On May 1, Harold Smith will retire as president and CEO of Christianity Today and assume the honorary title of president emeritus. In drawing his administration to a close, Smith addressed Christianity Today’s board of directors in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 23 on both the need to remain vision focused and on the challenges seeking to redirect that vision in the days ahead. The following are his edited remarks.
These are truly exciting days for the ministry of Christianity Today. The selection and arrival of Tim Dalrymple as our next chief executive has brought me a sense of great joy even as it has excited the ministry as a whole. And I must again publically thank God that my timing in asking Tim to join CT back in 2013 was not God’s timing.
God’s timing is now!
And with that timing will come someone whose vision for CT is expansive, is media forward, is global, is beautifully orthodox. Everything that is needed for CT as it seeks to be a rallying point for thoughtful Christ-followers in the years to come.
But even as we look forward to all the new and exciting opportunities that Tim will unquestionably open up, my heartfelt prayer is that we will never lose sight of the threefold vision that the Spirit of God himself set upon this ministry through our founder Billy Graham all those years ago.
First, would we faithfully continue to maintain a tone of “conviction and love”—one of Graham’s favorite phrases—in everything we publish in print, pixels, over podcasts, on video, and across future media platforms unknown to us today. The depth of our biblical understanding and the irenic tone of its presentation are needed now more than ever.
Perhaps Graham himself said it best:
Believing that a great host of true Christians, whose faith has been impaired, are today earnestly seeking for a faith to live by and a message to proclaim, Christianity Today dedicates itself to the presentation of the reasonableness and effectiveness of the Christian evangel. This we undertake with sincere Christian love for those who may differ with us, and with whom we may be compelled to differ, and with the assurance in our hearts that God's Holy Spirit alone can activate any vital witness for Him.
Second, and always set in the context of this tone, would we faithfully continue to showcase the best of Christian thought. The best of the Christian mind.
Evangelicals really do have something to say to the church and to the cultures we find ourselves in—something I’ve tried to assure younger, frustrated believers who view the term evangelical as but a synonym for bigoted or a label for someone who is closed minded, unloving.
In response to this caricature—and even as Graham himself found in helping evangelicals lend their voices to the public square—we need to thoughtfully, winsomely showcase the message of reconciliation and love in our commentary and reporting. And in the end we need to leave those who engage our content on whatever media platform with hope.
Third and finally, would we faithfully continue to expand the reach of our content to the uttermost parts of the world.
Mr. Graham’s global vision for this ministry was prescient. The evangelist envisioned no fewer than 100 correspondents worldwide reporting on the works and wonders of God.
For much of my administration, I have reflected upon what God might have us do in his name in partnership with the burgeoning global church. As I have prayed about this, I have re-envisioned Graham’s expanding list of global contributors to include women and men who can not only report the news from their part of the world but offer theological commentary on trends that are increasingly finding expression and influence globally. For the edification of all those who seek to be faithful servants of the risen Christ.
I have envisioned helping train up these global contributors in their reportorial and writing skills, perhaps working more collaboratively with other ministries that have made this training their primary ministry calling.
I have envisioned an expanding community of digital communicators not only feeding CT content but providing content for other national Christian outlets as we together seek to build up Christ’s church.
And from this, I have envisioned a more connected church, one that listens to one another, rejoices together, cries together, and prays together across borders for the continuing movement of God.
A big vision to be sure. But one rooted in the understanding that media today moves ideas, people, governments, cultures, and societies. Why not, therefore, use this trusted and respected brand to counter today’s multiple narratives of despair and hopelessness with a message of the hope-filled gospel on the move.
For all of these reasons, I’m convinced that our newly launched CT Global initiative will define the work of Christianity Today for years to come. The fine-tuning of this expansive definition will be the focus of the initiative’s initial stage. But the clear sense of God’s “yes” on this big vision tells me—as I hope it tells all of us—that the content platforms God has graciously given us and kept vibrant in the wake of publishing’s tumult are for the benefit and the building up of the whole church. Would he therefore give us the wisdom and wherewithal we need to minister to the mind and heart of his whole body ever more effectively in the days ahead.
Yes, these are indeed exciting times for this ministry. But these are exceedingly challenging times as well.
As we well know, we live in an angry, at times ugly, increasingly more confused world. The tone of our rhetoric—across all media and even behind some closed church doors—is more rage than redemption. Is more disgrace than grace.
Not surprisingly, we here at CT have not been immune to such attacks, sometimes indiscriminate, with no basis but full of bias. But for better or worse, this is part of journalism in today’s world.
And making matters eternally worse, the truth of our convictions—the truth of God’s Truth—seems increasingly worn down by attractive heresies and ugly orthodoxies that in the end are destined to leave more and more of God’s creation in despair and without a sense of hope.
And yet, in the midst of this darkness, the light of the gospel still shines forth, and the darkness has not, will not, cannot overcome it.
Right here, right now, Christianity Today still has a Spirit-led calling and opportunity to reflect the true light of Christ back onto this age of anger and confusion. Back onto a church caught in the midst of all this confusion.
And thus the importance of boldly speaking words of Beautiful Orthodoxy into this cacophony. We must unflinchingly set forth an orthodoxy anchored firmly on the authority of God’s Word and, with God’s help, expressed not with self-righteousness but in a language and with lives that model the unconditional love and blood-stained beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Early church fathers like Augustine wrote that truth expressed without beauty, without love, without hope was no truth at all.
But when lived faithfully and fearlessly, Beautiful Orthodoxy boldly demonstrates for all how the truth that sets us free—our orthodoxy—can result in freedom and flourishing for not only the church but for all those communities and cultures the church intersects.
This is why this ministry was set into motion. This is why this ministry is so needed today.
In a world in desperate need of truth, goodness, and beauty, we have the privilege of communicating the breadth of the true, good, and beautiful gospel in our words, in our actions, in our lives.
And in doing so, we can rebuild the plausibility of the Christian faith in the minds and hearts of our culture. Paraphrasing Charles Taylor: We can help those who dare to believe to believe. And we can help those who believe to live.
“I came,” Jesus said in John 10:10, “so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
Would the pages, pixels, podcasts of this precious ministry be an amen and amen to this grand eternal truth.
With content that speaks in the gospel tone of conviction and love.
With content that brings to eyes and ears the best of balanced biblical thinking.
And with content that finds an expanding number of eager recipients in every corner of God’s world.
To that end, would God grant Tim wisdom and strength to discern which changes, which opportunities are to be pursued—and when—so that the vision, mission, and distinctives of this God-ordained ministry can positively impact yet another generation, a global generation, with Christ’s gospel of love, forgiveness, and life.
And all to the glory of God alone.
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