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Spring 2022 · Vol. 51 No. 1 · pp. 82–93 

Christian Journalism for Today

Katie Funk Wiebe

Introduction to Katie Funk Wiebe’s
“Christian Journalism for Today”

Vic Froese

Katie Funk was born in Laird, Saskatchewan, in 1924 to Jacob and Anna Funk who emigrated from Ukraine a year earlier. The future Mennonite Brethren (MB) feminist, popular columnist, and prolific writer would spend her formative years in nearby Blaine Lake.

In 1945, Katie made the fateful decision to move to Winnipeg to attend the new Mennonite Brethren Bible College. She soon found herself editing and doing some writing for the college newsletter, The Harbinger, beside the lead editor (and her future husband), Walter Wiebe. The experience with college newsletters gave the couple, who married in 1947, a keen interest in pursuing a writing ministry. 1

An invitation to Katie from The Christian Leader (the official US Mennonite Brethren Church magazine) to write a column on “Women and the Church” was soon followed by the couple’s move in 1962 to Hillsboro, Kansas. But in November of that year, Walter died suddenly of a rare medical condition, leaving Katie with four young children to raise on her own. She earned money by copy-editing and proofreading at Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, which published Christian Leader. Four years later, she was teaching English part-time at Tabor College and taking classes to complete a BA. By fall 1967, she was a full-time Tabor instructor. She retired from the College in 1990, remaining active as a writer up to her death in 2016. 2

Wiebe was writing and giving talks about Christian writing at Tabor in the mid-1960s. The article reprinted below is based on one of those talks. “Christian Journalism for Today” was published in The Journal of {83} Church and Society in spring 1967, one of the few of her astonishingly numerous writings to be published in an academic journal. 3

The thrust of the article is the high calling of the Christian writer. Notwithstanding the opinion of Soren Kierkegaard that he would rather have his daughter seduced than his son become a journalist, Wiebe insisted that “God uses writing which is a reflection of the mind and heart of a Christian to glorify His name.” And despite its failure to produce many writers, even the MB Church agrees that “literature and . . . the vocation of religious journalism [are] a prime means of influencing others in the faith.”

Wiebe spends most of her time identifying important characteristics of good Christian writers. She highlights several. They will be certain of the power of words, which is to say, they are “convinced God uses ink,” and they will be disciples before all else.

They must also be “a person who can think.” This is more important than having a talent for writing, for “It is easier to train a thinking person to write clearly and convincingly than to organize the thoughts of someone who may have a flare for words but has nothing to say.”

Of course, Christian writers will have a gift for writing. They will shun religious clichés, “evangelical jargon,” and “mawkish, didactic writing.” These will only keep Christian writers from the excellence to which they should aspire.

Moreover, Christian writers must be strictly self-disciplined. Without the “discipline of spirit, mind, and body” to put words on a page, their talent for writing will come to nothing.

Finally, Christian writers must have courage. “Writing . . . means being willing to denude your spirit and to share your inner soul workings with others.” It means “putting one’s very soul in bondage.” But she promises her readers that this bondage is a “bondage of love in which there is both liberty and strength . . . [and] many rewards.”

Wiebe’s essay is very much a sales pitch for Christian writing, and she employs various arguments to persuade her audience of its value to the church. Christian writing can offer social criticism: “The church needs writers . . . to hold a mirror to today’s society so it can see the dirt on its face.” It can be evangelistic: by offering those with soiled faces cleansing soap and clean towels. It can be apologetic: “The church needs writers like [John] Wesley who can write with authority, . . . and who can gain an audience with the pagan minds of our day.”

But Wiebe repeatedly returns to evangelism as the main purpose of Christian writing. “The church,” she says, “has not always seen the possibilities in public media as a means of spreading the message of the Gospel.” The Christian writer “knows that the intensely right word {84} may lift a soul from damnation.” “The Christian writer has but one obligation—to bring the reader closer to Christ.”

As her own experience in the following years would attest, fine Christian writing can address as many concerns as there are questions facing the church. In her lifetime, she would write on a great many of them, consistently living up to the standards of Christian writing she here describes so clearly and with such confidence.


  1. For a fuller biography, see Doug Heidebrecht, “Katie’s Pilgrimage,” in The Voice of a Writer: Honoring the Life of Katie Funk Wiebe, ed. Doug Heidebrecht and Valerie G. Rempel (Winnipeg: Kindred Publications, 2010), 1–18.
  2. Wiebe’s last work was an English translation of D. M. Hofer’s Die Hungersnot in Russland und Unsere Reise um die Welt (Chicago: K.M.B. Publishing House, 1924), published posthumously as Terror, Faith and Relief: The Famine in Russia and Our Trip around the World (Hillsboro, KS: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 2019).
  3. Wiebe’s other academic articles include, among half a dozen others, “Elmer Gantry: The Revolt against the Religion of the Village,” The Journal of Church and Society 6, no. 1 (Spring 1970): 54–64, and “Mennonite Brethren Women: Images and Realities of the Early Years,” Direction 24, no. 2 (Fall 1995): 23–35. A comprehensive bibliography of Wiebe’s writings has been compiled by David Giesbrecht, Doug Heidebrecht, and Susan Huebert and published in The Voice of a Writer, 255–352.

Christian Journalism for Today*

Katie Funk Wiebe

In his letters to the churches the Apostle Paul emphasized that the gifts of the Spirit to the church were to be used to promote a common purpose—to spread the message of the Gospel. However, we do not find that the gift of writing is listed in the Scriptures alongside preaching, teaching, and the other gifts of the Spirit. Even without this official recognition Christian journalism is generally accepted today as an important ministry which not only undergirds all other ministries but is necessary in itself. “If there had been any journalists in the apostolic age,” said the late Dr. Edward Scribner Ames in 1948 at the ordination service of a young Disciples minister interested in religious journalism, “they would probably have been ranked just below the administrators! No one in that age could have imagined how many specialists would have been needed by the year 1948 [or 1967] for the work of the ministry.” 1

But journalism as a vocation for Christians has not always found acceptance with the church. The church has not always seen the possibilities in public media as a means of spreading the message of the Gospel. The combination of religion and journalism reminds me of the two little girls who were playing wedding with some of their mother’s old clothes. One little girl was the bride and the other was the bridesmaid. Their mother asked, “But where is the groom?” “Oh, there is none,” was the reply. “We’re only having a small wedding.” For many years people considered that journalism and Christianity simply could {86} not be brought together. They were mutually exclusive. No marriage between the two was thought possible—not even a small wedding. Journalism was considered as a rough-and-ready profession for people without serious convictions or depth of feeling and certainly without interest in religion.

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian, wrote in his journal in the early 1800s:

The lowest depth to which people can sink before God is defined by the word journalist. . . . If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should not despair over her: I would hope for her salvation. But if I had a son who became a journalist and continued to be one for five years, I would give him up. 2

He wrote these words because he felt the press was a demoralizing influence on society. It went along with superficial opinion, no matter how wrong. He felt the press was afraid to stand alone even to be right.

During the last year of his life while studying at Syracuse University, my husband Walter Wiebe wrote an editorial for the Religious Journalism Newsletter. Dr. Roland Wolseley, Professor of Journalism and Chairman of the Magazine Department at the School of Journalism at Syracuse, quotes part of this editorial in his recent book, Careers in Religious Journalism:

Personally, I believe in religious journalism, as I believe in love and marriage. To say that religion and journalism cannot mix is like saying John and Mary cannot get married because John is a man, and Mary—well, she is a lady. But what will you say when John and Mary fall in love? They will go to church and get married— as religion and journalism have done. I would not like to see them take the road to Reno. 3

I also believe in religious journalism. I believe that God uses printed communications to further His cause. I believe that God uses writing which is a reflection of the mind and heart of a Christian to glorify His name.

Fortunately some changes in the attitudes to religious journalism have taken place since the days of Kierkegaard. The church is awakening to the importance and the need of making room for journalism as a vocation. It sees the importance of writing about its faith using all possible media. Religious news is top coverage these days, and according to Willmar Thorkelson, religion editor of Minneapolis Star and past president of the Religious Newswriters Association, it has more prestige among editors of American newspapers than at any previous time in the history of the American press. 4 {87}

Religion has assumed a growing place in the press and on the air, taking on prominence in the regular news columns, in the front part of the paper, in mass-circulation periodicals, in newscasts, and television documentaries. Editors of most large papers and many small ones have put top reporters on the field, and the role of religion reporter has become a sought-after one in the profession. 5

People want to read about religion and about God. In a society characterized by its insecurity and fear, people are interested in reading material that stems from a religious viewpoint. Note the keen interest in recent years in books on theology and philosophy.

But in spite of the fact that the church sees in literature and in the vocation of religious journalism a prime means of influencing others in the faith, it has failed to produce many journalists or other kinds of writers. The Mennonite Brethren Church can point to very few people who are presently engaged in full-time religious journalism. A few people write as a fringe activity to other work, but the number of people who could be considered full-time journalists can be counted on half the keys of the bottom row of a typewriter.

The church is sitting on a grandstand watching the activity in the arena of life where people are struggling in an ideological battle without sufficient leadership; where new literates search eagerly for material to feed their awakening minds; where people plead for the right to be a person in their battle against the giant technology which threatens to wipe out every last vestige of individuality they might have had; where people live with fear of war, and death, and old age, and illness as their constant companions. In the arena people are looking for answers to ultimate questions without even knowing what the questions are. People are desperately looking for indications that God is alive.

And yet, up in the bleachers, the church is watching what is going on, calmly discussing and studying the situation. It assures itself repeatedly that printed communications would be a good way to reach large groups of people—especially new literates and those whom other isms and sects find easy targets. But it has not yet moved into the battle. The performance of the church in writing the Gospel has been woefully inadequate. The church must get down off the bleachers on the grandstand and move into the arena. To do this it needs writers—men like the Apostle Paul, who, when his message and ministry were threatened by enemies of the faith, did not hesitate to defend his work and to witness to the faith in writing. The epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians are but two examples of his written work which dealt with very contemporary issues. {88}


The church needs writers for a number of reasons, one of the most important of which is to hold a mirror to today’s society so it can see the dirt on its face. We have today many writers who feel that this mirror-holding is all that is necessary. Realism in literature is all important. Let people see life as it really is. Why cover up the shady aspects of life? It has become popular for writers, particularly of the short story or novel, to pick life apart at the seams to show the reader the filth and the vermin that has crawled into these hidden spots.

We do not want to return to nineteenth-century romanticism. Writing for the twentieth century must meet the needs of people of this age. We need writers who can write about life realistically, candidly, and searchingly. We need writers who will show life as something more than pretty and pious. We need writers who will help men to see themselves as they are—lost without the knowledge of God.

But the Christian writer must go one step further. He must not only hold up the mirror, but he must also show people where to wash—where they can find cleansing. To continually hold up a mirror without offering soap and towel is insufficient. A Christian journalist must raise a voice of hope and redemption when other voices speak only for the lower nature of man. People need to be brought in contact with that One Person who offers cleansing. A Christian writer knows man and he knows God and he becomes a God-agent bringing the two together through the words he writes.

At this point it might be helpful to clarify what we consider as Christian writing because some people feel that when a message begins to intrude upon the writing, art and Christian writing part company. If a writer is concerned about souls, his art cannot help but suffer. If his main concern is his art, souls will suffer in hell because he did not make the message clear enough. If we accept that the literature of a particular society is a reflection of the thinking of its people, then by analogy, Christian writing is simply that which expresses or reflects the thinking of a Christian. The form in which his ideas are expressed cannot be predetermined by the church. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott expresses the viewpoint of a number of modern Christian novelists:

The Christian novelist is not under any obligation to preach the Gospel in any direct sense. His work is to delineate as accurately as possible the world as he sees it from his angle of vision; and if that angle of vision is genuinely Christian, then Christianity will breathe through his prose even though there may be no overt mention of basic Christian truths. 6

The Christian writer has but one obligation—to bring the reader closer to Christ. The form of the art is his responsibility.

But the church needs journalists for another reason beside mirror-holding and directing to soap and water. We live in a time of tremendous change—change characterized by talk of freedom, independence, fulfillment, and equality. The problem of writers is not to produce change in the world. We have plenty of change. Kyle Haselden, editor of Christian Century, speaking to a group of writers at the American Baptist Assembly Grounds at Green Lake, Wisconsin, last summer, said: “The problem is not to change the world. The problem is not to prevent change. The problem for Christian writers is to help control and direct change, to inform change, to give the vast sweep of it some Christian challenge.” 7

Writing such as Haselden describes means warfare. A person can’t write like that without entering into the conflict against all that opposes Christ. For such writing we need men like [John] Wesley who lived in an age when the intellectual climate was skeptical and unbelieving. He was not content to produce Christian literature that was simple, sincere, and inoffensive. He plunged into the intellectual ferment of his day. He outthought pagan minds of his day and made the complexities of Christian truth clear to his contemporaries. His age was one time in American history when religious writing dominated the journalistic horizon. The church needs writers like Wesley who can write with authority, without the provincial approach, and who can gain an audience with the pagan minds of our day. 8


What kind of people is the church looking for in its search for writers? Men of God and disciples of Jesus Christ! The church is looking for people who have faith in the power of God to deliver and redeem. The church is looking for people who believe that the Gospel was given to us for exactly this age. The Christian writer has an unshakable belief in the incredible power of words. He is convinced God uses ink. He knows that the intensely right word may lift a soul from damnation. And so he submits himself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his search for those words which will clothe the idea of God’s love and forgiveness in such a way that readers will acknowledge him Lord of life.

The Christian writer is first of all a disciple. Christian writing is making a life and then giving that life through the written word. Writing can never be a thing separated from the writer’s life. A writer can never write a greater story than he is a person. We will never have great Christian writers if we do not first have great Christians. If Christian {90} writing is at a low ebb, it is because the quality of Christian living is low. Writing is but a mirror image of the writer himself even as the writings of the Apostle Paul are the man himself.

The Christian writer must also be a person who can think. He must have something to say. Fulton Oursler once said, “Writers come from persons who have a story to tell or are imbued with a desire to cause others to think as they think.” The Christian writer wants others to think the way he thinks about God and His Son Jesus Christ. While some may feel that the talent of writing should be placed at the top of the list of qualifications for a writer, I think it is more important that we begin with Christians who know how to think. It is easier to train a thinking person to write clearly and convincingly than to organize the thoughts of someone who may have a flare for words but has nothing to say. The church is not looking for mere word machines—people who can pass facts through their typewriters and turn out technically correct copy. A Christian writer brings to his task certain convictions which are reflected in his writing. He has something to say, and he knows to whom he is saying it.

But we must not exclude the gift of writing as a qualification of a Christian writer. By the gift of writing I mean an actual gift of creative ability, the art of expression, and the self-discipline to use this gift, and not just an itch to write. Doubtless hundreds of people have hoped to be writers at some time in their lives. A certain glamor surrounds the writer and his typewriter. The drafty coexistence of the mid-Victorian writer with garret mice is outdated. The checks a writer receives today are big. Doesn’t Reader’s Digest pay $2,500 for one article? Furthermore, a writer’s work is easy. All he has to do is pull a chair to his typewriter, press a mental switch, and watch the words flow effortlessly onto the paper. Publicity and popularity crowd a writer on every side. With such an inviting image it isn’t hard to understand why many people have fallen in love with the idea of becoming a writer. They keep looking for the elusive answer to the perplexing secret of what makes a writer. They want not so much to write as to have written.

Creative ability is important to writing as is a technical knowledge of the craft and a desire to communicate truth through it. But without self-discipline, creativity and technical skills are tools lying useless on a shelf. You can talk about writing, read about it, study it, and have a real itch to write, even feeling all the while God has called you to this ministry, but you are not a writer until you actually write and get your material in print for others to read. This requires discipline of spirit, mind, and body. {91}

The discipline required to be a good Christian journalist has, however, too often been underestimated. The proof of this statement may be found in the too frequent appearance of religious writing which is of low quality. Mediocre writing, sentimental phrases, poetry which can only be classified as doggerel has been accepted as good Christian writing because the intentions of the writer were good. Although the standards of religious writing are rising, it has long been an accepted idea that a Christian doesn’t need to write quite as well for a Christian audience as he would for an audience outside the church. After all, Christians should be gracious, kind and forgiving; if Christian material is poorly written, the Christian readers know that the article or story was written with good intentions.

This raises the question of the use or overuse of religious terms in religious writing. Not all Christian writers have accepted the discipline of working creatively to express a religious experience which is meaningful to them. And part of the reason for this lazy writing is that Christian readers demand writing which uses clichés. It gives them a standard by which to judge a piece of writing. If the article or story uses their particular brand of clichés, they accept it as truth. However, a writer who is in bondage to using clichés will have difficulty communicating to people uninitiated into evangelical jargon.

As a young girl of about ten I made a trip down the aisle of a church in response to an evangelist’s appeal. A former Sunday school teacher heard of my step of faith and wrote me a letter. This letter was my first contact with actual Christian writing outside my Sunday school take-home papers. The letter began, “Dear Sister in the Lord,” and continued for several closely written pages of spiritual admonitions in a language I could not understand. I remember thinking at the time what a strange way to write to a young friend. We children had enjoyed this person immensely when he visited in our home, but his “Christian” written language was beyond me.

One of the reasons for this type of writing is that we have accepted as the norm for Christian writing the writing of people who are not writers but preachers. Not everyone who has the gift of preaching has also been endowed with the gift of writing, even though we may think this is true. The result is we have much preachy, sermonic material in print which lacks the artistic element and has about as much appeal as an open bottle of pop which has been left in the sun all day. Editors and publishers are becoming more aware that if they are to raise the standard of excellence of Christian writing, preachiness will have to go. Recently I checked the writer’s specifications of about fifteen periodicals and all editors stressed one qualification for material submitted to them—Don’t {92} be preachy; avoid mawkish, didactic writing. Because Christian writing is a life and death matter, the writer must discipline himself to do all he can to perfect his art.


Fifty to sixty years ago the church was on the search for missionaries, evangelists, pastors, and preachers for missions overseas. Over the years the call was enlarged to include doctors, nurses, and teachers. We are now in the age of the specialist.

Fifty million new readers are being added each year who are looking for material to read. We have many lonesome pioneers in the field of literacy, translation work, and the developing of new material for nationals. In our own vast country, people are reading voraciously despite the popularity of television. They also need good reading material. The church needs specialists in every field of writing, from news writing to fiction, radio and TV, drama, curriculum, and other types of writing. The church needs religious journalists in the secular press and religious journalists in the religious press. It needs people who will consider this as their calling on a part-time basis and those who will think of it as a full-time vocation. On our college campuses we need people who will be willing to write what God’s Son means to them in a way that will be relevant to students. A student editor writes in His magazine that for about a year in her position she waited to publish at least one article that would present the Christian message in some form to students. The space went to others by default. No one even tried to write such an article.

I know that students are busy. I know that they are reluctant to see their thoughts in black and white for all to examine. Writing is a very transparent experience. It means being willing to denude your spirit and to share your inner soul workings with others. This isn’t easy. Such writing takes courage, conviction, and commitment. But if students do not write for students, who will? And if students don’t begin thinking of journalism today, who will write for the church tomorrow?

The people God wants to use in Christian journalism are scattered among those sitting on the bleachers watching the confusion and the turmoil in the arena below. Some are housewives, some are businessmen, some are teachers, some are in other professions. A few have considered the idea that someday they want to write for God. They recognize God’s call in their lives but hesitate to follow it because writing is a harsh discipline. It means putting one’s very soul in bondage, and most people shrink from such servitude, especially if they have already committed themselves to houses and lands and cars. {93}

The challenge of Christian journalism is specifically directed to students. They must write because they want to write; they must write because they have to write; they must write because they can do nothing else. The person who has committed himself to be a writer for God puts his life in bondage—not to clichés and forms and techniques but to a bondage of love in which there is both liberty and strength. Such bondage has many rewards for the person who has harnessed his spirit and talents to reflecting the mind of God in his words.


  1. Dr. Edward Scribner Ames, quoted by Roland Wolseley in Careers in Religious Journalism, rev. ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1966), 8.
  2. Willmar Thorkelson, quoted by George W. Cornell, “Religion’s New Entree to the City Room,” Christianity Today 11 (October 14, 1966): 8.
  3. Walter Wiebe, quoted by Roland Wolseley, Careers, 112.
  4. Soren Kierkegaard, quoted by George W. Cornell, “Religion’s New Entree,” 9.
  5. Cornell, “Religion’s New Entree,” 9.
  6. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, “Fiction, Fact and Truth,” Christian Writer and Editor 18 (April, May, June 1966): 1.
  7. Kyle Haselden, “Writing to Change the World in Which We Live,” address given to a group of writers and editors at Christian Writers and Editors Conference, Green Lake, Wisconsin, July 1966.
  8. J. Morris Rockness, “Literature, a Vital Part of the Total Church Program,” Ninth Annual Conference Report (Wheaton, IL: Evangelical Literature Overseas, 1960), 67.
* This article, originally a talk at Tabor College presented on February 26, 1967, was published in The Journal of Church and Society 3, no. 1 (Spring 1967): 23–31.

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