Christianity Today is sixty years old this month. I remember clearly the day the first issue arrived in our mailbox. My dad was a pastor, and in its earliest years the magazine was sent to clergy for free. That inaugural issued, dated October 1956, showed up on a day that I—sixteen years old—was home alone. As I sorted the mail, I glanced over the new magazine’s cover. Seeing Billy Graham’s name, I sat down to read his article on biblical authority.
I also read the editorial, “Why Christianity Today?,” by Carl F. H. Henry. I knew nothing about Henry, nor was I clued in to the complexities of contemporary discussions about evangelical identity. When Henry referred to the need for evangelical scholarship, however, as well as to the importance of supporting a network of evangelical scholars working in various academic settings around the world, I had a clear sense that this was a different kind of voice than those I was accustomed to hearing in my present spiritual environs.
I doubt that I had ever before come across a serious call for a coupling of evangelicalism and scholarship. I had heard much about how Christian students in public high schools should resist evolutionary teaching in our science classes. But that was mainly about “standing up for the Bible”—with no countervailing encouragement for some of us to think about pursuing careers as scientists.
The evangelicalism of my youth was heavy on anti-intellectualism. Sometimes this anti-intellectualism took an overtly mocking form. In my childhood, for example, I could not have defined the word “exegesis”—but I could have told you that, whatever it was, it was something that true Christians avoided at all costs. I had learned this from a traveling revival preacher who proclaimed, despite what he had learned in the few seminary courses he had taken: “You don’t need exegesis, you just need Jesus!”
Mostly, though, evangelical anti-intellectualism was a steady stream of warnings against placing too much emphasis on the life of the mind. If someone—a college professor, for example—was held up as a person to be admired, it was typically because he or she was “strong in the faith” despite a record of academic accomplishments.
In reading that first issue of Christianity Today, I had the clear sense that Carl Henry was trying to tell us something different. And in my teenage heart I felt that by responding favorably to what Henry was saying, I was engaging in a bit of a rebellion against the kind of evangelicalism that had shaped me thus far.
My sense of rebellion, though, was mitigated by the fact that Billy Graham was allied with all of this. Graham was a hero of mine, and that would only intensify in the next year, as he began his 1957 “crusade” in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Folks from our northern New Jersey congregation regularly sponsored bus trips into the big city to attend those meetings. On one of those evenings I had invited some of my non-Christian high school friends along with us, and when one of them moved down the aisle to join hundreds of others in making a public commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I made the trek also. For me that night, it was a public witness to the fact that I embraced the promises of the Gospel.
When recently I read the wonderful biography of Billy Graham by my friend Grant Wacker. The book confirmed, and even deepened, my gratitude for the fact that both Graham and Christianity Today have played such an important role in my life for all of these decades. Even during “the radical sixties,” when I frequently disagreed with some of the magazine’s editorial stands on issues in the public arena—and later with some of the connections Graham had with the Nixon White House—I saw my disagreements as family squabbles.
When I joined the faculty at Fuller Seminary in 1985, the school’s relationship to the magazine was strained. Many at Fuller still felt pain over the way Harold Lindsell—who had gone from the Fuller faculty to the editorship of Christianity Today—had singled out Fuller for special criticism in his 1976 book The Battle for the Bible. Since then, however, relations have been restored. The ties between the seminary and the magazine, important allies these days in promoting what Christianity Today describes as “beautiful orthodoxy,” have never been stronger.
For what the magazine has meant to me in my own personal journey, as well as for the institutional partnerships, I am deeply grateful to the Lord. Happy birthday, Christianity Today!
Richard J. Mouw is president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary.