate the biblical vision of truth and virtue. Not just for individual salvation but also to create a cultural bond of shared language and meaning. We trust that when we are faithful to our calling, God will grant us cultural renewal. And if not...


Chuck Colson


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