Preparing for this 60th anniversary issue, I read the first issue of Christianity Today, published in May 1930. My math is right: When Billy Graham launched this magazine in 1956, he took its name from a Presbyterian reform journal.
The two Christianity Todays shared a mission: “stating, defending, and furthering the gospel in the modern world” as the older title proclaimed, or “to express historical Christianity to the present generation,” as we put it (see “‘Why Christianity Today’ Revisited,” page 46). Born in the fundamentalist-modernist war, our forerunner was pugilistic, “committed to a militant defense of its faith against its enemies—whether within or without its borders,” its first issue announced. “The editors of this paper have no sympathy with those who decry controversy…. It has been not theological pacifists but sturdy contenders for the faith who in the providence of God have saved the day.” (It was not an imagined battle: The official Presbyterian magazine had just fired its editor, Samuel Craig, for supporting conservative leader J. Gresham Machen. Craig became editor of Christianity Today.)
World War II hurt the magazine’s financial footing. So did reaching the end of a major bequest. (Magazines of deep ideals have always needed supporters with deep pockets; see page 29.) But Christianity Today was fatally wounded when its leaders started identifying each other as enemies, prompting schism. “As we are trying to fight against the modernist enemy,” Machen bemoaned, the magazine’s editor (his longtime ally) was “sniping at us from the rear.” Machen withdrew support and, with Christianity Today’s managing editor, launched The Presbyterian Guardian for those who would “not admit of any shadow of compromise with the forces of unbelief.” Christianity Today published only occasionally after 1941 and closed completely in 1949.
Such infighting and division have served as a warning as we have pursued principled unity in the cause of the gospel. Sometimes that means rallying together on causes like religious liberty or beautiful orthodoxy. Sometimes it means charitably entertaining political views of fellow evangelicals with whom we disagree. In this issue, we hear a case for Hillary Clinton, another for Donald Trump, and another for neither. We trust that such efforts illuminate how the depth and transforming power of the gospel permeate all of life.
For 60 years we’ve rejected the choice between “theological pacifism” and totalitarian war, between modernist compromise and fundamentalist schism, between beautiful heresy and ugly orthodoxy. Thanks for being our allies through it all, even—and especially—in times when you’ve disagreed with us.
Ted Olsen is CT’s director of editorial development. Follow Ted Olsen on Twitter @TedOlsen.
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