The very first issue of Christianity Today is dated October 15, 1956. In his first editorial, Carl F. H. Henry set his course for the magazine: “Those who direct the editorial policy of Christianity Today unreservedly accept the complete reliability and authority of the written Word of God. It is their conviction that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of plenary inspiration.”
Henry also affirmed continuity with the great orthodox tradition of biblical doctrine and moral principles: “The doctrinal content of historic Christianity will be presented and defended. Among the distinctive doctrines to be stressed are those of God, Christ, man, salvation, and the last things. The best modern scholarship recognizes the bearing of doctrine on moral and spiritual life.”
In that same issue, Billy Graham stressed the authority of the Bible in evangelism. “I use the phrase ‘The Bible says’ because the Word of God is the authoritative basis of our faith,” Graham said. “I do not continually distinguish between the authority of God and the authority of the Bible because I am confident that he has made his will known authoritatively in the Scriptures.”
That first issue of Christianity Today registered significant concerns about the trajectory of Christianity in America. Secularism was already the prevailing worldview in some elite circles of the culture, and those who founded Christianity Today did so, in large part, to establish a conservative counter-voice to the liberal magazine, the Christian Century.
Christianity Today has exerted a significant influence among American evangelicals since that first issue was published. But, as University of California at Berkeley historian David Hollinger has noted, “the fact remains that the public life of the United States moved farther in the directions advocated in 1960 by the Christian Century than in the directions then advocated by Christianity Today.”
If anything, that is an understatement.
Suffice it to say that the founders of Christianity Today did not have the legalization of same-sex marriage on their radar. They did not even have a vocabulary that would define it.
Tony Campolo’s announcement this week that he is “finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church” hardly registered as a thunderclap. Campolo, long proudly identified with the evangelical Left, acknowledged in his statement that his previous answer to the question “has always been somewhat ambiguous.” Nevertheless, Campolo’s direction was clear. His wife and the organization he leads have both called for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and Campolo’s announcement came as no surprise to anyone who had followed his statements in recent years.
It was not always so. Back in 1999 Campolo told students at Calvin College, “I believe the first chapter of Romans is where I rest my case, and that is that the Bible does not allow for same-sex marriages and same-sex eroticism.” Similarly, he told Sojourners magazine that same year: “I believe that the Bible does not allow for same-gender sexual intercourse or marriage.” Romans 1:26-27, he said, “makes it clear that any homosexual activity is contrary to what the Bible allows.”
Campolo’s departure from this biblical clarity was dismissed in his statement this week by his remark that “people of good will can and do read the Bible very differently when it comes to controversial issues.” In this case, the Tony Campolo of 2015 reads the Bible differently than the Tony Campolo of 1999.
The real news of recent days, prompted by Campolo’s comments, was the statement made by David Neff, who was on the staff of Christianity Today from 1986 until his retirement in 2013, serving for some of those years as the magazine’s editor in chief. On social media Neff expressed his agreement with Campolo. Explaining his own position on the issue, Neff said: “I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.”
Now, that is a thunderclap – not so much because David Neff made that statement, but because David Neff was once editor-in-chief of Christianity Today.
Responding only hours after Neff made his statement, current editor-in-chief Mark Galli issued an editorial on behalf of the magazine in which he registered surprise and disappointment at Neff’s newly declared position. “At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion,” Galli wrote. “Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman.”
Galli also made the case that the vast majority of Christians around the world — 2 billion by his estimate — stand with 2,000 years of unbroken Christian witness of that definition of marriage. That view, Galli wrote, is “a consistent, nuanced, and, we believe, biblical working out of a theology of sexuality.”
Galli added: “We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular understanding on this matter. We’ll continue to be sorry, because over the next many years, there will be many who will similarly reverse themselves on sexual ethics.”
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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.