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This article is part of our 2023 year-end campaign series, featuring reflections from prominent authors on why First Things matters. To make your year-end campaign gift now, visit

Two weeks into my pastoral ministry at St. John's Lutheran Church in Pembroke, Ontario, on a warm August afternoon in 1992, Richard John Neuhaus strolled into my study. (St. John's was the congregation he had been raised in, and he was back for a visit.) Without a word of introduction, he started perusing my bookshelf. He’d pull a volume off the shelf (MacIntyre’s After Virtue) and nod approvingly: “That’s a good one.” A tome on German higher critical scholarship got a frown. I said, “It was assigned reading in div school.” Richard shot back: “You don’t have to keep it. You’ve got a fireplace here—this used to be our living room—that maybe needs . . . kindling?” 

Then he saw the first two years’ worth of First Things copies on my shelf, and exclaimed, “You’re a subscriber! I was going to invite you and your lovely wife to lunch this Sunday at my cottage, but since you’re a subscriber, we’ll have a nice lunch. I’m Richard Neuhaus.” Half a dozen or so lunches followed over the next couple years that enriched me more than words can tell.

First Things is the next best thing to “Table Talk with Richard John Neuhaus (and his closest friends).” I’ve been nurtured as a pastor by the keen theological, cultural, literary, artistic, and political insights of First Things. But FT isn't like any other journal. Because, as a subscriber, you become part of a circle of friends passionate about, well, first thingsthat is, the things of God first and foremost, and the things that befit his ways and word to us. 

Some of my most delightful (and occasionally, heated) conversations in grad school at Yale were with a charmingly cocky rock-climber-scholar named Rusty Reno, who looked like he’d stepped right off the pages of Kerouac’s On the Road and who thought traditional Christianity was pretty cool. I learned as much from talks with Rusty as from any three of my professors combined. 

Under Rusty’s stewardship, FT has grown and expanded its reach and scope while staying true to the first things. Every issue takes me back to those glorious grad school days when the higher things were everything. FT not only sharpens my intellect; it expands my (sometimes cold, grinchy) heart. It feeds my soul. 

In these latter days, being people of faith makes us targets in a world that sees the worship of God as a threat—sometimes even as a threat to public health and safety. As a pastor who kept the doors open and services going throughout the pandemic, I can tell you: The persecution of people of faith is alive and well in America. Never thought we’d see the day. 

But every issue of First Things—especially in those dark years of “lockdown”—makes me realize: I’m not alone. And such assurance is priceless. It’s why I’m a subscriber; and why you should be, too.

Rev. Kevin W. Martin is a pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Raleigh, North Carolina

Image by Malchen53 licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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