Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: September 1996

September 1996

Greatly Surprised

Ouch. The author of the June editorial (“Hell, Air-Conditioned”) is obviously not a big fan of Christianity Today (CT), which he describes as “bland, tepid, and intellectually breezy,” among other indictments. The unnamed author is certainly allowed his or her opinion.

But the author also pretends to know some facts about our magazine, which are simply wrong. The editorial says CT is in “trouble” and is “suffering from sharply declining circulation.” Actually, our circulation income, like our advertising income, has never been healthier. Over 180,000 people shell out the required funds to get their “tepid” prose and the accompanying “snazzy graphics” printed on “slick paper,” despite the “oodles of color ads.” (Does righteousness only come in black and white?)

The editorial also states that recently we downsized from being “essentially” a bi-weekly to “essentially” a monthly. The reality is that three years ago we reduced our issues from 15 to 14 per year.

The editorial implies that our statement of faith is new and that its language on hell (“the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death”) “wimps out.” First I must apologize for not communicating clearly in my column that our statement of faith is over 20 years old. Second, while I admit the author has a point in claiming evangelicals are “creedally challenged,” I would argue that our “creed” should not be taken as a full apologetic for the faith and that our language on judgment, for the purposes of the NOR editorial, compares favorably to the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds (though the Athanasian Creed does trump us in its talk of “everlasting fire”).

I enjoy reading the NOR and was greatly surprised at the vehemence with which you attacked CT. As a fellow Christian journalist, I share your fear of being described as “wimpy.” But in our attempts to escape this charge, we must be vigilant not to commit even worse sins.

Michael G. Maudlin

Managing Editor, Christianity Today

Carol Stream, Illinois

Editor Replies:

According to the Statement of Ownership, Management, & Circulation printed in your Jan. 9, 1995, issue, your average paid circulation in the preceding 12 months was 181,501. According to the Statement printed in your Jan. 8, 1996 issue, the figure was 167,487, and paid circulation for the issue nearest to filing date was 154,088. If circulation income and ad income are nonetheless healthier than ever, well, splendid! But don’t expect that to continue with a declining circulation. Let’s hope the next Statement will show a reversal of the downward trend!

CT used to be bi-weekly — we said “essentially” because over the years the number of issues per year has gradually decreased. In 1990 it was down to being published 15 times per year (essentially monthly, and clearly so), and now is published 14 times per year. If this long-range “downsizing” is no cause for concern, well, we envy your serenity.

But you should be concerned with what certain thoughtful evangelicals have been saying about CT and their view, not the NOR Editor’s view, set the tone for the editorial. They are the ones who say CT is bland, tepid, and intellectually breezy. If you haven’t heard this before, we’re greatly surprised, and we’re sorry to be the messenger with the sad tidings.

The archbishop in charge of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has said that when proclaiming the faith with modern means of communication, “the greatest sin is to be dull.” Perhaps he was being hyperbolic. But dullness is the essence of the complaints we’ve been hearing from evangelicals about CT. It would be a mistake to take those complaints as an “attack,” for your evangelical critics don’t want CT to shrivel up; they want it to be vital, to grow, and to “upsize.”

Nor should the NOR editorial be construed as an attack. Evangelicalism is an indispensable ally of orthodox Catholicism in our increasingly pagan society. We wish you the best. We Catholics need evangelicals, and we stated one reason why in the editorial. Moreover, as we’ve said many times over the years, we Catholics have things to learn from evangelicals and that includes CT, which is still the most important evangelical magazine in existence. Readers who wish to subscribe to CT may do so by calling 800-999-1704.

How to Warn of Hell?

Your June editorial, “Hell, Air-Conditioned,” hit very close to home, because hell happens to be just what I’ve been pondering recently.

My five brothers and sisters and I (ranging in age from 42 to 54) were baptized and raised as Catholics, but as far as I know, I am the only one who still regularly attends Mass. God only knows why; part of it may be that ours was a house divided: Pop, though an extremely moral man, is a fallen-away Catholic who for many years has not even kept up the pretense of belief, and who is now not even a Christian.

In almost every respect except for religion, we are a very close-knit family; we have tacitly agreed over the years that one’s religious beliefs are not a subject for conversation at family gatherings.

I have seven nieces and nephews ranging in age from 2 to 27, and even though they are all really good kids, all of them are completely unchurched as far as I know.

I have often wondered about the wisdom of saying outright to my brothers and sisters and their children that I am in fear for their souls: “I love you and I don’t want to see you go to hell.”

My brothers and sisters and their children are highly moral people. All the same, the fact that sticks in my throat is that most of my immediate and close extended family are pagans. They’re enlightened pagans, moral pagans, well-behaved pagans — but pagans all the same.

I wonder if a blunt statement of love and worry, like “I love you and I don’t want to see you go to hell,” may not shake them up a little, get them to think again about the Last Things, maybe plant the seed that may result in reconversion.

However, I know my family. We’re a stubborn and feisty lot; I know that saying anything like “I love you and I don’t want to see you go to hell” would estrange me from a lot of them for a long time. And what argument, persuasion, or example can I give if I have no contact?

What’s more, I know enough of the Faith to know that my own salvation is by no means a “done deal,” and that only God knows or is entitled to know how close any of my family are to Him. So I can never be sure that there is no spiritual pride and pharisaism mixed up in this mess.

Take the same dilemma and apply it to all my friends and acquaintances I know to be unchurched heathens, and you have the depth of my confusion and indecision. What I think about my brothers and sisters and their children is exactly what your editorial said about Dr. Nathanson: “If Nathanson goes to Heaven,…he will have been scared into it by a healthy fear of Hell.” So what’s the matter with that?

If some blunt words from me got my family to thinking, and maybe to putting their feet on the bottom step of the religious ladder, it would be worth a few years’ estrangement. In fact, it would be worth a lifetime’s estrangement, if we could meet again in heaven.

Scaring people into heaven worked before, why shouldn’t it work again? I cannot deny that you’re right: Why mustn’t we scare people into heaven? Don’t I indeed have some obligation in charity to warn people who are at risk of hell (as long as I keep in the front of my mind that I, too, am at risk)?

I pray for the courage to do the right thing — and I ask all of you in similar traps to pray for me as I will for you. Thanks very much.

Robert G. Wirth

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Laughing Out Loud All Alone

I’m one who reads the NOR cover-to-cover, because it’s true, orthodox, and intelligent. But when you offer an issue as emotionally marvelous as the July-August one, I have to write a letter to the editor. Francis Manion’s “Should Catholics Canonize Ebenezer Scrooge?” is excruciating — a light directed into a hideous corner of history we’d rather keep in the dark. The very next article, Juli Loesch Wiley’s “Time to Communicate What Catholicism Is & Is Not,” brought a burst of laughter. When one first cries, then laughs out loud all alone in one’s office before 6 AM on a Wednesday morning, something unique is at hand. What absolutely splendid writing!

Marsha Livingston

Mesa, Arizona

Social Justice Before Vatican II

I wish to comment on the passage in Marian E. Crowe’s article “A Plea to the Clergy from the Pews” (June), which says, “I don’t think anyone — not even the staunchest conservative hankering for Latin Masses, benediction with a gold cope, and May crownings — would deny that in the pre-Vatican II Church we heard too little about social justice, care for the poor, and the various social sins.”

Since I happen to be that “staunchest conservative hankering for Latin Masses…,” I would like to claim the right to speak for myself as to whether or not we heard much of social justice, etc., in the pre-Vatican II Church. The fact is that one typically heard a great deal about such things prior to Vatican II. In the last century or so, the popes have written encyclical after encyclical about capital and labor, church and state, war and peace, etc. Any priest who neglected to so instruct his faithful can only be described as culpable.

In addition, for many centuries we have had religious orders devoted to looking after the needs of widows, orphans, those who are sick or in prison, or those otherwise disadvantaged. Perhaps Crowe doesn’t remember, but back in the 1950s, many Catholic children were sent about gathering pennies with which to “buy Chinese babies” who, owing to the fact that practical abortion technology had not as yet reached China, would be strangled at birth unless someone paid a fee to rescue the babies and allow them to be raised elsewhere.

Otherwise, Crowe has written a fine article that captures well the weakness and wimpiness of most modern preaching.

Griff Ruby

Lompoc, California

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