Ministers of a New Medium: Broadcasting Theology in the Radio Ministries of Fulton J. Sheen nd Walter A Maier by Kirk D. Farney reads in part as a biography, in part as a love letter to radio broadcasting, and finally as a deep look at the impact of broadcasted theology in the rising popularity and height of radio.
Before Farney dives into the radio ministers themselves, he briefly draws out the history and surging popularity of radio. He notes the penetration of radio into American homes and the way it was essentially set up to be a purveyor of truths to the masses. Broadcasters were seeking religious programing and as radio continued to soar in popularity, they became more specific about that which they were seeking. Enter Sheen and Maier.
Fulton J. Sheen was a Catholic priest and Walter A. Maier was a pastor of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Though they came from different theological backgrounds, their focus on bringing Christianity to the masses through radio was shared. Farney first gives deep background for each of the radio ministers. Then, he draws out extensively the content and tone of their messages. For Maier, for example, there’s some discussion of continuity and shifting tone during World War II as he integrated more patriotic themes into his prayers and messaging (237ff). But Maier also did not shield the United States from criticism, drawing parallels between the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the United States’ towards Native and African Americans (239). Sheen bemoaned the state of universities and the alleged elitism of the intelligentsia (158). One could see easily how messages like these could resonate broadly.
I would have liked to have more critical interaction with the material presented. The strength of Farney’s work is in the lengthy, detailed presentation of the beliefs of the radio ministers. There is no shortage of anecdotes, quotes, and specificity related to the messages Sheen and Maier conveyed to the masses. But there is very little by way of analysis. It’s a kind of “just the facts” approach that left me longing for some analysis. That said, it’s clear that analysis is not the focus of the work. Instead, Farney is focused upon cluing readers into the broad messages and background of these two radio giants.
Ministers of a New Medium is a fascinating read, cluing readers into a somewhat forgotten era of broadly popular evangelism. Recommended.
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