Two 50ths

October 19, 2006

Two magazines are celebrating 50 years of publication this month—Australia's intellectual monthly, Quadrant and America's Christianity Today. I've been reading both off and on for about 15 of those 50 years, and have a few reflections on the paths they have taken (and, as Robert Frost reminds me, not taken) . CT was founded by Billy Graham, and has his missional zeal at its root. At a time when evangelicals were large in number but low in influence, CT gave them a vehicle by which to connect biblical truth with the wider culture. It was always chiefly a 'culture-critiquing' magazine rather than a 'church-focused' one. Its focus is broad, and often on social issues—from AIDS to poverty to media to politics—and it has influence beyond its readership (still a paltry .005% of US 'born agains', but a higher percentage of leaders). It has to struggle with the problems of success—anyone who is even loosely evangelical wants a place in its pages. By and large, I feel the editors work hard at remaining true to the original vision of "presenting truth from an evanglical viewpoint". Quadrant presents truth from a right-wing political viewpoint, and was praised to the hilt by Prime Minister Howard at their 50th birthday bash. It occasions more intellectual debate than any other rag for pointy heads in Australia, even though it has some strong competitors (among them a young bantamweight called Case). Quadrant has likewise remained consistent to its anti-Communist and Catholic beginnings, and boasts victory over totalising ideologies and "fashionable views".

In terms of content, Quadrant stuck with form, with articles on Chairman Mao, the American alliance, and religion in society (plus lots of good poetry). CT likewise looked back on the Billy Graham legacy, how views of marriage have changed, and , but it also looked forward to the challenges ahead. Its mission is before it and, unlike Quadrant it doesn't feel like it has won the battle.

But the biggest difference I noticed is profound and worth reflecting on. 49 of Christianity Today's 152 pages are advertising, plus a 48-page ads insert. Quadrant carries none. The former influences the culture in partnership with the many and various projects advertised in its pages (publishers, colleges, church building programmes, charities); the latter only through the power of ideas conveyed in words on the page. Is one approach more likely to succeed in its mission than the other?

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