An Interview With Kenneth Kantzer

With this issue we welcome Kenneth Kantzer as our new editor. To prepare the following interview, we went to a cross-section of religious leaders and asked them to direct questions to Dr. Kantzer. Naturally, we could not use all of them. We chose questions that dealt with areas of general concern. The questioners in order of appearance are: Harvey G. Cox, associate professor of church and society, Harvard Divinity School; Frank E. Gaebelein, headmaster emeritus of the Stony Brook School and general editor of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Ronald J. Sider, associate professor of history and religion, Messiah College; James Montgomery Boice, minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia; Joseph Bayly, vice-president, product and marketing, David C. Cook; Harold Lindsell, editor emeritus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY; Martin E. Marty, associate dean, University of Chicago Divinity School; Russell Chandler, religion editor, The Los Angeles Times; Elisabeth Eliot, author; W. Stanley Mooneyham, president, World Vision; Denny Rydberg, editor, The Wittenburg Door; Tom Skinner, president, Tom Skinner Associates; David A. Hubbard, president, Fuller Theological Seminary; G. Aiken Taylor, editor, Presbyterian Journal; George Sweeting, president, Moody Bible Institute; James Daane, professor of theology and ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary. Here is a condensation of the results.

Cox: Do you believe, as many young evangelicals claim, that CHRISTIANITY TODAY represents the establishment and has severely compromised the genuine American evangelical tradition to a cautious blessing of conservative economics and civil religion?

Kantzer: That CHRISTIANITY TODAY has at times spoken in ways inconsistent with its own prophetic and biblical commitment no one would deny. But this journal is rigorously opposed to civil religion. The evangelical church stands under the authority of God and owes ultimate allegiance to him. It secures its divine imperatives through the written Scripture. The Christian must never indiscriminately and uncritically accept the values of his culture; he must oppose idolatry of a civil religion.

Conservative economics is a more difficult matter. Most evangelicals decidedly prefer a competitive economy over monopolistic socialism; most of them consider fiscal policies that balloon the national debt and inflation to be irresponsible. I didn’t get my Ph.D. in economics; as editor I don’t intend to pass judgment on explicit economic measures. The church is not the appropriate body to determine economic policy. Yet the church must be concerned about the implications of such policy for long-term human good. Certainly CHRISTIANITY TODAY should not endorse conservative economics just because it is conservative. Nor should it altogether withhold its criticism just because the field is economics and not theology. The magazine has the same concern as the church—the religious, moral, and spiritual values of society, and the justice and goodness of any economic practice, liberal or conservative.

Article continues below

Gaebelein: Do you consider it an obligation of CHRISTIANITY TODAY to speak out about national and international policies according to biblical principles?

Kantzer: Yes, but not on every issue. CHRISTIANITY TODAY must be selective in its involvement. It is neither a journal of politics nor of economics. It is a religious thought journal with an obligation to the entire church. Therefore, it should focus upon the role of the church and upon moral and spiritual values. But economics and politics cannot be divorced from moral and spiritual values. Where there is overlap, the church—and therefore CHRISTIANITY TODAY—must speak. Its voice may sound strident or weak at times, but unless it speaks the indignation of a just God will fall upon it.

Sider: Will CHRISTIANITY TODAY take as strong a stand against the ethical liberalism involved in ignoring what the Bible says about the poor and about justice as it takes against the theological liberalism involved in denying the deity and resurrection of Jesus?

Kantzer: You are quite right when you imply that there is an ethical as well as a theological liberalism. The essence of liberalism is rejection of biblical authority. It is also possible to reject biblical authority in Christian ethics and in social issues as well as in doctrine. The Bible is our infallible and divinely authoritative guide for both faith and practice.

Unfortunately, it is easier to attain a beautiful system of theology than to become a beautiful saint. But ethical instruction regarding a Christian’s obligation to the poor and disenfranchised is unequivocal. The broad bifurcation that condemns bad doctrine but condones bad practice is thoroughly unbiblical.

Boice: Is the evangelical church continuing to abandon the cities? If so how can it ever hope to influence, let alone win, our nation for Christ?

Kantzer: I believe the tide has begun to turn. Evangelicals are beginning to see that the command to go into all the world cannot possibly be interpreted to exclude the great masses of mankind now dwelling in our cities.

Article continues below

Bayly: Who has influenced you the most? And in what ways?

Kantzer: My wife. She was instrumental in leading me to Christ. She nourished my infant faith, curbed with understanding my rebellious and willful growth, and over the years became my wise and willing counselor.

Lindsell: Do you have any hobbies?

Kantzer: Yes. To clear my mind I propagate and cultivate African violets, which I then enjoy giving to my friends. My more passionate hobbies, however, are reading and music, especially the Baroque music of Vivaldi, Corelli, Bocherini, Scarlatti, Buxtehude, Purcell, Telemann, and, of course, Bach—with a pinch of Schubert and Mozart thrown in for spice.

Lindsell: Do you find time to read?

Kantzer: Not as much as I should like, but since childhood I have been an insatiable and omnivorous reader. From fifth grade on I developed the habit of never letting studies interfere with my reading. I regularly, if not systematically, read at least three books per week.

Lindsell: What are your favorites?

Kantzer: Naturally my favorites have changed across the years. First it was Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift and … series. Then I discovered Altsheler: Guns of Shiloh, Star of Gettysburg, and the frontier tales. A teacher introduced me to Jack London and to Cooper’s Leather Stocking Tales. For several years I reveled in Dumas, then Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, and a host of other friends who have built themselves into the structure of my soul.

Every summer I pack up a few page-worn and greatly treasured friends and go into isolation for one week at least. In them I return home to renew and deepen friendships that become more precious with each passing year. Then I come back to the dance of life with my values regrouped and my goals clarified.

Oh, yes, my all-time favorite is Anna Karenina. I suppose it meant more to me than War and Peace because I read it first.

Lindsell: How long have you been in the field of education?

Kantzer: All my life. I was in school until I was twenty-nine. My father-in-law was convinced that his daughter had married a professional student. I have been a college or seminary teacher and administrator ever since.

Marty: If your doctor told you to take one year off and do nothing connected with your work, what would you do?

Kantzer: Probably treat myself to a magnificent reading feast.

Article continues below

Marty: If you were to become another person, who would you like to be from the past and from among the living?

Kantzer: From the past, Augustine, because he was both good and wise. In his goodness and wisdom he faced a world at its pivotal point of transition from ancient culture to medieval and thereby gave crucial direction to humankind for more than a thousand years.

Among the living, my children; they, too, are good and wise beyond my hopes. I pray that they may become better and wiser. And they, too, face a world in transition with infinite and surprising possibilities. Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin was right. Western civilization is in radical transformation. But the scenario of the future is not yet determined, and in the plastic culture of our day the power of the Gospel to affect human lives has never been greater.

Marty: If you could do one thing to improve the Christian church today, what would you do, other than evangelize and promote pure and thorough teaching?

Kantzer: That is terribly difficult for me to answer, because there are so many good things I should love to do. If I had a thousand lives, they would all be filled to the brim. I could readily give myself to the discipling of a few young people, nurturing them toward Christlikeness and in a sacrificial love for others. Or I could study law and joyfully serve in the inner city as a trusted legal resource for the deprived who are now rarely able to get equal justice in our lower law courts. I could also enthusiastically work in the Christian movements in Africa or in Indonesia, where cultural transition and shock are developing at a terrifying pace.

Chandler: Do you feel that your background of not having extensive experience or training in writing or editing will be a handicap to you in your new post?

Kantzer: It is a handicap not to have been an editor or professional writer. But I have been reading magazines for a long time; I know a good one when I see it. I am tackling my new writing and editing responsibilities eagerly. My years of teaching the history of Christian thought and systematic theology provide me with a background that I consider immensely valuable for the editing of a thought journal like CHRISTIANITY TODAY. It will better enable me to select writers who can produce the kinds of articles and information that the church needs. I believe that my lifelong role as an educator will help me direct the theological and ecclesiological impact of the publication. Perhaps it will mean that the magazine will be more instructive than evangelistic in its approach to troublesome issues facing the church today.

Article continues below

Eliot: May we hope for a standard of English in CHRISTIANITY TODAY that would be approved by Frank Gaebelein and Edwin Newman, for example?

Kantzer: Of all religious periodicals I think that CHRISTIANITY TODAY has the highest calibre of writing. Our editors work hard to avoid the infelicities of language that so offend people like Edwin Newman or Thomas H. Middleton of Saturday Review. However, there is always room to improve. I am committed to the principle that tough-minded and stout-hearted theology need not be dull or unintelligible. If you will write more articles, we shall come closer to that goal!

Gaebelein: Will the emphasis on the relation of Christianity to literature and the arts be maintained and strengthened?

Kantzer: Throughout its pages the Bible reveals to us that God loves beauty, and he created man and woman in his own image so that they also have a capacity to create and enjoy beauty. The psalmist revels in the beauty of nature and gives God thanks. The sweet song of the harp, the exquisite form of the human body, and the delights of married love are all extolled in Scripture. The skills of the artist are honored. The Bible itself is a divine revelation imbedded in a literary work of awesome beauty.

God, moreover, is concerned about me as a whole person. My aesthetic nature is an important part of me. If CHRISTIANITY TODAY is to preserve a biblical pattern in its ministry to the whole person, it cannot escape serious involvement in literature and the arts. Its role will not be to guide the artist or literator. Rather it will be to encourage all intelligent Christians not to permit their aesthetic nature to atrophy, but to develop it according to their individuality.

Mooneyham: What are some of the major issues that evangelicals will have to deal with in the next five years?

Kantzer:1. The imbalance within conservative evangelicalism that developed out of its reaction against liberalism. Evangelicals professed to base their convictions upon biblical teaching. But all too often the heat of battle determined their stance, rather than the clear teaching of holy writ. To be true to itself, evangelicalism must stand on its biblical faith.

An example is the reaction against the social gospel of the later Walter Rauschenbusch early in this century. Many evangelicals came to view the task of the church as solely a concern for the spiritual good of man, forgetting what James says about the connection between concern for man’s social needs and a right relationship to the Creator. Evangelicals must be balanced in this and other areas to preserve the integrity of the full teachings of Christ.

Article continues below

2. Lack of evangelical concern for culture. Too many contemporary evangelicals have followed Tertullian in his repudiation of a well-rounded Christian life. This can only be rectified as evangelicals cease to see themselves merely as a corrective for the church.

3. The swing of the pendulum from legalism to antinomianism. Evangelicalism lives in tension between legalism and antinomianism. Developing out of English and American Puritanism, the most authentically American evangelicalism has always teetered on the edge of legalism. Now the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction: “This feels good so it’s got to be right.” Walking the chalk line between these unbiblical extremes demands alert and constant attention.

4. Evangelical unity. The combative instinct is deeply ingrained, and, when thoroughly aroused in a battle for fundamental truth, is slow to subside. In spiritual warfare as well as in physical, he who takes up the sword is often destroyed by the sword, because he does not know when to stop fighting. At best, therefore, evangelical unity is a fragile vessel, but it carries a precious cargo and is worth defending.

5. The Americanization of the church. This is a continuing problem not only for main-line denominations, as Will Herberg warned so clearly in his book Protestant, Catholic, Jew but also for the small sectarians, whom he charitably exempted. Today the small sects are especially endangered. Evangelicals jeopardize their biblical and traditional values by the infiltration of the ideals of society. It is ironic that now when it’s in to be evangelical (undefined), evangelicalism itself has allowed its sharp biblical edges to be eroded by the culture that buffets it.

Other issues are surfacing. For instance, I detect a hesitant but ugly spirit of triumphalism emerging in evangelicalism. Not only is this decidedly premature; it is deadly sinful. Evangelicals must be reminded that the only kind of messianism tolerated in the Bible is that which leads to crucifixion. Evangelicalism must be reminded continuously and sternly that it too stands under the judgment of the Lord of the church and of his Scripture.

Rydberg: What do you see as the role of CHRISTIANITY TODAY in the next five years?

Article continues below

Kantzer: As I see it, the purpose of CHRISTIANITY TODAY is: (1) to set forth in prophetic fashion the biblical and evangelical faith for our day; (2) to publish useful, readable information to help evangelical leaders make intelligent decisions as to faith and work; (3) to provide a forum in which evangelicals can work out solutions for current problems; (4) to serve as an instrument of change for society in general, for the church at large, and especially for the evangelical wing of the church so that it may move to better and more effective service for God; and (5) to reflect or share with nonevangelicals the true meaning of the Gospel and its implications for our contemporary thought and life.

Skinner: The record of CHRISTIANITY TODAY in reporting news of what God is doing among evangelicals is dismal, to say the least, as is the record for reporting on prominent black evangelicals. What do you plan to do as the new editor to change this?

Kantzer: I do not share this opinion. I believe that the news section is one of the strongest areas of the magazine. You may well be right that it has not adequately covered black evangelicals. If so, that must be corrected.

We are vigorously reviewing all our editorial procedures and personnel. Our aim in this as in all other areas of the magazine is to minister fully and adequately to the needs of the evangelical community.

Skinner: More than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak of God’s concern to the poor and oppressed; yet most of the major articles featured in CHRISTIANITY TODAY over the past ten years have not reflected this biblical concern. Will there by any change in this area under your administration?

Kantzer: Yes, there will be an increased emphasis in the area of concern for the poor and oppressed and for all social issues. The entire evangelical community has become more and more interested in social injustice and our responsibility as evangelicals to do something about it. Such works as Henry’s Uneasy Conscience, Moberg’s Inasmuch, your Black and Free, Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Mooneyham’s Hungry World, Harper’s New Way of Living, and Stott’s Christ the Liberator, have had a profound effect not only on the radical fringe of evangelicalism but also on the so-called solid establishment.

Skinner:CHRISTIANITY TODAY is a powerful medium for influencing the minds and shaping the priorities of evangelicals in general. How do you see the magazine using this influence to heal and reconcile some of the differences that have recently developed among evangelicals—such as those certain brethren who have been rejected in The Battle for the Bible; or our charismatic brethren; or those who are more politically or radically inclined, such as the Sojourners group, than the traditional evangelical?

Article continues below

Kantzer: As newly appointed editor, one of my primary responsibilities is to guide the editorial policy of the magazine so as to minister to the entire evangelical community. It is important to heal rather than to alienate.

The magazine was founded to serve as a voice for evangelicals and orthodox Christians. It will not compromise that commitment or condone any departure from biblical authority, including a properly understood doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

On the other hand, no personal vendetta will be carried out against those who may disagree with us. We recognize that there are differences of opinion with respect to how biblical inspiration and authority are to be understood. We do not in any way wish to rule such persons out of the church. But CHRISTIANITY TODAY stands and will continue to stand in a positive and constructive way for the complete authority of Scripture.

The charismatic movement is an integral and significant part of the evangelical community. The vast majority of those who identify with the Pentecostal bodies of the past or with the present charismatic movement are working within the framework of an orthodox and biblical Christianity. We shall continue to support charismatics in their witness for Christ. We welcome their contributions. We will plan to work together with them for the Gospel. Where there are departures from biblical orthodoxy, CHRISTIANITY TODAY will oppose error here as well as elsewhere.

Those within the conservative evangelical framework who seek to encourage the church to be more socially or politically active will not be rejected by the magazine. Quite the contrary. Their contributions, too, will be welcomed. I believe that they have something to say to the evangelical church and that it will be enriched by hearing them.

Not all evangelicals who are radically committed to a positive social thrust speak with one voice. As with all movements and emphases, CHRISTIANITY TODAY reserves the right to provide critical evaluation of their thought and action. No evangelical can say, however, that “I am uninterested in what the Bible says about a Christian lifestyle or about concern for the poor and needy.” So long as “radical” evangelicals are radically biblical, we very much wish to hear what they have to say.

Article continues below

Hubbard: What can CHRISTIANITY TODAY do to encourage evangelical unity in the midst of the numerous tensions that threaten to divide us?

Kantzer: First, unity is not necessarily the greatest good. The deepest commitment of the Christian is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Catechism says. At the same time, our Lord anticipated our divisive pride; in his hour of trial and great suffering he took time to pray that we might be one. Unity must have a high priority in the mind of Christ.

The unity for which Christ prayed in John 17 presupposes a basic doctrinal unity. This in turn makes possible the construction of common spiritual goals. But even impeccable doctrine and clearly defined goals do not guarantee Christian unity. The Scripture teaches us that we can find true unity at the foot of the cross as we kneel there together in repentant humility. As the infinite magnitude of divine love penetrates our being and we kneel in awe before the amazing, forgiving grace of our Redeemer, it is impossible to hate or even to fight against our brother or sister kneeling beside us, for whom Christ also died. In the fellowship of forgiven love we can only adore God, seek earnestly his revealed will, and love and serve him and each other forever. As we grow more like him, we will have unity.

Taylor: How important do you think it is to develop a more contemporary theology of the Holy Spirit than classic Protestantism has held?

Kantzer: If by classic Protestantism you mean the doctrines held in common by representative Lutherans, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptists—the theology stemming from the Reformation and postreformation periods—then I do not think we need a revolution in theology, but rather a careful building on these solid foundations, the stones of which were hewed directly out of the Bible.

Sweeting: Along with the weakening confidence in the Bible, there is a growing syncretism that blurs the distinction between Christianity and the seeming good points in other religions. Any comments?

Kantzer: The impact of oriental religion and the tendency toward syncretism are a direct result of our pluralistic religious society and of closer relations between east and west. The Christian has nothing to fear from the similarities that are frequently pointed out between Christianity and other religions. Some of these are the result of common responses to general revelation and others arise as a result of direct borrowing from the biblical revelation. Hinduism, for example, tells of an incarnation of the god Krishna sometime in the distant and murky past. Redemptive Buddhism preaches a gospel of salvation by faith alone.

Article continues below

The distinctive thing about the Christian faith is not that the Bible says certain things that can be duplicated in the sacred writings and in the leading thinkers of other religions. The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in Jesus Christ, who is our loving God come down into this world to become man at a particular time and in a particular place to redeem us from our sin. This doctrine is basic to all of Christian faith. No other religion can or will duplicate this.

Bayly: Do you consider the present favorable evangelical climate springtime or Indian summer?

Kantzer: If forced to choose one, I’d say Indian summer. I see no signs that either Western Europe or America is turning to evangelical Christianity. But my faith rests not in signs but in God. He is magnificently at work in the world and he will bring to pass his great designs.

Daane: Do you favor direct church involvement in social and political matters?

Kantzer: Evangelical involvement in social and political matters is an important aspect of a Christian’s obedience to God. He is not only a citizen of the kingdom of heaven but also a citizen of an earthly kingdom and is responsible to God for his actions in both. This responsibility increases immensely when a Christian lives in a democratic society and must take responsibility for the actions of his government. It is his Christian duty to function effectively as a citizen for the good of his fellow men.

The involvement of the church in social and political matters presents a different problem. The church is the visible embodiment of the kingdom of God. As the kingdom of God in this world, however, it is in direct and constant relationship to the state. For this reason, social and political matters cannot always be separated from the church’s role as proclaimer of the biblical message. No doctrine of separation of church and state is valid that precludes the church addressing itself to problems of state that are also directly related to the functions of the church as the visible kingdom of God. No one would contest the right of the church to speak out when a government makes the public proclamation of the Gospel illegal or seeks in any way to curb the practice of Christianity. But the church also has the God-given duty to stand for public righteousness and to oppose the flagrant inhumanities of man to man.

Article continues below

Occasionally evangelicals have decried liberal church pronouncements on current political and social issues. Their objection is not that the church has addressed itself to basic issues of right and wrong. Rather, they object when liberal churchmen participate in matters outside their knowledge or when certain church leaders purport to speak for the entire church, but in reality represent only a minority opinion. Evangelicals also object when a church exceeds its rightful jurisdiction as a church to meddle in politics or fiscal matters that are not clearly moral and spiritual.

Rydberg: Do you think CHRISTIANITY TODAY can perform a prophetic function with so many special interest groups—BGEA, advertisers, old-time subscribers, a former editor—looking over its shoulders?

Kantzer: Yes, but it won’t be easy. We dare not, however, insist upon any stereotype of what constitutes a genuine prophet of God. Not all prophets wore long hair and flowing robes. Moses, the greatest of the prophets, was a superb military and political leader. Jeremiah became so obnoxious to the political establishment that he was accused of being a fifth columnist and was thrown into prison. Isaiah, by contrast, was a patriot and a friend of the king who spent his days in the royal court. A weather vane is turned by every breath of wind, but a sign faithfully directing travelers to the next town does not always and necessarily buffet every wind broadside.

I am committed to a radically biblical Christianity, but that does not mean that I must oppose everyone or everything in the establishment. I recognize some godly and righteous leaders in places of power. I thank God for President Carter, Senators Hughes and Hatfield, and Representative John Anderson. Their Christianity, of course, is no magic alchemy to transform them automatically into great statesmen. I pray for them and seek to strengthen their hands. All human beings and human institutions must stand under the judgment of Scripture. CHRISTIANITY TODAY in faithfulness to God needs to critically evaluate the establishment, including what is sometimes called the evangelical establishment. At times, no doubt, it must rebuke and condemn. But whether it is the evangelical, liberal, or secular establishment, let us seek to understand before we rebuke, so that we shall rebuke in love, seeking one another’s mutual good.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.