In the pages of the first issue of Christianity Today, readers were encouraged by articles about the authority of the Bible, and challenged to bring men and women into a relationship with Christ. In fact, you can now read the entire first issue from 1956 online, however, there are some who remember getting a physical copy of that first issue delivered to their home 60 years ago. After we published the 60th anniversary issue of the magazine in October, we became aware of Willis Lyons, a subscriber who has had a nearly continuous subscription since the magazine's first issue. Since we have no way of going back that far in our records to search for long-term subscribers like Willis, we knew immediately that we wanted to hear more from him to learn how he had first received the magazine, and why he kept subscribing. Here is what he had to say:
How did you originally hear about Christianity Today magazine?
I grew up in a pretty traditional and conservative Christian context on a farm up in Minnesota. During an average week you would consistently find my family going to church 3-4 times for church classes, events, and fellowship. In my early teens, we heard that Billy Graham would be hosting a crusade in Minneapolis, so we decided to attend. The crusade was only 80 miles away, so my family loaded into the car and made the journey downstate to participate. Although this crusade was held in 1950, still nearly 6 years before our first issue of Christianity Today, it was the reason the magazine started arriving in our mailbox.
After attending the crusade, we started receiving newsletters from Billy Graham. My mother would send a few dollars here and there to support his ministry and the magazine that would debut in 1956 as Christianity Today magazine. I was married in 1955, and I distinctly remember getting my first copy in 1956 as a newlywed while at university. I had been considering continuing my education through seminary training, so CT was very intriguing. It seemed to be a solid defense of the Christian faith and presented a scholarly tone that I really enjoyed. Carl Henry was a master wordsmith in his first editorials.
What caused you to continue to renew your subscription every year? What drew you into the issues?
I took quite an interest in the magazine from the start because it gave me a well-written view of Christianity. It provided accurate and relevant articles that I could apply in various aspects of my life. The magazine really became a part of my family's faith journey. As I started a family of my own, we moved around a lot over the years for my career. As a result, CT provided a consistent voice of truth even though I attended churches with various denominational heritages over the years. It presented the "big picture" of Christianity that I craved. Each issue became a reminder to stay focused in my faith journey and to stay engaged with the bible. It was the catalyst to help me continue to "walk the talk" and integrate Christianity into my everyday life by discussing theology, basic beliefs, news and events, and family issues that were relevant for me. Furthermore, CT became a staple for our family and its articles were often a center of dinner table discussions.
I've really enjoyed the diversity that each editor has brought through the years as the magazine has evolved over time to address the needs of the church. As a result, I can see that the most recent coverage is even more broad in content than before. Christianity Today addresses a greater variety of issues, and hosts conversations for everyone-not just pastors. It's good for people like me who aren't as involved in the day-to-day workings of the church to stay informed. I'd even consider Christianity Today to be the best news source for Christians available today.
From the first issue of the magazine, Billy Graham stated that "evangelical Christianity needs a clear voice, to speak with conviction and love." How have you seen this reflected in the pages of Christianity Today?
One place that I have seen this demonstrated in the magazine recently was within the cover story for the September 2016 issue. The story called forth the church to love those coming out of prison, and for the church to be in relationship with people who need help. While this story provides an example of a particular ministry reaching out to incarcerated men and women, it also presents a challenging question for every single reader. Namely, are we ignoring those in need around us, or are our churches reaching out to those in need that are around us? CT provided a very clear call to action and prompt for the church love our neighbor and to bear witness to the gospel. Needless to say, this is only one example of many over the years that have prompted readers to consider more deeply and thoughtfully the gospel message.
Leanne Snavely is marketing manager of Christianity Today.