Thursday, 19 October 2006

Two 50ths

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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5 comments:

Christopher said...

Great post Greg.
I subsribed to CT for a year, and I found that the numerous ads were at times more reavling than the articles.

For instances the strong competition between translations which we don't really experience here in Australia. Each translation would have a well-known church leader advocating the particular translation as the best. From memory Piper was the ESV "pin-up boy" and Hybles was for the new NIV, then there were a host of others.

Greg Clarke said...

Yes, Chris, our culture wars don't have anything like the 'church v. church' battle lines that are in the US. We feel like we've done well to get someone to open a Bible in the first place, let alone make a considered decision about which translation to read!

psychodougie said...

hmmm.
locally, the bondi view is much more likely to be read than the wentworth courier - theoretically both dealing with the same issues.
however the telling issue is the 95% of the courier being real-estate - major turn-off.

the vibe is something sans ads is more reputable.
anyone can call a rag Christianity Today. Quadrant 'sounds' a little less biased, a little more open.

cyberpastor said...

considering the overlap between main-stream evangelicalism and consumerism in general, I would think that CT will be the winner on the day. Australian culture shows far more signs of having more in common with CT than with Quadrant.

Greg Clarke said...

Thanks for the comments. It seems that going adless impresses the intellectuals, but ads work for the masses. The old question of who matters most (as if such a question can be asked!).