In the Beginning ...
This article originally appeared in the July 17, 1981, issue of Christianity Today.
Evangelist Billy Graham's inspiration and leadership gave birth to Christianity Today 25 years ago. For this silver anniversary issue, the editors asked him to recount the story of the magazine's founding. Current readers and those who have used the magazine since its inception will find this interview full of interesting historical anecdotes. Graham also makes clear his own vision for the magazine's purpose and place in the theological and ecclesiastical climate of the day.
Why did you think a magazine like Christianity Today was needed?
During 1953, I was beginning to be attacked from both the left and the right. The crusades, however, were showing that a great number of clergy in the so-called mainline denominations throughout the country were evangelical in their convictions. To the amazement of most fundamentalists, they were cooperating with us. Also, there was a tremendous vacuum in religious publishing. The Christian Century was about the only Protestant magazine being quoted in the secular press. It had the field to itself, and it was considered quite liberal in those days.
How did you first get the idea of the magazine? Did you just see the need and decide what had to be done?
Well, it was something like that. Late in that year of 1953, I was awakened one night at about 2 a.m. I went to my desk and wrote out ideas about a magazine similar to the Christian Century, one that would give theological respectability to evangelicals. I even named it Christianity Today and drew up various departments. I thought the articles should appeal especially to men who were open to the biblical faith in the mainline denominations, but the magazine had to be thoroughly evangelical. I felt it should also show that there was concern for scholarship among evangelicals. I even wrote down a budget.
Who did you let in on your idea?
I shared these thoughts first with my wife, Ruth, the next morning. She said, "Let's make it a matter of prayer." A few days later, I talked with my father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell. He was a busy surgeon, but on several occasions we talked about it for hours at a time. He was deeply involved in his denomination and had founded the Presbyterian Journal. He was a prolific writer and contributed to all kinds of magazines. The more we talked, the more enthusiastic he became.
What did you see as the basic purpose of the magazine?
I believed it should be the type of magazine without which a minister would feel he was not well read and which, until he had read it, could not possibly preach a sermon. Also, evangelicals needed a rallying point: perhaps a dynamic magazine could help. An evangelical voice was needed not only in this country, but throughout the English-speaking world.
Is that why you decided to give it free to all clergymen?
Yes. In order for it to become fully established with them, we felt we ought to give the magazine for at least two years to every minister in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and also to the missionaries on the foreign field. We had become convinced that clergymen would read a magazine on the basis of its contents alone, whether or not they personally subscribed to it. Many church members subscribe to magazines for their pastor; he may not even know who is sending it to him, but he will read it for its content.
Did this determine your editorial stance?
It did. We were convinced that the magazine would be useless if it had the old, extreme fundamentalist stamp on it. (The word "fundamentalist" at that time perhaps had a different, more negative connotation than it does today, on both sides of the Atlantic. I have always strongly accepted the fundamental doctrines of the faith and wanted the magazine to reflect this, but not to have a strong separatist or negative attitude.) It needed to avoid extremes of both the right and the left. We felt that as much as possible editorials should discuss all issues objectively and not from a biased viewpoint, and articles should present both sides of every issue and argument, but with an evangelical twist.