Robert Walker: Beyond Paper and Ink
Robert Alander Walker, 95, a major pioneer in Christian journalism, died Saturday, March 1, in Carol Stream, Illinois. Walker, who published the first national story on evangelist Billy Graham, had Parkinson's disease and dementia since 2005.
Walker attended the University of Illinois and Wheaton College, where he came to Christ. He earned journalism degrees from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and returned to Wheaton, where he developed a journalism program and served as an associate professor from 1941 to 1951. During this time, he helped publish HIS, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's first magazine.
"Bob was a giant in our industry," said Doug Trouten, executive director of the Evangelical Press Association (EPA) trade group. "The Christian journalism world has grown significantly since those early days, but only because we stand on the shoulders of giants like Bob Walker."
Walker took over the national magazine Church School Promoter and renamed it Sunday in 1943. In 1948, Walker acquired Christian Life & Times from friend Clyde Dennis at Good News Publications. He merged Sunday and Christian Life & Times into Christian Life. It was in Christian Life that Walker published the first national story on Graham, as well as a later piece on singer Pat Boone's Holy Spirit experience.
Walker was also active in the founding of many organizations, including the EPA, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and the Christian Booksellers Association. Walker launched Christian Bookseller, the first trade magazine targeting religious book retailers (it later became Christian Retailing). He also started Creation House, which published A New Song by Pat Boone, and Bruce Olson's Bruchko missionary biography, among many other titles. (A New Song has sold 2.5 million copies.) Walker also founded the Christian Writers Institute, from which more than 25,000 students have graduated.
In 1986, Christian Life merged with Charisma magazine and became Charisma+Christian Life, the flagship publication of Strang Communications. Walker mentored Stephen Strang, now president of Strang Communications. Ken Waters, professor of journalism at Seaver College, Pepperdine University, says the merger was a step toward bridging the gap between evangelical and charismatic Christians. "It was an action that said 'these folks are evangelicals too, [and] I'm going to bring my audience to Charisma,'" Waters told CT. "That was a public statement that spoke louder than whatever words he was saying about embracing charismatic Christians."
On the non-journalism front, Walker started Christian Life Missions, a charity that raises and donates funds to a variety of mission organizations and ministries. Seeing church attendance lagging, Walker started the International Sunday School Contest. He also partnered with architect Joe Kimball to create and provide prefabricated church buildings to help congregations grow.
Waters noted that Walker's influence went well beyond paper and ink.
"Even though we may not realize it, what he was doing in the EPA, in Christian Life, and in dialogue with Strang broadened the evangelical understanding of itself, and was key to Christian publications feeling a little more comfortable in the nondenominational evangelical world."
Tribute: The Bob Walker I Remember
By Mark Fackler
Bob Walker was always working on an idea. He had many, some of which became media companies, books, articles, magazines, movements. His idea factory was fueled by a heart electrified by the gospel and accelerated by the Spirit, for whom Bob was a steady big-league non-celebrity. Not all his ideas worked, nor did all his businesses survive. It would be like Bob to wish their demise as soon as their usefulness ended.