Last week as I was having coffee with friends, I mentioned that I was really enjoying Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church (2001). One of my friends didn’t know who Yancey is.
Yancey (b. 1949), I explained, is a widely read Christian author who has written often for Christianity Today. My friend then asked this rhetorical question: Isn’t that a rather conservative magazine?
In response I told him how Eric Rust, my esteemed seminary professor, referred to it as “Christianity Yesterday.” (An article in it had criticized Dr. Rust, accusing him of being a liberal.)
CT’s 60th Anniversary
The next day I opened the new issue of CT, as it is often called, and saw that it was the 60th anniversary edition. After awaking from a dream in 1953 and feeling led to found a new Christian magazine, Billy Graham was successful in getting the first issue of CT published in October 1956.
I was impressed with the cover of the new anniversary issue: the picture of a painting by Makoto Fujimura, the Japanese-American artist I recently introduced (see here). The painting’s title is “Grace Remains—Nard,” based on Mark 14:6-9.
|"Grace Remains -- Nard" by Makoto Fujimura|
The “Radiant Center”
My positive feelings toward CT are because of people like Yancey, who is still one of the fourteen “editors at large.” It is hard to find fault with people like him. He is the author of the scintillating book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997), and he, among several others, has written many superlative articles for CT.
In Soul Survivor Yancey tells about writing the cover story for a 1983 issue of CT. It was about Gandhi. Yancey remarked that he “was not prepared for the volume of hate mail the article generated” (p. 171). Many of his conservative readers thought he/they should not praise a “heathen” (non-Christian) so profusely.
In my book The Limits of Liberalism (2010), I call for seeking Christianity’s “radiant center,” between the extremes of fundamentalism and liberalism. In many ways Christianity Today, and certainly Philip Yancey, is a good example of a publication, and a person, in that center—although the magazine would definitely be on the right side of the center.
The cover story of the new issue is “Beautiful Orthodoxy,” which is also the title of editor Mark’s Galli’s short new book, which I’ve just read. The book wasn’t bad, but I was a bit disappointed in it.
To the degree that Galli and others editors at CT thinks that “beautiful orthodoxy” and Christianity today requires blanket condemnation of any abortion by any woman and the denigration of LGBTQ people, I’m afraid it needs to considered “Christianity yesterday.”
The growing percentage of the “nones” in American society is not so much because of their rejection of “orthodox” Christian doctrines but rather because of the condemnatory, intolerant, and judgmental attitudes of purveyors of traditional Christianity.
While I take great exception with much of what Bishop John Shelby Spong writes—he is an example of the liberal extreme—I do think he makes a valid point in his 1998 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die.
We need a Christianity today that focuses on meeting current challenges rather than just seeking to preserve yesterday’s ideas and practices.